Thursday, 12 June 2014

Chronic low pay is not acceptable in a civilised country

This is an extract from Katy Clark MP's speech in Parliament during the debate on the Queen's Speech - 11 June 2014

"The reality is that our country faces massive challenges. We face the massive challenge of responding to an economic crisis and to the austerity that is being imposed not only on the people of this country, but throughout Europe and the western world, yet there is little discussion of that in this place.

The Secretary of State spoke about statistics and referred—quite interestingly—to the 99%. He accepted that the vast majority of people in this country are paying the price of the economic crisis and he also conceded that the 1% are doing very well, nicely. Of course, that is not just the case in this country. As we look around, we see that it is the case throughout the western world, whether that is in Greece, Ireland, Portugal—it is true in any country that people choose to look at. The super-rich, those who are really in control of many of the decisions that affect most of our lives, are seeing their wealth and power increase, while most of us have been put in a position where our living standards have been squeezed by the economic crisis and the way that politicians have responded to it.

I am pleased today to speak in favour of the amendment that has been tabled by the Opposition Front Bench team to bring forward measures to raise the minimum wage faster than average earnings. We know that the measures that this Government have introduced have led to a squeeze in the living standards of the vast majority of people in this country, and when proposals are put forward to try to address that situation—for example, the proposal of a price freeze for people’s energy bills, whether those are electricity or gas bills, which would obviously affect not only individuals but businesses—the Government react with horror. They also react with horror when it is suggested that we should do something to try to deal with the private rental market, even though in parts of the country rents are increasing at far higher rates than people’s incomes.

The reality is that since this Government took power, in all but two months real wages have failed to keep pace with inflation. Indeed, after the welcome real-terms increase in pay in March, there was another fall in April. As we know, the Living Wage Commission has highlighted that 21% of people in work in this country— 5.8 million people—receive less than the living wage. Therefore, the amendment that we are considering today clearly outlines the direction of travel we should be taking and we need to say that it is simply not acceptable that we continue to be a country where there is chronic low pay and where people are not paid a decent amount that they can afford to live on if they work full-time. That is not an acceptable way to organise ourselves in a civilised country.

The Government can put forward proposals that refer to welfare caps and fiscal responsibility, but until we put in place the measures that put the pounds into ordinary people’s pockets and give them the ability to make decisions for themselves and live in dignity, we will not address the real issues.

This Queen’s Speech fails the British people; I look forward to voting against it."

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