What about frontline pay?

Posted on August 8, 2013

Having worked at Clore Social Leadership for three months now it’s been of real interest to me to get such an overview of the social sector and those issues which are really of the moment. I find the discussion around chief executive pay particularly interesting, especially when the sector is facing such severe cuts in this time of austerity.  Through reading about it and debating it with colleagues and friends I’ve been thinking about the various justifications and vilifications that are commonly cited in the media, from both sides.

Why pay such big pay packets?  Reasons given include a need to attract necessary talent to do the job, and the fact that it’s incredibly important for the sector to attract talent from across the sectors – private and public included.  To do this we must be able to pay them rates which are relatively competitive. Diverse people bring with them networks, an outsiders perspective and arguably a less narrow and more competitive (and therefore sustainable) approach.

Why shouldn’t we pay them?  It has been argued that less money should be spent on these ‘administration costs’ or ‘overheads’ which are separate to the purpose and cause of the charity. Indeed it has been argued that such salaries are at odds with the spirit and altruism of charity. This however maybe a misinterpretation of what is construed as the aim of the charity sector – many would argue that paying your staff is integral to getting the job done and creating an impact.

What’s the real question?  Maybe it isn’t whether high salaries being paid or not but whether they are proportionate when looking at the pay for the rest of the staff in the organisation. How many charities pay the living wage to their staff for example? According to livingwage.co.uk, of the nearly 300 employers nationwide accredited as paying the living wage, around 59% of them are charities or the public sector – a good start.  But surely this should be the starting point for campaigners around fairer salaries?  If we want to ensure a sustainable future for the charity sector in order to attract the right people – indeed the objectives that are cited as reasons for paying such high salaries – then we also need to pay fair living wages at the other end of the scale.  

As Dame Mary Marsh’s review for the Cabinet Office into social sector skills and leadership needs recommended, we need to view the sustainability of an organisation not just through the leadership at the top end but through the development and investment in staff at all levels. 

Gail Lewis is Programme Administrator for the Clore Social Leadership Programme.  Email Gail if you want to get in touch.  

Read more

Charity Chiefs cannot justify large salaries while grassroots care is failing
Peter Beresford, The Guardian Social Care Network

Charity Commission chair's remarks on salary levels dubbed 'a disgraceful distraction'
Abi Rimmer, Third Sector 

Charity Sector Must Address Criticisms Following Six Figure Salary Revelations
Misha Wilmers, Huffington Post

Pay of charity chief executives is widely viewed as administration cost, finds nfpSynergy
Abi Rimmer, Third Sector

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