A living wage

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At the Labour Women’s Conference on Saturday 1st February I proposed that the minimum wage be increased and that a a ‘living wage’ be introduced. This is what I said:

The focus of this motion is on earnings and the ability or rather, in the inability, of women and men to provide a minimum essential standard of living for themselves and their families.

By this I mean and I quote from UN documentation ‘things that are essential for a person’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social well-being’.

You will have noted the huge disparity between those at the top of the earnings pile and those at the bottom in the recent Oxfam income distribution report, Working for the Few, and previously in TASC’s HEAP report.

While we continue to fight pay gender pay equality we must also fight for more equal distribution of income for all across our society. A first step in this is an increase in the minimum wage.

The minimum wage was legislated for in 2000 and introduced at a equivalent rate of  5.59 euro. Since 2007 it has been frozen at 8.65 euro save when the previous government cut it in the 2011 budget only for this cut to be reversed when Labour entered government a few months later.

Those living on the minimum wage are many, including a significant % of women. 20 % of our workforce earns 10,000 euro p/a while a further 17% earn between 10 & 20,000 euro, that is almost 1.4 million workers earning much less than half the average industrial wage.

While recognizing that some of such earnings levels is by choice to combine family and work we must also recognize that a significant number of those at work are not on low pay by choice and that a significant number of these are at risk of poverty, 17% according to recent NERI data.

Increasing the minimum wage would somewhat ease this situation while a more long-term alleviation would be the introduction of a national living wage framework.

A living wage pays workers enough money to live on, to meet their essential needs, recognizing the cost of living of the particular city/urban area where they live. It allows workers a decent and dignified wage, better enabling them to provide from themselves and their families.

From a government and public spend perspective, it also reduces the need to subsidise low-paid workers through supplementary welfare benefits.

From an employer perspective, work becomes more attractive, turnover rates and absenteeism declines and work quality improves. Paying workers a living wage is an investment and not only provides a return to employers but also to society – more individuals and families are lifted out of poverty, they are more engaged participative in society and the economy experiences a significant return in terms of domestic spend. 

Evidence of this is to be found in London where the conservative Lord Mayor Boris Johnston introduced the concept that recognized that the London living wage was £2.36 per hour more than the national minimum wage.

While we here today may recognize the human, societal and economic benefits of this concept others will not. We have already heard the call for a general reduction in income tax as the way forward. However, tax reductions do not tackle income distribution inequalities. We have heard that employers cannot pay more, that it will cost jobs and drive down our competitiveness within the global market.

I do not, and will not, accept these arguments and nor should the Labour Party.

These are the arguments of those who wish to protect the unequal distribution of income, who want to reduce the % of GDP that goes on wages to our workers. These are the arguments of those who delegate their political and social responsibilities to the markets, markets that place no value on human dignity and the right to a decent living wage.

I, therefore,  ask you to support this motion

For more on a living wage see:

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