Boris Johnson

The Tories’ wage offer doesn’t cut it, we need much bolder action – Shona Jemphrey, Momentum


“Workers in this country are overdue a proper pay rise, and have been for more than a decade. Wage stagnation is the worst it’s been in over 200 years.”

By Shona Jemphrey, Momentum National Coordinating Group.

On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak will announce his autumn budget. One thing that is not expected to be included, but is very much necessary, is a £15 minimum wage. The Conservatives are promising an increase to only £9.50 by next April – not enough to keep up with the cost of living.

Workers in this country are overdue a proper pay rise, and have been for more than a decade. Wage stagnation is the worst it’s been in over 200 years. Even before the national insurance tax rise and the drastic increase in energy bills, workers were struggling for years. Rents have increased 16% in the last decade. We’ve seen food bank use soar, and stories of families going hungry are only too common – all the more shocking when you consider we are one of the richest countries in the world.

With the cost of living rising dramatically, this is only going to get worse. So the Tories’ half-hearted promises won’t be enough.

We know that struggling financially affects every part of your life and exacerbates problems such as mental health issues, drug misuse, domestic abuse, and anti-social behaviour. As a child protection social worker, I cannot begin to tell you the number of families I’ve worked with whose lives and problems have been made much, much harder because of financial difficulties. It is very difficult to tackle deep-seated, long-standing issues when you are also worried if you can feed your family each night.

Life expectancy is a full decade longer in the richest areas of the country than the poorest; income inequality literally kills you. They say money can’t buy you happiness, but it can certainly buffer you from some of the worst shocks. This is a health and social care issue; this is a safeguarding and child protection issue.

At the Labour Party conference this year, we unanimously passed a motion calling for a £15 minimum wage. Unanimously – every delegate, from the unions and the constituency labour parties, voted for it. There is a real passion for this within the party. And we know from recent Survation polling that voters are ready for this too – not just a £9.50 minimum wage by next April, but something much bolder.

Keir Starmer himself has campaigned on this before – in November 2019, he stood on a McDonalds picket line, supporting the workers demanding £15 an hour. In the two years since then, the need for this wage has only gotten more dire. Now is the time for Keir Starmer to be bolder on this issue – a popular, easy vote-winner – not back-track on previous positions. With people’s distrust in politicians rising, and the Tories regularly stumbling over their own hypocrisy, it shouldn’t take a lot for someone to stand out from the pack as more honest and trustworthy.

A common objection to raising the minimum wage is to ask: how will small businesses and organisations manage to afford it? Support should of course be given to them, including tax breaks if necessary; but in fact, economic studies have found that an increased national minimum wage has enough positive side effects to offset a large amount of the increased payroll costs. This happens through rises in worker productivity, reductions in turnover, and an increase in consumer spending. It makes sense: working people spend their money in their communities, rather than hoarding it in off-shore accounts as the uber-wealthy do.

We all know that billionaires have dramatically increased their wealth over the pandemic, as the lowest paid have toiled to keep our society running, in exchange for barely enough money to keep body and soul together.  We forced the Tories to introduce furlough, which we should be proud of, but many people still fell through the cracks.

As the working class we need to be bold. We shouldn’t be begging for scraps from the table of the wealthy, because they’ll give us as little as they can get away with. (This is why we also need a wealth tax!)

Unions understand the need to be bold, which is why GMB and UNISON are actively campaigning for a £15 minimum wage for carers, and the BFAWU are doing the same for McDonald’s workers. In the Momentum policy primary, where our members decided which policies we should push at conference, the £15 minimum wage policy was the most popular. This is an idea that is popular across the party.

Labour is meant to be the party of workers, and working families – our minimum wage offer must provide a decent lifeline to them, and not just timidly echo what the Tories are saying. We need the leadership to catch up with us – and with the general public.

  • By Shona Jemphrey is a member of Momentum’s National Coordinating Group. You can follow her on twitter and Instagram.
Boris Johnson
Featured image: Boris Johnson. Photo: Labour Outlook Archive

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