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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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war