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#GE2010: Labour Manifesto to include "living wage" for Whitehall workers

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Paul Mason | 11:57 UK time, Friday, 9 April 2010

I understand Labour's manifesto will contain a limited commitment to the "living wage" demanded by the influential community group London Citizens.

Labour will pledge that cleaners working for contractors in Whitehall will get whatever the London Mayor decrees as the living wage - currently £7.60 an hour. I understand this is the only significant move in the manifesto on employment law.

But this falls short of a national commitment by Labour to introduce a "living wage" ethos into business above the minimum wage. Despite being repeatedly trailed by Ed Miliband in Guardian interviews, I understand Labour nixed the idea because it would have been seen as circumventing the Low Pay Commission's work, which sets the minimum wage.

David Cameron this morning claimed the living wage as a Conservative policy.

I've covered the emergence of the idea during the past six years, from the windy leafletting sessions in Canary Wharf to the Conservative front bench, and watched the pressure build from groups in civil society that are supposed to be powerless: churches, mosques, unions, youth groups. But Labour's move leaves it as still a very London-centric issue.

Campaigners see what Labour has agreed to as an absolute minimum of what they could have delivered, given the Tory espousal of the principle. And it is certainly less than what was being briefed only a few weeks ago.


  • Comment number 1.

    At least the Tories seem to accept that there should not be 'free' market in the setting of wages any more. What is wrong with elevating the national minimum to say £8 per hour? - reduced benefits admin, stimulating the economy, improve the well being of a substantial percentage of our working population. While this is talked about how about a national maximum wage/salary - £5M or above which apply the old Beetles complaint of "one for you and nineteen for me"

  • Comment number 2.

    It is a problem that you have got so sucked into the Living Wage idea.

    It is promoted by churches - suss for a start.

    It is good for those who've built academic careers on it, and for the churches promoting it - such 'nice people' - and for the businesses that sign up for it - it takes care of the Corporate Social Resposiblity tick box.

    But it is only for migrant workers - who are so often taking the jobs of UK people.

    And it does nothing for all the other cleaners etc on about £3 an hour behind the scenes, as they always will cos that's their comparative advantage.

    It does nothing for people who have struggled to get proper pay scales, to be relegated to 'Living Wage' or more precisely to be passed over for foreign workers taking the jobs eg engineering construction workers in relation to the Olympics site who would/should be working there, on proper pay scales. So people doing those jobs are now getting 'Living Wage'??? Is that such a good thing??? The contractors must be laughing all the way to the bank.

    Six years of looking and you still haven't sussed it out???
    You fail to mention here that LW is indeed entirely for migrant workers

  • Comment number 3.

    But what is a 'living wage' in the rest of the country?

    We used to watch news reports about how cleaners, teachers, firefighters, nurses, etc, had been priced out of housing in London and had stories on the TV news about London firefighters commuting from Northampton and Somerset unable to afford a home in London.

    Now, due to the ludicrous housing price bubble of the past decade combined with a huge gap in wages now existing between bankers, Doctors, middle to senior public sector managers, etc, and the rest of us, a 'living wage' is needed in most parts of the country if many are ever to be able to afford their own home.

    I know I keep going on about it but the housing bubble that has ensued as a mix of property price ramping, of liar loans and due to the privileged professions and their lavious salaries above, has created real inequalities in many parts of the country.

    So you end up with some with more salary than they know what to do with buying up second and third homes, or building buy-to-let empires (A Surgical Consultant I know of now has about a dozen homes from the Lake District to Manchester to Swansea simply because his salary boomed beyond his dreams under Labour in the past decade. The same can be said for a number of GPs I know.), whilst those on the local 'average' wage now have trouble affording the rent let alone ever being able to pay back a mortgage on property which can be as high as ten times their average local salary.

    The result is real social injustice and growing anger and resentment across the UK.

    Instead of making platitudes over 'living wages' and the like the real economic nettle that needs to be grasped is the one of correcting house prices by placing punitive taxes on second, third and more homes along with those who have buy-to-let portfolios.

