In the grip of a low pay epidemic

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The Work Foundation recently published its final report on the prospects for workers earning less than £15,000 a year.

 

Readers of the study can only be appalled that low pay now affects a staggering 5.1 million employees (21 per cent of the UK workforce) and that over a quarter of these workers will remain stuck in low pay for over a decade.

 

When the National Minimum Wage (NMW) was brought-in in 1999, it was one of the most significant planks of Labour policy. But the current Tory-led regime has failed to give it the status it deserves. Serial offenders have been left to get away with NMW non-compliance and the government has chosen to severely under resource the teams who enforce it.

 

The scale of the UK’s low wage epidemic is a deliberate product of this government’s anti-worker agenda. The mantra that employment prospects are looking up appears shaky when you consider the detail. The reduction in unemployment has been fuelled by a rapid increase in the number of people identifying as “self-employed”, while many others have been forced into part-time and zero hours work where they had previously worked full-time.

 

Serious wage deflation means that increasing numbers are being pushed to take low-paid work that is near-impossible to survive on, with many workers having to begrudgingly seek the help of the state benefits system – not to mention food banks – to keep their families fed, clothed and housed.

 

The Work Foundation’s report makes worthwhile recommendations for how the UK can pursue a fairer wage distribution and begin the fight back against Conservative Party policy and the parochial interests of the big business lobby who control it.

 

One obvious step, the report suggests, would be for the government itself to set best practice by having its departments and local authorities aiming to become Living Wage employers. Unless the government gets its own house in order there is little hope of encouraging the private sector to do so.

 

Another simple move would be for the Low Pay Commission to increase the NMW at a faster rate than average earnings over the next few years. If the economy is really recovering then it is crucial that those at the bottom of the pay scale should be able to feel the effects not just those at the top.

 

Unions are leading the way to fight the low pay epidemic in the national interest. We must all continue to do so.

 

The full Work Foundation report can be read at http://www.theworkfoundation.com/DownloadPublication/Report/365_BottomTenMillionFinalPaper.pdf

 

 

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