TUC and London Child Poverty Alliance highlight the crisis of low pay

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

To mark the start of its Fair Pay Fortnight, the TUC has today released figures showing that, on average, workers have “lost more than £4,000 in pay since 2009”.  According to the TUC’s analysis, construction workers are earning an average of £88 per week less than they were before the global financial crisis of 2008 and the onset of economic recession, and retail and hospitality workers are £25 per week worse off, with their wages predicted not to recover until 2024. Meanwhile, the cost of living has soared by 25 per cent.

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Since 2008, there has also been explosive growth in precarious forms of employment such as zero-hours contracts, and record numbers of workers who wish to work full-time are now stuck in part-time jobs or have been forced into low-income self-employment. TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, notes that “before the abolition of wages councils [in the 1990s], workers used to be protected by a higher industry rate that also set rates for holiday and sickness. Now the national minimum wage only covers basic pay. Regardless of your experience, if you start your working life in a low-paid job you are more likely to end it there and do more for the same money. That’s why we are arguing for fair pay and protection as part of the whole pay package”.

Whilst it is hard to see Ms O’Grady’s call for a return of wages councils gaining much traction with politicians, the TUC is absolutely right to highlight the fact that, for most working people, pay hasn’t been keeping up with the cost of living. And not only are the living standards of such families being squeezed ever harder, but low pay steals time from family relationships and damages family well-being.

To achieve a good work-life balance, working parents and carers need a flexible job that pays enough to raise a family. They need the twin currencies of time and money. So we need to see more employers paying the Living Wage, and the national minimum wage needs to be both substantially increased and better enforced. And we need to work towards statutory maternity and paternity leave – currently paid at just 58 per cent of the adult national minimum wage rate – being paid at wage-replacement levels. For better and more equal pay will lead to better and more equal parenting.

So the issue of ‘fair pay’ is certainly one that we will be addressing in our ‘families & work’ manifesto for the May 2015 general election. In the meantime, Working Families has joined with ten other member organisations in the London Child Poverty Alliance – including the Child Poverty Action Group, Shelter, the Children’s Society, and Trust for London – to issue a ‘family friendly London’ manifesto for the local elections in London in May this year. Noting that there are “nearly 600,000 jobs in London paid less than the Living Wage, a rise of over 40 per cent over the last five years”, the manifesto calls on London local authorities to take on “an important leadership role not only in paying their own staff and contracted-out employees a Living Wage, but in encouraging other businesses to sign up too”.

The manifesto notes that, apart from wages not keeping pace with rising living costs, Londoners face a range of barriers that make working and bringing up a family in the capital difficult:
  • There is a shortage of family-friendly jobs
  • It is difficult to find flexible and affordable childcare
  • Access to advice and information services is limited
  • Housing cost are soaring and there is shortage of quality homes.
The manifesto sets out ten practical policy pledges, each one offering London local election candidates the opportunity to show they are committed to making London work for families. Why not ask your local candidates to sign up to these pledges?
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