    If this is not done then many youngsters will eventually twig that they have no chance of affording their own home and will perhaps begin to consider their options overseas. Frankly, I think the coming years will see a brain-drain of emergency services' workers, IT staff and teachers from the UK for this very reason.

  • Comment number 4.

    Support by the parties for the so called "living wage" is hardly surprising, as to argue against it would open one to accusations of advocating poverty level wages for some of the population.
    Someone needs to let the churches know that in the real world, market distortions (Tesco & other supermarkets' monopolistic buying power) mean that employers are unable to offer a living wage to stay in business. This results in them employing immigrant workers prepared to work for below a living wage(farm accommodation provided or packed into cheap rented sector). Further result that UK based unskilled workers have an incentive to stay on benefits rather than work. Hence structural deficit likely to grow. What is needed is government action to redress market imperfections rather than make promises for a living wage that they can't keep. But then the Supermarkets have better connections than unskilled workers. Will the Supermarkets buy into "Big Society" on this one, or stick to their usual fare of gesture charitable deeds and high profit margins.

  • Comment number 5.

    A bit off topic at the moment Paul, but I think the biggest political deception of recent times has been the excessive public spending by Labour that was always going to be unaffordable. Put the bail-out on top of the structural deficit and there is the serious problem. The level of spending has to be reduced. Expectations were raised unrealistically by this government and whoever gets in next has no choice but to cut back on spending. Why has Brown not been pushed hard on this deception?

  • Comment number 6.

    @wetshaves: ""... the excessive public spending by Labour that was always going to be unaffordable."

    Our tax rate % against GDP is historically low and only now rising slightly to 37-38%. The only deception is to allow the public to expect public services that would cost a 42-43% tax rate (nearer the historic level) but to tax at such a low rate, and to expect that to add up in the end.

  • Comment number 7.

    i would be happy with a living administrative competence.

  • Comment number 8.

    It makes perfect sense to have a living wage that applies only in London - or, preferably, a regionally-adjusted minimum wage.

    It is almost impossible to live - even in a flatshare in the cheapest parts of London - if you have a full-time job on the current minimum wage. You can just about manage it if you are in a couple, both employed and sharing your bills.

    In (some) other parts of Britain the situation is different. As tawse57 says, the minimum wage is not enough to buy a house, but I don't see that as a problem. Buying a house is not a human right, whereas one can make a better argument for ensuring everyone has shelter, food, clothes and can afford to travel to work.

  • Comment number 9.

    I can't see how anyone can have any kind of life on the minimum wage, no matter where you live in the UK. How can anyone afford a haircut on that, or even the smallish amount the NHS dentists charge, winter heating bills?

    We make so many assumptions - how many people are required to pay for their own work uniforms from their minimum wage jobs?

    How many people are not part of a couple - single adults are treated as though they don't exist in this election, and so are couples who have no children.

    Imagine your parents live at the other end of the country and on minimum wage you'd never see them. That means no visits for mum and dad as they age, no one to help out as they struggle to manage. The tax payer will have to pay to take care of mum and dad while also subsidising the living costs of the offspring on minimum wage.

    Just how much money is left after paying for council house rent, community charge, bus fares to work etc? I don't think I'd manage to have a telephone, not if I wanted to eat and stay warm.

    I'm sure this has two sources - businesses forcing down labour costs to a shocking level (if you can't pay a living wage, your business is not providing a profit and you should be out of business - you fail!) while at the same house prices and therefore rents/mortgages in this country are sowly destroying our society, our quality of life.

  • Comment number 10.

    ...Buying a house is not a human right,..

    in the uk climate it is in effect a death sentence not to have some kind of warm dry shelter.

    people who cannot afford london should move out.

    as for why wages are low lets not mention the govt's unlimited migration policy where an underclass labour force sleep 9 to a room or break into 'squats' to live.

  • Comment number 11.

    6 gastrogeorge. Exactly. Why didn't he fund from concurrently from increased taxation? Because he knows it is politically unacceptable. That is why it was and is a deception. Just racking up debt that will know have to be met by cutting public expenditure because even he knows that taxes cannot be raised to fund the debt and the deficit. It is far easier to increase public spending than cut it. Labour leads us into the same old trap. Will the electorate never learn?


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