Five questions answered on longest real wages drop for 50 years

How long have real wages been dropping?

Figures from the Office for National Statistic (ONS) reveal real wages have experienced the longest consecutive drop for 50 years. We answer five questions on the drop in real wages.

How long have real wages been dropping?

They’ve been dropping consistently since 2010, which is the longest period of consecutive depletion since 1964, according to official figures. Overall, real wages have fallen by 2.2 per cent annually since the first three months of 2010.

How are real wages calculated?

Real wages are essentially wages that have been adjusted to factor in the cost of living or with inflation taken into account.

Why are real wages falling?

ONS said reduced output and shorter working hours were to blame. For example, many employees were asked to work shorter hours during the financial crisis rather than making them redundant.

The response to the fall in productivity in 2008 and 2009 was the main reason behind the fall in real wages, it added. It also highlighted the different inflation rate that exists between what is produced and what is consumed.

Are real time wages set to recover soon?

ONS said most recent figures, those released in the third quarter of 2013, showed real wages fell by a drop of 1.5 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier; showing that wages are still continuing to fall.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report on Thursday which also painted a strained picture. It suggested a mid-range household's income between 2013 and 2014 was 6 per cent below its pre-crisis peak. It added that real wages would not recover before the next general election.

What have the experts said?

"Over the last four years British workers have suffered an unprecedented real wage squeeze," said TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady told the BBC.

"Even more worryingly, average pay rises have got weaker in every decade since the 1980s, despite increases in productivity, growth and profits. Unless things change, the 2010s could be the first ever decade of falling wages.

"A return to business as usual may only bring modest pay growth. We need radical economic reform to give hard-working people the pay rises they deserve."

For most people in Britain, wages have been dropping. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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