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Miliband Bothers leads the way for a living wage


 

Ed and David Miliband have put their political rivalry aside to work on plans for millions of workers to be paid a “living wage” of at least £7.20 an hour, which would rise to over £8.30 in London.

The Labour leader said the sum represented the minimum hourly rate needed to provide an acceptable standard of living.

On a visit to Islington Town Hall, Ed Miliband said: “You go out, slog your guts out…you deserve a decent wage if the company can afford it.”

As part of Labour’s policy review, the party is considering ways to make the rate, which is more than £1 higher than the legal adult minimum wage, the new norm.

Listed companies who do not pay the living wage could be “named and shamed” through new corporate governance proposals, and Whitehall contracts could be limited to firms that pay their workers at the new hourly rate.

Seeing Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson on the same side of the living wage debate can be a little disconcerting, but it shouldn’t devalue the principle.

Johnson has built his career on supporting some popular concepts to counterbalance his general adherence to hardline right-wing Tory policies.

Supporting a voluntary campaign for employers in London to pay their workers a minimum of £8.55 an hour – £7.45 outside the capital – does not diminish the memory that he was instrumental in whipping up the self-serving campaign to reduce the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p.

However, the London mayor is correct to make the point that giving low-paid workers more money in their pocket generates consumer demand since none of their pay finds its way into elaborate overseas tax-avoidance schemes.

Workers on low wages tend to spend whatever they’re paid, boosting their local economy.

Right-wing politicians and their equally well-heeled cohorts in the billionaire media are obsessed by so-called “welfare scroungers,” who supposedly refuse to work while soaking up huge sums in a variety of benefits.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has used this urban myth to justify his all-encompassing Universal Credit, which is set to take effect next year and is expected to cut the living standards of hundreds of thousands of people.

Almost a million people who qualify for housing benefit are in work but their pay is so low that they need this assistance.

The government knows that constantly rising levels of rent, especially in London, lead inexorably to many more low-paid workers qualifying for housing benefit, so it is introducing a housing benefit cap to force families out of high-demand accommodation into less desirable areas, even though this can be calculated to affect some people’s ability to hold on to their jobs.

Duncan Smith has got his teeth into two more urban myths – the idea of rich pensioners eagerly grabbing free bus passes or that free TV licences for over-75s constitute a major drain on public finance.

This hard-faced Tory, who owes his personal comfort to marrying into wealth, claims “fairness” as his motive, but the campaign against universal benefits betokens deep-rooted hostility to the welfare state itself.

Universal benefits are more efficient, needing less bureaucracy to operate and having a higher take-up than means-tested benefits.

As for the idea of millionaires using their passes to clutter up buses, that’s as likely as seeing Duncan Smith sitting next to you on public transport.

If government ministers really want to tackle welfare scroungers, they should get a grip on employers who pay their workers so poorly that they have no choice but to apply for benefits.

Over half of staff employed in distribution, hotels and restaurants are dependent on benefits, as are 15-20 per cent of workers in manufacturing, finance and construction.

The weakening of Britain’s trade unions over the past 30 years is the main contributory factor in the share of GDP given to labour costs falling from nearly two-thirds to just over half and the number of workers covered by negotiated pay awards declining substantially.

This places an onus on government to redress the balance by legislation.

While some employers will concede a living wage voluntarily, many more will not, which suggests that the current minimum wage should be superseded by a legally enforceable living wage.

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