MORE than 170 county council workers in Worcestershire are paid below the living wage.

The council yesterday agreed to investigate the salaries of 173 staff who are getting less than the official living wage of £7.45 an hour, which is not to be confused with the Government’s minimum wage of £6.19.

Cleaners, care staff, clerical assistants, receptionists, junior archive workers, some staff working in accounts and other employees in general administration roles are paid below the £7.45 rate.

Workers in those jobs start off on £6.47 an hour, and need to stay in that job for four years before they reach £7.04.

During a passionate debate at County Hall, politicians said a rise would “allow them to act as normal people do” and afford to live a reasonable standard of life. If all those below the living wage were handed increases to take them to £7.45 or over, it would cost taxpayers £800,000.

Councillor Liz Tucker, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “The gap between the living wage and the minimum wage is quite considerable.

“We know the living wage is well researched and kept up to date, but it should be a concern for us all that some staff are still below it – you cannot live decently on the minimum.

“We need to enable people to live off what we pay them.”

Coun Peter McDonald, Labour group leader, said: “Morally, we need to do this.

“Paying the living wage is not only the right thing to do, it is good business sense – it will help us retain a motivated workforce, not one where people are forever looking for jobs elsewhere. The living wage is not fantastic, but if these staff are on it, it will give them the ability to live like other people do.

“We should name and shame companies who don’t pay it. We need to look at this.”

Unlike the minimum wage, the living wage is not a legal obligation for employers. It exists to encourage both public and private sector organisations to up pay rates.

Some 19 councils, including Liverpool and Newcastle, pay all workers the living wage or more.

Coun Adrian Hardman, leader of the county council, said: “It is definitely worth us having a look at this.

“The only authorities which have adopted it are well-funded, metropolitan inner-city councils, and the cost would be considerable. But I agree we should investigate it.”

It will now be looked at by the overview and scrutiny board, a watchdog-style body which can give advice to the Conservative leadership.