I’m proud that the last Labour government introduced the National Minimum Wage. This boosted pay for millions at the bottom without leading to a loss of jobs and now I can’t imagine a Britain without it.
But the issues we face today are different to those we faced at the end of the last century. The minimum wage was originally designed to prevent extreme low pay and abuse. Today, the challenge is to help hardworking people that earn above the minimum wage but are still living in poverty or dependent on benefits. Over five million people, or one in five employees, are low paid.
This has got worse under the Tories and Lib Dems, with families on average £1,600 a year worse off since David Cameron became Prime Minister. And the value of the national minimum wage has declined by five per cent over the same period.
Those on the lowest pay are at the sharpest end of the cost-of-living crisis. In-work poverty is a shocking legacy of the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ four years in power and the next Labour government is determined to do something about it.
That’s why in September last year Ed Miliband asked Alan Buckle, former Deputy Chairman at KPMG, to investigate how to strengthen the minimum wage, as part of a plan to ensure that those who do a hard day’s work are rewarded for doing so.
The report, published earlier this month, argues for a new framework to ensure that the minimum wage rises faster over the next five years than it has in the recent past, as part of a national mission to tackle low pay and build a new economy with more high skill, high paid jobs.
The report recommends that the next Labour Government should set an ambitious target to increase the minimum wage, bringing it closer to median earnings over a five-year period. This will ensure that there is a bond between the wealth we earn as a nation and the wages that people earn for a hard day’s work.
A clear five-year target gives businesses time to plan and adapt their business models so they are able to support higher wages for their employees. Safeguards should be put in place to protect jobs in the face of economic shocks, so the Low Pay Commission would be able to write to the Business Secretary if it had clear evidence that the five-year target for increasing the minimum wage shouldn’t be met, based on the state of the economy.
The Tories’ economic policies over the last four years have resulted in higher prices, lower wages and a cost-of-living crisis that has hit tens of thousands of people in Stockport. Labour will create a new economy that works for everyone instead of just a few at the top, and that begins with strengthening the National Minimum Wage.
This column originally appeared in the Stockport Express on 28/05/2014