A Living Wage for Britain

During Blog Action Day, the Green Party advocates for raising the minimum wage to a living wage to t

I'm writing this late on Wednesday - Blog Action Day 2008 - and bloggers all over the world are posting on the subject of poverty. The poverty crisis in less developed countries - and Europe's crucial place in that as one of the causes and one of the main potential solutions - forms a large part of my work as an MEP. I've crossed swords many times with the now Baron Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool, who as European Trade Commissioner was very much in the 'problem' camp, and was delighted this week to be named MEP of the Year for Trade. But in this Blog Action Day post I'd like to look at solutions to poverty closer to home. People in the UK don't generally think of themselves as being in poverty, but many thousands are.

Total up the absolute basic living costs that families need to cover, and you get what’s known as a poverty threshold wage – and every study finds this to be already higher than the minimum wage set by the government.

But a real ‘living wage’ must also provide a secure margin so that the family involved does not fall into poverty and debt when it faces the kind of day-to-day challenges those of us who are better off can take in our stride: a broken kettle, the need to buy shoes for a growing child, the cost of a train journey to visit a sick relative.

The absolute minimum needed for a basic existence, calculated by this approach, shows that the minimum wage falls well short of what’s needed. More than a pound an hour short in fact. Every calculation of a living wage that has been done in towns and cities in the UK has found a living wage this year lies above seven pounds an hour. But from October this year, the minimum wage is just £5.73.

This means that anyone receiving the minimum wage is receiving poverty wages. And in 21st century Britain this is just not on.

If the Greens were in government, the national minimum wage would be set at least at the level of a real living wage. But meanwhile, we're pledged to use every piece of influence we can get to fight poverty pay.

In 2007, the lowest paid workers in the London Fire Brigade got a pay rise. Previously the people who clean fire stations were paid the national minimum wage, at that time just £5.35 per hour. But thanks to the work of the London Living Wage Unit, this changed and now the cleaners earn at least the London living wage of £7.45 an hour, enough to support themselves and their families at last.

What many people don’t know is that the Living Wage Unit was set up under Ken Livingstone’s administration thanks to the Green Party members of the London Assembly, Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson.

They held a casting vote over the Mayor’s budget for four years and used it to get a fair deal for all London government’s employees, and create the Living Wage Unit to calculate the amount needed to get by in the capital.

While they don’t have the same influence over the new Mayor, Greens in London are continuing to support the efforts of groups such as London Citizens, the Fair Pay Network and The East London Communities Organisation fighting for fair pay for cleaners, shop staff and catering and hotel workers across London.

In Oxford, Greens have also succeeded in passing a motion through the city council, bringing in a living wage for council workers there. But when the Greens brought the same motion to Oxfordshire County Council this June, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives shamefully voted it down.

In Lewisham, the six strong Green Group is proposing a living wage for all council employees, and are proposing extending this to all council contractors as well. And our Deputy Leader, Adrian Ramsay (who is also taking part in Blog Action Day) defeated Conservative opposition to commit Norwich City Council to the principle of the Living Wage.

Over the next months, Greens all over the country will be following the example of Oxford, London, Lewisham and Norwich Green Parties. They will be campaigning hard so that millions more of the lowest paid workers in Britain get a decent wage.

The Greens have spent a long time being right about things like this, but pushed to the political margins. It makes me so proud that as we win more and more elections, we refuse to rest on those laurels but use that influence to make real changes in the lives of ordinary people who have also been marginalised by the establishment parties.

So next time you're tempted to think of the Greens as a single-issue party, ask a Fire Brigade cleaner.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred