What is the greatest achievement of Labour’s most recent stint in government? Is it Sure Start? Record investment in schools and the NHS?
For some it may be, but I’m willing to bet that most of you think it’s the Minimum Wage.
Before it was introduced millions were working for terrifyingly small salaries as low as £1 an hour. The minimum wage made work pay and released millions from the most abject poverty. Despite the scare-mongering from the right, it didn’t cost jobs. It set a legal floor below which we as a society said we would not allow – or force – people to go.
And yet, it wasn’t enough.
Now the debate has moved on, and the discussion now revolves around the Living Wage, which far from being a luxury is the bare minimum that it is estimated people need to live on. The Living Wage is the point at which people begin to exit poverty. And yet the Tories – rather than embracing the Living Wage for those who get up to clean Britain’s offices while George Osborne’s curtains are still closed – may be about to introduce the first cut to the minimum wage.
The Telegraph reports this morning that:
“The minimum wage for millions of people could have to be capped or frozen in future if it risks damaging jobs or the economy, the Government has said.
It has told the Low Pay Commission, which sets the minimum wage, that it must formally consider its impact on “employment and the economy”, before agreeing future increases.
The change, which will be written into the Commission’s new terms of reference, raises the prospect of the first ever across-the-board freeze or cut in the minimum wage for everyone if the economic uncertainty continues.”
Firstly, it’s unclear how the government believes that taking money out of the pockets of the poorest in society will aid the economy. We’ve been here before – with the real terms cut in benefits (including in work benefits) – so it’s little surprise to see such alarming economic illiteracy repeated here.
Secondly, read the last line of that quote from the Telegraph again – “the prospect of the first ever across-the-board freeze or cut in the minimum wage for everyone if the economic uncertainty continues.” George Osborne has steered the economy away from recovery and towards stagnation and repeated recession. And so those on the minimum wage must pay for his mistakes – and the mistakes of others.
I must have missed the part of the financial crisis that was caused by minimum wage shop workers and cleaners.
It’s not just the Tories that are to blame for this though – there is complete acquiescent obedience from the Lib Dems. Here’s a particularly mealy mouthed quote from Lib Dem Employment minister Jo Swinson:
“The level of employment is now above its pre-recession peak, but the employment rate is below the pre-recession peak. This means that we believe that caution is required – particularly as the minimum wage rate is now at its highest ever level relative to average earnings for adults, and remains high for young people.”
Look at that underlined section. Wages as a whole have nosedived thanks to stagnating wages and inflation squeezing British pockets, and so the response of the government is to suggest that the (poverty level) minimum wage is too high. And as for the minimum wage remaining “high for young people”, any 18 year old lucky enough to get a minimum wage job will be paid a princely £4.98 an hour. Again, just because youth unemployment is staggeringly high and a lost generation is being created, does not mean that those who have managed to get poverty wage jobs should be made poorer still.
The Tory backwoodsmen have repeatedly tried to get rid of the minimum wage altogether. The response of the mainstream Conservative Party was that they had no such plans. Instead, it seems, their plan is to undermine the minimum wage by stealth. Left to this government, Labour’s greatest achievement in office will be downgraded, undermined and diminished. And millions will sink further into poverty.