Fight for a living wage

by Daphne Liddle

NEARLY five million workers in Britain are subsisting on less than a living wage, according to research by consultants KPMG. This means that one in five workers and their families have an inadequate standard of living.

The current living wage is £8.30-an-hour in London and £7.20 elsewhere in the country.

The Government is refusing to raise the minimum wage, currently £6.19-an-hour to the living wage level, claiming this will create unemployment.

The study found that the north of Ireland has the highest proportion of people earning below the living wage (24per cent), followed by Wales at 23 per cent. The lowest proportion of workers getting less than a living wage is in London and the south-east, both at 16 per cent. It found that at least 70 per cent of cleaners, kitchen staff and waiters and waitresses are paid less than the living wage.

Forty-one per cent of low paid workers surveyed said that their finances are worse now than they were just one month ago and nearly half (47 per cent) expect their finances to be in a worse condition in a year's time than now — slightly more than the 43 of those earning above the living wage. And nearly a quarter (23 per cent) feel that their job security has worsened, compared with 16 per cent of those earning above.

It all adds up to a tidal wave of poverty, misery and insecurity for a high proportion of workers in Britain who do, at the moment, still have jobs. And it means these workers will need more benefits and be able to pay less tax — increasing the Government’s budget deficit woes.

The average wage as a proportion of gross domestic product has been declining for decades and there is little hope of any improvement for another nine years, according to research by the TUC.

The high spending levels between 1997 and 2008 were fuelled by credit sales and those who bought are now struggling to keep up the payments.


Meanwhile levels of corporation tax have been steadily reduced — and many giant transnational companies pay little or no taxes — cooking the books to make it appear that their operation in this country makes no profit.

Many workers, especially women, are now being forced out of work by the soaring costs of childcare that leave them with only small change from their own wages after paying for childcare.

The bosses want it both ways. They will not pay either wages or taxes yet they expect to get the benefit of the workers’ labour power for little or nothing, with wages subsidised by tax credit benefits, collected from the VAT and Paye taxes that workers cannot avoid or evade.

They even want freebie workers on workfare or unpaid internships if they can get them.

The arithmetic does not add up. Workers who do not have enough money to live on cannot spend money in the shops or pay their taxes or their debts.

The bosses cannot have free workers at the expense of the taxes of other workers who are also impoverished.

But the only way we can turn round to bosses and say they cannot have our work unless they pay us the proper price for it is if we stand together. This is the whole point of trade unions and every worker in Britain now has more reason now than ever to belong to a trade union.

The Commission on Living Standards — a diverse group of leading bankers, industrialists, trade unionists and economists — issued a report last week warning that if the issues of low pay and childcare costs are not addressed millions in Britain will endure stagnation and hardship for generations.

That commission can see that the bosses’ greed is killing the economy and that they must pay higher wages in general. But it will have little impact.

The only people who can really advance the best interests of the workers are the workers themselves, fighting together in well organised unity. And if we can defeat the bosses on wages we can defeat their whole rotten corrupt system and send them packing.

We have a choice: go hungry or get angry.