Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has called on the government to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour for all UK workers regardless of age as a response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The now backbench MP has lodged an early day motion in parliament calling for a rise in the minimum wage – currently £8.72 an hour for workers aged over 23 – in response to suggestions that planned increases are set to be scrapped.
McDonnell said: “The care workers, shop workers, cleaners and delivery drivers are the minimum wage heroes who are seeing us through this Covid crisis. Many are risking their lives and sadly some have lost their lives.
“The Chancellor must reject calls for pay restraint for the poorest workers when those at the top continue to see their wealth increase. If we want to build a better society, now is the time to end poverty pay for good and reward those who are the heroes of the crisis.”
The Low Pay Commission, the government’s minimum wage advisory body, was expected to recommend a 49p rise in the national minimum wage rate to £9.21 an hour, which would be implemented from April.
But the former Shadow Chancellor’s intervention comes amid fears that the proposed increase in pay for the UK’s lowest earners will be scaled back or ignored altogether by the Conservative government.
The Chancellor is said to be considering an “emergency brake” on the proposed hike due to the extent of government spending during coronavirus, according to reports in The Telegraph earlier this month.
The Resolution Foundation has suggested that the government is likely to adopt a modest 15p per hour increase, after experts forecast that average wages would be 4.5% lower next April than expected before the pandemic.
The Low Pay Commission has estimated that there were at least two million workers in the UK paid at or below the minimum wage as of April 2019, accounting for roughly 7% of the total UK workforce as a whole.
Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn called for a minimum wage rate increase to £10 for all workers over 16 years of age. The pledge was included in the party’s 2019 general election manifesto.
McDonnell’s early day motion is set to be the former Shadow Chancellor’s second parliamentary intervention since stepping down from his prominent role in the shadow cabinet role in April this year.
The Hayes and Harlington MP introduced a bill to the Commons last week calling for government Covid support not to be given to bad employers such as Boohoo, British Airways and Amazon.
McDonnell told the chamber when introducing the ten minute rule bill that the UK needed to “reassess how our society and our economy operates” as coronavirus had exposed “what’s just not acceptable”.
Under the proposals, employers would be denied Covid state aid if they used ‘fire and rehire’ tactics, which Keir Starmer recently said should be outlawed, use zero-hour contracts, avoid tax or pollute the environment.
McDonnell’s ideas mirror government policy in Denmark, where companies have been told that they will not be eligible for bailout funds to help them survive the coronavirus pandemic if they are registered in tax havens.