The Greens have set a new target for the minimum wage to reach £10 an hour for everyone by 2020. Photo: Flickr/Images Money
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£10 an hour: the Greens' new target for minimum wage

For the Green party, asking nicely for employers to pay a living wage isn't enough.

More than 100 years ago the well-known radical socialist Winston Churchill said that it was “a serious national evil” that anyone “should receive less than a living wage for their utmost exertions”. Today both David Cameron and Ed Miliband claim to be united in calling for that evil to be eradicated from national life: in 2010 Cameron said it was “an idea whose time has come”. And in 2012 Miliband called it “a really important idea”.

Yet scratch below the rhetoric and you’ll see that the simple idea of ensuring that wages pay people enough to live on is a long way from being realised. In fact, under Cameron’s watch the problem has got worse – the number of people earning less than a living wage has risen by 50 per cent - from 3.4m in 2011 to 5.2m today. The government promised to make work pay; in fact it’s making work pay much less.

The Conservative and Labour approach of small carrots and no sticks – ranging from gentle encouragement to employers to pay their workers more to tax breaks to companies that “do the right thing” – isn’t working. For the first time since records began, the majority of people in poverty are in working families. Two-thirds of adults in these families are in work. Far too many workers – social care being a notable area of great exploitation – aren’t even being paid the legal minimum wage.

Fear and economic insecurity dog the lives of millions of households. They have little hope for improvement in their circumstances, little confidence that they’ll be able to pay the bills, and worry about going under, disappearing into the hungry jaws of payday loans and credit card bills.

What they need is hope; confidence that their lives will get better, less stressed, less fearful.

That’s why the Green Party is pursuing a different approach. Instead of asking nicely, we will make it a legal requirement for all employers to pay their workforce enough for them to live on: we will set a new target for the minimum wage to reach £10 an hour for everyone by 2020. We’d also immediately increase the minimum wage to living wage levels.

Of those 5.2m low paid workers nearly half a million are in the public sector. The cost of paying them all a living wage works out at around £360m – about 0.25 per cent of public spending. Ensuring all of Tesco’s 310,000 employees have enough to put food on the table and pay the bills would cost a fraction of the £2.4bn profit they are forecast to make this year.

Here in the UK we have one of the worst records on low pay in the developed world. We are twice as bad as the best performers: Belgium, Italy, Norway and Finland all have low pay rates less than half of ours. Only the United States has a worse record.

So anyone who is serious about building a fairer society and an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top, really does have to have a credible plan to tackle poverty pay. The public expect it too – nearly eight in ten agree that “people working full-time should be paid enough to maintain a basic but socially acceptable lifestyle”.

Our £10 an hour policy is a part of a package of measures that will be included in our fully costed 2015 manifesto which will also set out our plans for a wealth tax on the top 1 per cent and pay ratios to ensure that the CEO isn’t paid more than 10 times the salary of the office cleaner.

More than a century after Churchill called for it, the Green Party will ensure that the living wage really is an idea whose time has come.

Natalie Bennett is leader of the Green party

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and a former editor of Guardian Weekly.

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism