Saturday, 6 April 2013

April Fools' Day was no joke

For those of us who care about living standards Monday of this week, 1 April, was no joke. April Fools’ Day it may have been but for people on the receiving end of the government’s savage clobbering of the welfare system that day will have very real consequences.

As if that were not enough, a day later we see coalition ministers apparently considering freezing or cutting the national minimum wage. This was well past the threshold for April Fools’ Day wind-ups. Freezing or cutting the national minimum wage would be outrageous and would have a devastating impact on living standards.

As the government was setting about wrecking the welfare system, this week, Labour-led Leicester city council increased the pay of 1,100 staff to the level of the living wage. This includes over 280 kitchen assistants and 270 cleaners. We committed to this in our manifesto, it was recommended by the Leicester Child Poverty Commission and I am pleased we have delivered it.

It won’t stop the coalition’s devastating welfare changes but it will make some difference to those workers and their families. It will strengthen our hand in encouraging other employers to pay the living wage. We have seen strong campaigns for the living wage. In Leicester, Labour Students at the university have run an excellent campaign and there are many others like it across the country. This movement needs to continue with energy and determination.

The living wage has become a practical example of how Labour councils are doing their bit to help and deliver fairness in these tough times. As the coalition continues to create hardship and misery for hard-pressed families it will fall to Labour councils to help. It will fall to the next Labour government to pick up the pieces. The living wage can play a big part in this. As Labour we have always, and will always, be about lifting living standards and protecting workers from poverty pay.

There is a compelling argument for the living wage to be central to Labour’s economic and social priorities and a cornerstone of our next manifesto. We have to make the case for the living wage but it now seems to do that we may have to fight to defend the minimum wage: this argument is one and the same.
It is an argument we must win.

This article was published by Progress, 5 April 2013.

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