“I’ll deliver the biggest boost to the living standards of low-paid workers for a generation.” – Owen Smith’s speech in Milton Keynes


Owen Smith

It’s a pleasure to be here at the Open University.

One of the biggest employers to adopt the Living Wage – and one of 28 to have adopted it here in Milton Keynes.

And one of Britain’s great institutions founded by one of Britain’s great socialists, Michael Young.

For those of us who advocate practical socialism, Michael’s achievements represent a beacon of hope.

Labour’s 1945 manifesto, which he authored, helped transform society and created social security as we know it today.

But, not only was he a brilliant pioneer for socialism, he was also a prescient thinker.

He warned of the drawbacks and the downsides of a globalised world where workers are disenfranchised.

And the crises that result from growing inequality.

In so many ways, he was right.

Because the Labour Party today is in crisis.

A crisis of identity and leadership.

In large part that’s because of the inequality that grew on our watch.

But the truth is that crisis isn’t confined to the Labour Party.

Our country, too, is in a deep crisis.

And the cause is exactly the same.

It’s a crisis that started in the late 1980s, not on the evening of June 23rd.

That begun when Margaret Thatcher turned our economy on its head, inverting everything we knew about how to grow and sustain a productive economy.

When we became a country that no longer made things but one that specialised in creating and selling complicated financial products.

A change that set in train the decline in our manufacturing base and the erosion of our workers’ rights.

The scale of the crisis that has led to – and which we now face – is severe.

Millions of people no longer feel they hold a stake in society.

Too many young people are worried about their future.

And older people feel the country they’ve known all their lives isn’t what it was.

The vote on June 23rd didn’t cause this crisis, it was a response to it.

A response that said that our country needs re-balancing and our economy needs re-industrialising.

That said we should start making things again.

And – first and foremost – that we should focus on decent jobs for all.

So, it’s crucial we – as the Labour Party – respond to that desire in the right way.

By changing our economy, by tackling inequality and by improving living standards.

Tomorrow, the Bank of England will respond to Brexit, in all likelihood, by reducing interest rates to a 300-year low.

I’ve laid out my plans to invest now to stimulate the economy: a £200bn British New Deal.

And, in the coming days, I’ll set out my vision about how the Labour Party I lead will respond to Brexit.

How I’ll address the deep-seated, long-running causes of an economy that’s out of step with public demand.

But today’s task is more immediate.

Because the symptoms of this crisis are being felt right now.

And it’s the lowest-paid workers who are feeling it most acutely.

It’s the low-paid who face a perfect Tory storm that’s compounding the crisis.

A perfect storm of falling wages, weakening workers’ rights and cuts to social security.

That, together, have meant the sharpest fall in living standards ever recorded.

My promise, if I’m the next Labour Prime Minister, is that I’ll change that.

I’ll deliver the biggest boost to the living standards of low-paid workers for a generation.

The biggest boost to workers’ rights, the biggest boost to pay and the biggest boost to in-work support.

Yesterday, I published my workplace manifesto, a set of radical and credible plans that will deliver a revolution in workers’ rights.

Plans to tackle exploitation, reduce insecurity, and strengthen the voice of workers.

Plans to right Tory wrongs:

Ending the public sector pay freeze immediately;

Repealing the Trade Unions Act;

And scrapping employment tribunal fees.

Plans to ban zero hours contracts, introduce rights from day one and establish modern wages councils in the lowest-paid sectors: hospitality, retail and social care.

Plans that will deliver greater security for our workers.

Greater security and a decent home life – that’s what work should provide after all.

But for too many, our current world of work prevents it.

That will come to an end under my leadership.

But we also need action on pay.

At the top as well as for the lowest paid.

I have talked in this campaign about the historic inequality that’s holding Britain back.

The grotesque spectacle of British workers being hit with the biggest pay cuts in Europe.

Having to stand by while the bonus culture booms again.

Since the 1980s, top bosses have enjoyed pay increases – in some cases – of over 4,000 per cent.

While nurses and teachers have seen their incomes crashing.

Today, UK FTSE companies pay their CEOs 300 times the minimum wage, millions and millions a year.

If they truly deserve that rate, they should have no issues justifying it to workers on average pay.

That’s why, when top executives and company boards take decisions about pay, there must be workers on remuneration committees to influence their decisions.

But to tackle excessive pay at the top, we must go further.

Once those decisions have been taken – consumers, workers and the public should know how companies treat their workers and the fairness of their pay policies.

So I will create a High Pay Commission that will monitor top pay in this country.

Forcing large companies to publish pay ratios.

To front up and to answer the simple question:

How much more do your highest earners receive, compared to average workers; and, as a company, are you proud of that ratio?

And I’ll ask the new High Pay Commission to go even further.

It’s not right that the CEOs of companies like G4S and Capita – who make their money through providing public services – earn millions of pounds a year, hundreds of times the salaries of average earners.

So for private sector providers of public service, I’ll ask the new High Pay Commission to consult on setting a maximum pay ratio between the highest and average earners.

And this radical action at the top will be equalled by action for the lowest-paid.

There’s no doubting Britain needs a pay rise.

Years of Tory austerity mean one in five employees in our country are low-paid.

Those low-paid workers are more than likely to be women, the young or to work part-time.

And we have to tackle the structural inequality that is holding them, and our economy back.

The Tories claim to have the answers to the problem they created.

Last year they raised the minimum wage and badged the increase a ‘national living wage’.

