Why 181st Street became an accredited living wage employer

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From day one, we have paid all our staff and contractors more than the real living wage.

As an agency, we work with a lot of contractors. We firmly believe that no one business can hire the very best talent from across the wide range of roles and expertise required to deliver exceptional client projects, on a full time basis.

And with the way the world is changing, we know that our associates value flexible working. We want to bring out the best in them, and create a company culture where they can thrive, so that we continue to deliver world-leading results for our clients.

Working in this way means we can assemble the perfect team for your project, every time. You don’t have to take on the cost of employees, or the burden of managing multiple freelancers. You get a clear project management plan, a strong relationship with your client manager, and the security of knowing that the very best minds are delivering results.

We’re exceptionally proud of our team of associates and our ESG commitments.

But flexible contracting has a bad reputation, and sadly it is something that some companies in our industry take advantage of.

To demonstrate our ethical commitment to our team and our clients, we’re proud to have become an accredited Living Wage Employer, and a signatory of the Prompt Payment Code.

What is the real living wage?

The real Living Wage is an hourly rate of pay set independently and updated annually, based on the cost of living. It is higher than the  UK government’s National Living Wage, and employers choose to pay the Living Wage on a voluntary basis.

There are currently 4.8 million jobs below the real Living Wage in the UK (1 in 6 workers).

Research by the Living Wage Foundation has found that workers who are paid the government’s National Living Wage need almost an extra £800 per year to bring earnings in line with the real Living Wage.

This difference could pay for 13 weeks of food, or 10 weeks of housing costs.

Why did we become accredited?

Paying all our staff and contractors above the real living wage was never in question for us. It’s simply the right thing to do. We set salaries and hourly rates according to skills and experience, and we review pay in line with performance.

But we decided to take our commitment one step further and apply to the Living Wage Foundation to accredit us as a living wage employer.

This gives current and potential employees, contractors and clients the reassurance that our pay rates are third party accredited.

It also means that we make an annual financial contribution to the Living Wage Foundation, which helps to support their important research and campaigning work. It means we’re part of a forum of employers leading the way on fair pay and demonstrating its importance, and it means we can add our voice to be part of a larger push for change – because the real living wage should be standard for everyone, in every industry.

We are also a signatory of the Small Business Commissioner’s Prompt Payment Code – a voluntary code of practice which means we have committed to paying all our suppliers and partners promptly, within at least 30 days. Not only is this an ethical responsibility, to give our suppliers, partners and associates the certainty of a stable cash flow, it’s also beneficial for the wider economy. We see this as a requirement of being in business, and we’ve signed the code to demonstrate our commitment, add our voice for change, and encourage others to do the same.

How does this support our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Fair and prompt payment is part of our wider ESG commitment, because it helps us contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – a global agenda everyone can contribute to, to help solve the world’s biggest and most urgent problems.

Specifically, these commitments help us support:

SDG1: No Poverty

More than one in five of the UK population (22%) are in poverty– 14.5 million people. Of these, 8.1 million are working-age adults.

With bills continuing to rise as the UK faces a cost of living crisis, many more are now at risk of falling into financial hardship.

Establishing a real living wage, and ensuring that people are paid on time, is one of the ways businesses can take action to lift workers out of in-work poverty.

This is also an important step towards achieving SDG10: Reduced Inequalities.

SDG3: Good Health and Wellbeing

Good health is essential for sustainable development and economic growth. That includes mental health.

According to ‘Life on Low Pay’ polling, 50% of low paid women and 38% of low paid men said their levels of pay negatively affected their levels of anxiety.

48% of low paid women and 36% of low paid men said their levels of pay negatively impacted their overall quality of life.

The mental wellbeing of the people we work with is incredibly important to us. It’s why we have made The Mental Health At Work Commitment, to promote an open culture around mental health and provide all our staff and contractors with mental health resources and support.

SDG5: Gender Equality

Women are disproportionately affected by low pay and spiralling living costs.

According to the Living Wage Foundation, a fifth of women in work (20.4%) are paid below the real living wage, (approximately 2.9m people), compared to 14% of men (1.9 million).

As a result, jobs held by women account for almost 60% of all jobs paid below the living wage.

Women more commonly spend more of their income on non-durable household goods, for example food and cleaning products, which are typically more susceptible to inflation-induced volatility. And gendered expectations, such as disproportionate responsibility for household shopping, also means many women notice variations in prices and feel the stresses of inflation more acutely.

The majority of our staff and associates are women, and our business is 50% women-owned.

We already implement flexible working to help everyone on our team juggle unpaid caring responsibilities, and it is essential to us that we are financially protecting our team from the cost of living crisis.

Implementing the real living wage and campaigning to encourage others to do the same is one way we can help contribute to eliminating gender inequality; Sustainable Development Goal 5.

SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

According to research by the Smith Institute, wider adoption of the real Living Wage could provide an economic boost to the UK economy worth over £1.5bn.

Committing to paying everyone who works for or with us a real living wage, with fair and prompt payment terms, ensures that everyone has access to decent work and enough income to buy the things they need. Combined with our ethical and sustainable ethos and procurement process, we try to support local, independent retailers and businesses wherever possible, to contribute to our local economy – and many of our staff and contractors share these values and shop this way too.

We’re proud to share the news of our Living Wage Foundation accreditation with our clients and stakeholders, and to demonstrate our commitment to making a positive impact through the brands we work with, and the way we run our own business too.


If you’d like to explore becoming accredited by the Living Wage Foundation, you can do so here.

If you’d like support to make, measure and communicate more positive ESG impact within your business, we can help.