Just yesterday, as I walked towards the tube on my way out of Parliament, I walked past HMRC to see a crowd of people on the street. When I looked closer, I saw it was a group of Whitehall cleaners, protesting to be paid a living wage, with “don’t wash your hands of us” written on their palms. It turns out that the cleaners had requested to meet with the HMRC chief executive to discuss their low pay, but had been denied an audience. They’d sent a letter to him earlier this year which said:
“We work hard to keep the offices clean, but we are paid less than it costs to live. Due to our low pay many of us have two or even three jobs to make ends meet, working long hours, leaving the house at 4.30am and not returning until past 9pm.”
I could tell Staggers readers that this resonates with stories I hear every week at my advice surgeries in Tooting, but it doesn’t. The reason why? They are all at work! The constituents I hear these stories from are people like Adowa, who I met at a Sunday church service, who leaves Tooting via the night bus during the week at 4am to get to north London for the first of her two cleaning jobs. And people like Stephen, who gets the 44 bus (which my Dad used to drive) to get to work in central London. Stephen leaves his young son and daughter sleeping when he leaves the house, only to return past their bedtime when he gets home after a double shift. And that’s on a good day when he is given work – his employer has hundreds of people like him on zero hour contracts, leaving Stephen and his family unable to plan week to week, let alone for the long term future.
It’s stories like this that really make me stop and think about what our city has become. A recent report by Changing London showed just how unequal London has become. One in five jobs in London are now “low paid” and this number has rocketed under Boris Johnson. Nearly a third of Londoners now live in poverty and, even more staggeringly, two thirds of them are actually in work. The number of people in “in-work poverty” has risen by almost half a million since 2001. I was shocked, but not surprised, when I read the Global Wealth Report which landed on my desk this week. It found that the UK is the only G7 country in which the gap between rich and poor is rising this century.
Having a job no longer guarantees that you can afford to live in the capital. It’s just not right that Londoners can go to work every day, work long hours and still live in poverty, struggling to bring up their families. Londoners like Adowa and Stephen both need and deserve real change. Those who live and work in our city should be paid enough not to have to work two jobs, and to keep families out of poverty. Let’s get it straight – wages have completely failed to keep pace with the cost-of living in London. As housing and bills takes up an ever higher percentage of Londoner’s salaries, tens of thousands of hard working families have been pushed into poverty.
I want London to be a more equal city, and evidence shows that this would be better for all of us. That’s why I joined more than 80,000 people who took part in the @PayRise4Britain march today. From teachers to nurses, to postal works to civil servants, I spoke to people from across our city who are feeling the stresses and strains of just getting by day to day. Moving forward, when it comes to pay, Londoners need real change. We need a mayor who works to help Londoners with second jobs, not those with second homes. The living wage is not a luxury in London, it allows families to pay their bills and stay afloat. By massively increasing the minimum wage and making the living wage a reality for millions more Londoners, we can make a real difference, ensuring that all Londoners share our city’s successes, and that no one is left behind.
Sadiq Khan is Labour’s shadow London minister. He joined the TUC’s Pay Rise for Britain march in central London today.