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Act Now to Protect the Minimum Wage – John McDonnell MP

“It’s hard to convey at times the scale of human suffering caused by poverty in this the 6th richest country in the world in the twenty first century.”

John McDonnell MP.

This next couple of weeks are critically important for low paid workers across the country.

The Low Pay commission will be producing its annual report and recommendations on the level of the minimum wage for next year.

The current minimum wage is set at £8.72 an hour for workers over the age of 25.

A few years ago the Tories, in a flabbergasting piece of Orwellian doublespeak, renamed the minimum wage the National Living Wage. The aim was to sow confusion between the Tories low minimum wage, rechristened as the living wage, and the independently assessed much higher Real Living Wage.

The only certainty about the Tories’ Living Wage is that you can’t live off it. That’s especially true if you are young because built into the minimum wage is age discrimination.

For people aged 21 to 24 it’s set at £8.20. For the 18 to 20 year olds it’s £6.45 and for under 18s it’s £4.55. Apprentices receive a measly £4.15 an hour.

The level of the Real Living Wage calculated by the independent Living Wage Foundation is currently set at £9.30 an hour and for London £10.75.   

Because there is no floor under the Government Covid  wage support schemes, wages have been cut to below even these levels with people now expected to survive 67% of the minimum wage. 

The hope this year was that the Tories would live up to all their hype about levelling up and we would see a significant increase in the minimum wage.

If it was serious about levelling up the government would take the Low Pay Commission recommendations as a minimum and go further.

That hope could be soon dashed.

The Low Pay Commission has consulted on a 49p an hour increase on the minimum wage but there are real fears that the Commission uses the Covid pandemic as an excuse and, influenced by the Tories, fails o recommend even the 49p increase.

Even if we overcome that hurdle there is also the greater risk that Rishi Sunak, the Thatcher admiring Chancellor, refuses to implement the recommendations of the commission and either cuts the rise or, worse still, freezes the minimum wage. It’s been widely rumoured that this option is being given serious consideration in the Treasury.

You can hear the Chancellor’s statement now, trying to justify the imposition of poverty wages on the low paid.

The litany of Tory old style chants will be drawn out – “We are in grave economic times, the books must be balanced, we can’t go on borrowing forever, everyone must tighten their belts, face up to hard choices, blah, blah, nauseating blah.”

If a cut in the expected increase or a freezing of the minimum wage takes place it will mean no relief from poverty and hardship for hundreds of thousands of people and families and children across our country.

It’s hard to convey at times the scale of human suffering caused by poverty in this the 6th richest country in the world in the twenty first century.

Louise Casey, former adviser to successive governments on homelessness and many other social policy issues, broke cover this week and described what she saw. It was destitution.

Destitution is when you are missing some of the very basic essentials of a decent life. For many families we’ve found that it’s a parent not having go without food so their child can eat. For many children it’s a warm coat in winter and a proper fitting pair of shoes.

Sunak referred recently to his sacred duty to balance the books in the economy.

It was an embarrassingly ludicrous piece of hyperbole.

What should be a genuine sacred duty of all governments is to ensure that the people they are supposed to represent are not forced to live in poverty and hardship.

That no child goes to school this winter without the warm clothing they need.

That no family goes hungry.

That everybody has the income they need for a decent life.

To achieve that aim we have argued for a minimum earnings guarantee based upon the real living wage opening up the opportunity of moving to a Universal Basic Income.

As a first step we have a responsibility to secure the minimum wage increase for next year.

To help secure that Claim the Future has launched a petition and I have tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for the Chancellor to introduce a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour.

In the limited time we have to influence this decision that means so much for so many low paid workers I urge you to sign the petition, https://www.change.org/10poundsNMW, lobby your MP to sign the EDM 970 and add your voice to the campaign for the rise in the minimum  wage.

  • The John McDonnell ‘Claim the Future’ column appears monthly on Labour Outlook, alongside our other regular columnists Richard Burgon MP, Apsana Begum MP, Kate Osborne MP & Jon Trickett MP.

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