Mark Carney addresses the TUC, who have made the living wage a significant campaign in recent years. (Photo: Getty)
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Budget 2015: The time is ripe for the Living Wage

A growing economy means it's time for the wealth to be shared: time for a living wage.

In 2010, the storm clouds were still circling around the British economy, with unemployment rising, the country on the verge of bankruptcy and grim talk of a stagnation that would last for years, or even decades.

In the period after 2008, many workers and families made great sacrifices, with many eschewing pay rises for several years. Following the financial crash, the Minimum Wage also lost value in real terms, as the Low Pay Commission decided that anything other than small increases were too economically risky.

Thankfully, the British economy has now turned the corner – growth being amongst the highest in Europe. Profitability of business is now at a record high. Profitable big business needs to give some of these profits back to their workers in increased wages and for businesses to rely less on the taxpayer to tackle low pay.            

We should celebrate the above inflation increase to the Minimum Wage and the increase to the rate for apprentices. The economic recovery means that now is the time to tackle low pay generally and to ensure that people don’t become ‘stuck’ in low paid work.

Low pay matters because people who are stuck in low pay often think that the connection between hard work and reward has been broken. Low paid workers are less likely to be able to spend time with their families or in their communities and there’s a link between low-paid work and problems with depression and mental health issues.

It matters to the taxpayer as well. As new research for the Centre for Social Justice has shown, the Universal Credit succeeds in ensuring that work pays. But too much of the bill to ensure that people on low pay are able to reach a reasonable standard of living is being picked up by the state. It’s time for profitable big business to take on its share of the burden.

Take the example of a single person with two children. A 35 hour week on minimum wage would mean that they were earning £211 a week. After benefits under Universal Credit this rises to £454 a week. It’s clear that tax credits are an important way of cushioning low pay, but business should be prepared to play their part too. Otherwise employers who pay their workers well are effectively subsidising those who don’t.

The strong economy means that substantial, above inflation increases in the Minimum Wage can now be achieved. It has also seen a big increase in the number of firms paying the Living Wage – up from the low hundreds in 2010 to over 1,200 today. It’s right that big, profitable companies should move towards the Living Wage and they should be expected to report annually on whether they’re taking steps to achieve this.

Tackling low pay is crucial, as is making sure that people don’t get ‘stuck’ in low pay for a prolonged period of time. Universal Credit provides a proactive way of doing this – Job Centre Plus advisers should work with Universal Credit claimants to develop way for them to increase their skills and increase their hours.

A strong economy is a prerequisite to tackling low pay over the long-term. The strength of the economy now means that big business should be ready to reward their workers for the sacrifices made since the banking crash and take some of the burden off the taxpayer when it comes to tackling low pay.

David Skelton is the director of Renewal, a new campaign group aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party to working class and ethnic minority voters. @djskelton

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.