Labour frontbench risk being outflanked on the Tories on National Minimum Wage – Shona Jemphrey


What is Starmer’s frontbench playing at with their reluctance to call for a decent living wage?

Shona Jemphrey

The announcement today of a consecutive fall in real pay brings the issue back to the top of the agenda.

By Shona Jemphrey, Momentum National Coordinating Group

The right of the Labour party often deride the left of the party as having their heads in the clouds and not listening to what ordinary people actually want. So what is Starmer’s frontbench playing at with their reluctance to call for a decent living wage?

The cost of living crisis is something that is affecting literally everyone in this country, and is going to hit deprived and working-class communities especially hard. Energy bills have increased by an astronomical 54% as of April 1st, and increasing numbers of households are having to choose between heating and eating. It is so extreme that money-saving expert Martin Lewis is advising families to “heat the person, not the home” and put hot water bottles in sleeping bags to stay warm. 

In France, the most successful candidate on the left, Jean-Luc Melenchon, advocated a 10% increase in the minimum wage, whilst the far-right parties have increased their total vote share by focusing on inflation and the cost of living crisis.At only a 4% increase, their energy bills are far, far less than ours, and yet this is still clearly something voters care about.

If left-wing parties are not addressing these issues, they will lose voters to those who are. The Tories are already starting to outflank Labour on this issue. The national minimum wage recently went up by 6.5% to £9.50, and Sunak’s budget in March 2020 pledges the national living wage (i.e. that paid to everyone over the age of 21) to be two-thirds of median earnings in 2024. This is expected to be “over £10.50”. The Living Wage Foundation is currently recommending £9.90 for a Real Living Wage, and this is expected to increase further in November.

In September, the Labour party conference unanimously voted for a policy supporting a £15 minimum wage. This is a campaign Starmer himself has not been that opposed to in the past; there are photos of him supporting McDonalds workers calling for this wage. However (as is the case with many of his previous principles) he now seems to have developed stage fright about the idea.

Yet even the most cautious leadership team should recognise that if Labour is claiming to represent the average worker, pushing for a better minimum wage is an obvious choice; particularly in these difficult times. Labour cannot be outflanked by the Tories on this – especially not by Sunak, whose tax dodging scandal has put paid to any claim he has to represent regular citizens. The leadership team needs to hurry up and respect the decision of conference, or our party will fall behind the Conservatives on even this most basic of issues.

Martin Lewis is not just predicting that people will need hot water bottles in sleeping bags to stay warm. He is also predicting civil unrest. The country is entering a new crisis. Millions of ordinary folk are crying out for someone to represent them. Will Labour finally step up to the plate? Or will it leave the door open for the far right?

  • By Shona Jemphrey, Momentum National Coordinating Group
  • You can follow Shona on twitter

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