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Public pressure on employers is no match for a legally-enforced living wage

The government should be doing the job of campaigners.

There was a time when a job guaranteed some basic rights and food on the table. But now almost a quarter of people referred to foodbanks are there because of low wages. Even trainee nurses are being forced toward payday loan companies just to make ends meet. Meanwhile workers in the gig economy have to take employers to court to get basic sick pay, holiday pay and a minimum wage. We may live in one of the richest countries in the world but those who work face growing insecurity. Increasing numbers are just a pay cheque away from destitution.

For the lowest paid, the announcement this week that a Living Wage needs to be £8.45 an hour (and £9.75 in London) will come as no surprise. They understand that employment provides scant protection from poverty. They know they cannot survive properly in the Government's two-tier system on the phoney National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour, let alone the minimum wage for under 25s. And they are all too aware that the Government's figures reflect the cost of living in 2007, not the spiralling prices of post-referendum Britain. 

The Living Wage Foundation has stepped up where the government has failed to address the new age of insecurity. Almost 3,000 employers have committed to pay their workers the amount they need to get by. Thanks to tireless campaigning workers in those companies, charities and public bodies have the chance of a fair wage.

But a voluntary system will not guarantee employment you can build a life around, any more than foodbanks will provide lasting food security. As the Green party proposed at the 2015 General Election, we need a statutory living wage of £10 an hour. We need a pilot of a basic income, giving workers not just a safety net, but the platform they need to pursue their aspirations in the new sharing economy. And most of all we all need proper job security. 

The expanding gig economy, facilitated by apps like Uber and Deliveroo, has seen insecurity spread like a disease, with bosses exploiting zero hour contracts and self-employment at the expense of working people. While these new ways of working can provide the flexibility that many want in the 21st century, it must not come at the cost of basic rights, such as guaranteed hours for those who want them.

The good news is that workers are fighting back. On Friday 28 October, a landmark ruling against Uber found that drivers should qualify for the rights that other workers enjoy. This is a historic ruling for those employed elsewhere, too, and an example of what can be achieved when people stand up against exploitation and take back control. 

But it also begs huge questions about why workers should have to go to court in the first place. How have companies been able to get away with exploitation on an industrial scale? The answer is that the UK’s employment status law, like its minimum wage, is not fit for purpose in the 21st century. Those Uber drivers would never have been forced to take their cases to court in the first place if our laws were stronger and clearer. 

At the Conservative conference, the Prime Minister announced a review into employment law. In the context of the Great Repeal Bill, it is not inconceivable that this could be a vehicle for making things worse, not better. It should be of huge concern to every working person that the 2014 investigation by the Coalition government into employment status law has never seen the light of day. I have called on Theresa May to publish its findings immediately. The failure to do so at best unnecessarily prolongs the insecurity of workers, and at worst suggests the Government has something to hide. 

In the meantime, things look set to get worse before they get better. For many who live in the shadow of post-referendum Britain, "Marmitegate" is not just a frivolous tabloid headline, but a sinister taste of things to come. Cost of living increases, coupled with a hard Brexit, would drag many people under. We should be standing with Uber drivers, and everyone else fighting for basic employment rights and fair wages, to say we can be so much better than this.

It is a national scandal that agencies such as the Trussell Trust and the Living Wage Foundation have had to create voluntary schemes, just in order to put food on the table and secure basic subsistence wages. The kind of Britain we need, and which we deserve, is one which renders such organisations obsolete.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green party. He was formerly the co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia. 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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