They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But we’re not talking about someone buying the same shoes as you here. What the Government attempted to do in the recent Emergency Budget was to co-opt a social movement, a campaign rooted in the communities and workplaces, and use it to hide the fact that they are subjecting thousands of low paid workers and their families to further misery. Let nobody be under any illusion that the Chancellor’s budget was “pro-work” – what he is giving with one hand, he is taking back with the other, and then some.
It goes without saying that we will always welcome a rise in wages for workers. However, the new NLW rate of £7.20 is actually what the Living Wage rate was four years ago. So good news if you have a time machine and can go back to 2011, not so good if you are trying to get by in 2015.
The Living Wage – as set by the UK Living Wage Foundation – is based on thorough independent research which reflects public perception of what a low cost, but acceptable standard of living looks like. It’s about being able to participate in society – to live, not just exist.
The rate set by Government is a judgement of what the “market can bear” – it has little to do what individuals need to live on. The main concern is what effect it will have on the economy and the job market – not on individual lives.
You do not need to be an economist to work out that boosting pay by £4bn is not going to fill the £12bn chasm left by the simultaneously announced cuts to benefits. Low-paid workers tell us that they are struggling to get by on their income now, so how are they expected to cope when the tax-credit reduction kicks in and leaves them worse-off, irrespective of any raise to their hourly rate?
Young people have borne the brunt of austerity measures with high youth unemployment, and low pay, zero hours and exploitative employers when they are in employment. And to add insult to injury, under 25s will not get this higher rate of pay, and under 21s will not be eligible for housing benefit. So if you are under 21 and in a low paid job, where does that leave you? Not everyone has a safe, loving home to move back into. Even if you do, why should young people have to bear the brunt for the UK Government’s attempts to cut welfare spending? We have met young people who are the sole earner in their household, who have additional caring responsibilities on top of their paid employment – where is their pay rise?
As a campaign, we need to ensure that we continue to highlight the difference between the increase in the National Living Wage for some and the actual Living Wage. We need all our partners and supporters to ensure they highlight the importance of having one clear independent calculation based on the cost of living. At the same time we should support campaigns like SCoWR to fight for a decent welfare system that supports people both in and out of work. And most importantly, we need to ensure that we continue to encourage more and more employers to pay the actual Living Wage so that we can make a real difference to the lives of low paid workers.