But we know it’s nothing of the sort.

Because the Tories’ policy is fundamentally flawed: a real living wage is based on living costs – and the Tories’ isn’t.

It’s flawed because the so-called living wage set this year is £7.20 – but the real living wage is £8.25.

And it’s flawed because the lowest paid won’t see the benefit.

The Tories’ cuts elsewhere will wipe out any income growth working families may otherwise have seen.

It’s also unfair because it doesn’t apply to under 25s.

If you’re aged 24, you could be doing the same job, with the same responsibilities as someone just one year older but on far lower pay.

There’s no justification for that.

Which is why the Labour Government I lead will introduce a real living wage for all adults.

One that matches the rate set by the Living Wage Foundation.

That means every worker over the age of 25 will get a pay rise from £7.20 an hour to £8.25 – worth £2,000 a year.

Workers aged 21 and over, currently on the minimum wage will also see their wages rise to £8.25 – worth nearly £3,000 a year.

And those aged between 18 and 20 will see an annual pay rise of over £5,000 a year.

A wage that quickly rises well above £10 an hour.

That’s what a real living wage looks like.

But we’ll need strong enforcement to back it up.

A recent survey of employers showed that more than a fifth of service sector employers are cutting staff bonuses and overtime in response to the government’s national minimum wage.

Tesco, Marks and Spencer and B&Q have all announced plans to cut staff costs elsewhere to pay for the increase.

So I’ll strengthen the role of the Low Pay Commission and set-up a Living Wage Delivery Unit.

Their job will not only be to set the level of the living wage but to ensure a real living wage is delivered and enforced.

A revolution in rights and higher, more equal pay.

A huge improvement but – on their own – still not enough.

It’s also the role of Government to support workers through social security.

The Tories don’t get that.

They talk of strivers and skivers.

They divide people into the deserving and the undeserving poor.

It’s divisive rhetoric that’s barely fit for Victorian times.

It’s out of place and out of touch with modern Britain.

Because the reality is half of everyone in poverty in this country lives in a working household.

That scandal of growing in-work poverty is a Tory creation.

Never was that more evident than when George Osborne tried to cut tax credits, one of the finest achievements of the last Labour Government.

Labour’s tax credits helped lift two million children out of poverty and supported hundreds of thousands of single parents back into work.

It was a disgrace that the Tories should even attempt to cut them.

Cuts that would have cost three million working families over a thousand pounds a year.

And to do so at a time when wages are down 10% is vindictive.

George Osborne’s legacy on living standards is catastrophic.

And it would have been even worse if his spiteful tax credit cuts had gone ahead.

The financial impact on low-paid households would have been devastating.

But Labour defeated them.

I defeated them.

Working with Seema Malhotra and our brilliant Labour peers, I stopped those Tory cuts in their tracks.

I’m proud of that campaign.

It showed the power of a united opposition using all the tools at its disposal.

It showed what can be achieved when we ruthlessly highlight the damaging impact of Tory cuts.

And how we put irrepressible pressure on the Tories.

That’s how we defeat the Tories.

Every way we possibly can.

And – while I’m proud to have led that campaign – I know the job’s not done.

Universal Credit is the new Tory vehicle for austerity.

Once it’s rolled out, millions of families will face the same prospect again – massive cuts to their in-work support.

In total, two million low-paid workers will be more than £2,000 a year worse off unless the cuts are stopped.

That means a family struggling with the household bills.

For some, it means choosing between heating and eating.

It means a single mother of two working full-time on the minimum wage will be two and a half thousand pounds worse off.

So the cuts must be defeated.

The task may be harder because the threat is less immediate.

But, I’ve worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the cuts.

And, if I’m Labour Leader, I’ll defeat them in the same way I defeated cuts to tax credits.

I’ll defeat them by presenting a fairer alternative.

By being open and transparent about how I’ll pay to defeat them.

Not sloganising but beating Tory austerity with a credible plan.

Just as I did at the last Tory Budget, where my campaign to defeat cruel cuts to disability benefits led to the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith.

George Osborne was so caught up in Tory turmoil at that Budget he couldn’t get the agreement he needed to reform pension tax relief.

The Labour Government I lead will take up that mantle and radically re-design how pensions are taxed.

Tax relief on pensions costs the Government £35bn a year but that support is massively skewed towards the wealthy.

If you’re low paid, work hard and save all your life – why is it that the richer you are, the more you benefit?

More than half of all pension contributions are made by basic rate taxpayers but they only receive a third of tax relief.

There’s an opportunity for a future Labour Government to do something that’s radical, redistributive and right.

And, if I’m the next Labour Prime Minister, that’s what I’ll do.

I’ll reform Pension Tax Relief so that the richest pay more and low-paid workers see the benefit through higher pensions, a real living wage and reversing the Tories cuts to Universal Credit.

One policy that pays for two more, to boost living standards in three ways.

Through pay, through pensions and through in-work support.

A triple-lock for low-paid workers.

Backed up by the best workers’ rights in Europe.

That’s what a radical and credible Government-in-waiting looks like.

It’s how we can end the scourge of low pay and defeat the Tory scandal of in-work poverty.

It’s how we can reverse the sharpest fall in living standards ever recorded.

And, instead, deliver the biggest boost in living standards ever recorded.

A plan to put tackling inequality at the heart of everything we do.

That’s my way.

That’s the Labour way.

Prosperity, not austerity.

That’s what I’ll deliver if I’m the next Labour Prime Minister.

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