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Is anyone else sick of employers bleating that the minimum wage is hindering their business?

They must think we’re all stupid.

A few of them were on the BBC’s Any Answers on Saturday, saying the minimum wage keeps pay down, and that people can’t afford to go to work – especially if they live in London – because their housing costs are paid by benefits. This is nonsense.

The minimum wage is exactly what it claims to be – a minimum. And if people aren’t getting up to work for it because benefits give them more, we can see that it is not enough.

But let’s take this further: We all know that Landlord Subsidy is being restricted – especially in London, where landlords charge more than in the rest of the country. This means that people on low incomes in rented homes will be unable to pay the bills and will be forced to move somewhere cheaper (if they can find it), as intended by our extreme right-wing government.

Where are all these minimum-wage employers going to find their minimum-wage workers then?

Even that isn’t the limit of it, though. We know from such sources as the summer’s excellent Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 that employers have found ways around the minimum wage.

  • They have taken people on as self-employed contractors who are paid a flat rate for a day’s work – no matter how long that work takes – and being self-employed, these people pay their own taxes and National Insurance, and get no time off for holidays or if they are ill.
  • They have taken on workers on part-time contracts, meaning reduced or non-existent holiday and sick pay entitlements – and then boosted up their hours to full-time levels with fake ‘overtime’ offers.
  • They have employed workers on zero-hours contracts, meaning they can demand an employee’s presence at any time and make them work for as long – or short – a period as required. Again, there are no tax administration obligations, NI, sickness or holiday benefits.

The result is very nice for a government of liars such as the current Westminster administration, because it seems they have managed to increase employment (in fact the last figures showed unemployment is greater than at the end of the Labour administration in 2010, but by such a small amount that it’s not worth mentioning).

Production, on the other hand, has remained flat. If more people are in work, it should have increased.

That is how we know we are looking at a con.

If more people are in work but production hasn’t gone up, we must question the incentive for this increased employment. It has already been mentioned: The lack of holiday and sick pay entitlement, National Insurance and tax admin obligations. The larger the employer, the larger the saving – but this doesn’t mean small firms aren’t feeling the benefit.

The minimum wage worker’s income is topped up by benefits – but the government is cutting these back. Landlord Subsidy in London won’t be enough for people on the kind of contracts described here to stay in their homes, and this means a consequent job loss if they have to move out of the area.

Tax credits are being removed; child benefit restricted. Universal Credit (if it ever works) will operate in real-time, adjusting benefits to ensure that low-paid workers remain in an income trap for as long as their wages remain below a certain level.

Employers reap the benefits. But even they are being conned, because this can’t last forever.

Imagine a Britain without in-work benefits but where the living wage has not been introduced nationwide (this will be a reality in a few years, under a Coalition or Conservative government). Workers on the self-employed, part-time or zero-hours contracts described here will not earn enough to survive.

Private debt will increase exponentially, leading to increased mental illness as the stress of trying to cope takes its toll on the workforce. Physical illness will increase as people cut back on heating in their homes and food in their fridges and larders. Result: malnourishment and disease.

What happens then? It’s hard to say. It may be that employers will take on increasing numbers of cheap foreign workers – but there is already resentment at the influx of immigrants from the European Union and this could lead to civil unrest.

It seems likely that the largest firms will leave these shores. If we compare them to huge parasites – and we can – then the host will have been drained almost dry and it will be time to move on and find another to treat the same way. These are the companies who have reaped huge rewards from tax avoidance, aided by the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young – who have been writing – into British law – ways for them to get out of paying their share.

The smaller employers might keep going for a while or collapse; it depends how much their bosses save up for the inevitable crash. Deficit financing of their business will support them for a while but, if they don’t have any ideas, they’ll go under.

All because a few very greedy people just won’t pay a reasonable amount for a hard day’s work.

They get on the media, telling us they can’t afford higher wages. In that case, why are they even in business? If they need a workforce of a certain size, but cannot pay a living wage, then they simply should not bother. All they are doing, in the long run, is contributing to a monumental confidence trick that will cause immense harm to the economy and the nation’s health.

Of course, the UK did not always have in-work benefits. People used to be paid enough to make ends meet. We should be asking why that changed and who benefits. A return to that situation would benefit the country enormously – but it isn’t going to happen on the minimum wage, and it isn’t going to happen on zero-hours contracts.

It’s time to name these firms and ask bosses who employ on these terms why those contracts are necessary and why they feel justified in the damage they are causing.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to ask our MPs why they tolerate it, too.