Real wages for 22-29 year olds down 9 per cent on 2008 Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty
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Young workers biggest victims of the squeeze on wages, study finds

Nearly all groups have seen a decline in real wages since the financial crash of 2008 but losses have not been spread out equally. 

Young workers are the biggest victims of the squeeze on wages, according to a new report that maps out British earnings since the financial collapse of 2008.

The research, by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), adds that while employment rates have returned to a pre-crisis level, real wages remain “well below” their peak for nearly every group. But losses have not been spread out equally: for those aged between 22 and 29, median hourly pay in 2014 was 9 per cent lower than before the great recession; those over 60 and in work found their wages returning back to a pre-crisis level. 

The report follows last week’s IFS research that claimed middle to higher income households had actually escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the coalition’s austerity measures. Jonathan Crib, an author of the report, said: “Almost all groups have seen real wages fall since the recession… Women have seen much smaller falls than men. Falls for the low-paid have been somewhat smaller than those on higher pay, driven by trends since 2011.”

Part of the explanation for the report’s gender-divide is that female employees are significantly more likely than men to work in the public sector. And, so far, the mean earnings falls in the public sector have been smaller. While women’s average hourly pay fell by 2.5 per cent in real terms between 2008 and 2014, men’s pay fell by 7.3 per cent. 

But this trend is begining to change as private sector wages start to recover and public wages are squeezed as part of the government's mission to balance the books.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, immediately seizing on the figures said: “This report shows David Cameron has overseen falling wages and rising insecurity in the labour market. Working people are £1,600 worse off a year under the Tories.

Only Labour has the plan to tackle low pay, and to earn our way to rising living standards for all, not just a few as part of our tough but balanced plan to get the deficit down. We will raise the National Minimum Wage to at least £8 an hour, get more homes built, cut business rates for small firms and ensure people are paid a Living Wage.”

Interestingly, the report found that the proportion of part-time workers who say they work part-time because of a lack of available hours is almost double the pre-crisis level.

A spokesperson for HM Treasury said: “This IFS analysis confirms that the UK labour market is continuing to perform strongly. We are seeing a record number of people in work, unemployment falling and wage growth accelerating while inflation falls. UK income equality is now lower than when this government came into office and the gender pay gap is at its lowest since records began. We understand that the impact of the great recession is still being felt and so we’ve cut income tax for 26 million people, frozen fuel duty and frozen council tax. But the job is not done, which is why we must go on working through the plan that is securing a better future across the country.”



Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn



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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.