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Boosting living standards and the economy: Ed Miliband announces his plan to increase the minimum wage at the Labour Women's Conference [Image: Reuters].

Boosting living standards and the economy: Ed Miliband announces his plan to increase the minimum wage at the Labour Women’s Conference [Image: Reuters].

Ed Miliband has the right idea: Increase the minimum amount working people are paid and the economy will grow faster and more sustainably than under any measure of the failed Coalition government.

His plan, announced at the Labour Women’s Conference yesterday, also lays down the gauntlet to the Conservatives: Will they match the pledge, or whine that it is unsupportable while their executive donors slither away to enjoy their inflation-busting salary increases (FTSE-100 bosses: 14 per cent per year; bankers 35 per cent; MPs will soon get an 11 per cent rise).

Boosting the minimum wage to £8 per hour during the next Parliament, providing a pay increase of about £60 per week to Britain’s lowest-paid, is a headline-grabbing scheme but once again it is the percentages that matter.

Mr Miliband wants minimum wages to reach 58 per cent of the average (from 54 per cent now) by 2020 – and then 60 per cent in the next Parliament. If you think that’s a pipe dream just remember that, if wages had remained proportionate to the situation in 1986, the minimum would currently be £18.89.

The policy is entwined with a commitment to promote the Living Wage that has recently seen Powys County Council, local authority to Yr Obdt Srvt, announce that its lowest-paid workers are to receive it, starting in the near future. The policy was put forward by the council’s Labour group and has been approved by the ruling independents.

Conservative councillors have reportedly ‘called in’ the decision, claiming that the authority has neither the funds nor the right to make such a decision. They are wrong about both, and will make fools of themselves by fighting the inevitable.

What about the national situation? Mr Miliband agrees with Vox Political that the Conservative-led Coalition’s much-mentioned ‘Long-Term Plan’ is a nightmare for the poorly-paid. George Osborne’s first decision as Chancellor was to stall economic growth for three long years; now he is telling us that the economy is picking up but all we see is the longest fall in living standards created by any government in the last 100 years, with wage rises intentionally pegged lower than inflation to provide increasingly less purchasing power for the poor.

Miliband says he wants government to set out a long-term policy on wages that gives businesses time to plan and adapt to boost productivity and support higher wages – with a safeguard built in, allowing the Low Pay Commission to advise if the goal cannot be met without risking jobs and growth in the fact of economic shocks.

Minimum wage hotspots across the country

The Tories appear to have no opposition to the plan, other than a weak appeal to an old narrative that nobody believes any more: “Labour left our… economy on its knees – and would do it all over again.”

The BBC quoted Tory Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, who claimed people – presumably he meant Tories – would not take “lectures” from Labour on helping people on low pay.

“By crashing the economy, Labour made everyone poorer and they haven’t learnt their lesson,” he said, mouthing the old lie yet again. “Ed Miliband would make people worse off with the same failed policies that got us into a mess in the first place” – policies that were rebuilding the economy in early 2010, before Javid’s former boss George Osborne turned up and trashed it.

No. The Conservatives have put the UK on its back and are carving up the body and selling it off to private-industry cannibals. This piecemeal parcelling-off of our industry and services will leave us with nothing – as has been the intention ever since Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979.

It seems the Liberal Democrats want to “help” lower-paid workers with tax cuts, continuing the work they have done over the last four years to undermine the UK’s ability to pay its debts. Nice one, yellow perils!

Oh, and some goon called Mark Littlewood, from the free-market (read: neoliberal) thinktank the Institute of Economic Affairs reckons the move will be “dangerous” for the economy. Thanks for that, Mark. Shame you didn’t put any flesh on the skeleton of your argument.

It is Day One of the Labour Conference and already David Cameron is on his back foot. Three more days of this and he’ll simply be on his back.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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