Search for the common good: Citizens UK

20. November, 2014

The Living Wage campaign, started by London Citizens in 2001, is a prime example of what can be achieved when the goal of politics is set to achieving a common ground.

The initial campaigners were people working two or more minimum wage jobs yet struggling to keep their families out of poverty (according to latest research on UK done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, half of those living below the poverty line are actually employed). Instead of digging deeper into partisan trenches, people behind London Citizens created a campaign that aimed to bring working people out of poverty in a way that was appealing to employers. The idea was simple – to calculate a new minimum wage that would actually allow a family to take care of themselves given the actual costs of living in London. Instead of making the new Living Wage a statutory requirement the idea was to encourage those businesses who could afford to pay more to their employees to make the moral choice to do so voluntarily. Since then their campaign has gone nationwide and in 2014 there were already 800 employers who had voluntary signed up to pay the higher Living Wage, including Nestle, Nationwide and Aviva.

The driving force behind this is Citizens UK, an alliance of civil society organisations committed to making a vocation out of community organising. Their professionalism is what is striking when one first encounters their website or reads their 2015 Manifesto. While they do not lack the enthusiasm of activists their goals and strategies for achieving them are meticulously prepared and presented in a cool-headed manner. At the core of what they do is channelling the power of local communities to reach for the common good, which, according to them, can indeed be found despite partisan disagreements and cultural differences. Their intention to work with what community members share in common is reflected in the areas of focus for the coming year – children’s health, social care, as well as employment and training opportunities, most of the intended projects again focusing on reaching cross-party solutions.In addition, their commitment to institutionalise channels of communication between community organisations and the British government indicates that they mean business.

The alliance has received due praise from Michael Sandel, the American political philosopher who has in the past years gained wider popularity through his online edX course on Justice. Sandel commends Citizens UK for creating ‘a sense of civic responsibility’, which in the case of the Living Wage campaign is encouraged not only in local organisers but also among business owners. For Phillip Bond, another philosopher interviewed below by Sandel in a news segment well worth watching, Citizens UK needs to be recognised for their ambition to consider the common good, the universal values of a good life that go beyond the often divisive tactics of contemporary politics.

The publication was performed in the framework of the project “PROVIDUS – a partner of state in policy planning and policy making process“.

Project is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in framework of NGO Activity Support Measure.

NGO Activity Support Measure is financed with financial support from EEA Financial Mechanism and Republic of Latvia.

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