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It's time for the supermarkets to pay a living wage

Home / News / Lewisham news / It's time for the supermarkets to pay a living wage

02 May 2014
Living Wage Just before Easter, a strange thing happened in the House of Commons; I put a question to the Government Minister Vince Cable and got a vaguely positive answer. 

I asked Mr Cable whether he would consider requiring big supermarkets such as Tescos, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons to report each year on how many of their employees earn less than the living wage. He said it was an interesting idea and he would look into it. 

Sadly, two weeks later he wrote to me and dismissed it. I was confused. I wasn’t asking him to force big companies to pay their staff more, I was simply asking him to set up a mechanism for the public to find out which big companies pay their staff a decent wage.  

Each fortnight at my advice surgeries I meet people who are employed by the major supermarket chains, who simply can’t afford to live off their earnings. 

I am shown payslips where take home pay is less than £1000 a month and I’m asked what you’re meant to live off when you have to pay £700 in rent – that’s not to mention the ever-increasing gas bill or the demands of the pay day lenders.  

Across the country, nearly a million people are employed by the biggest four supermarkets. Last year, they made billions of pounds – profit which goes into the pockets of their shareholders.

Yet the wages of many staff in these supermarkets are routinely topped up by Government, via the payment of tax credits and in-work benefits. In the circumstances, this support for the low-paid is right but at the end of the day, Government is subsidising the wage bills of big employers. This needs to change. 

In London, the living wage stands at £8.80 per hour. This is £2.49 more than the national minimum wage. I see no reason why big companies, making huge profits shouldn’t pay it. At the very least, I think we should know how many people get less than an amount which they can live on. 

It’s a shame that that Lib Dem Ministers such as Vince Cable don’t share that view. 

Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Labour Party is clear that if Labour forms the next Government, businesses which agree to pay a “living wage” could benefit from a 12-month tax break in 2016. 

Many Labour-run councils in London, such as Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth already pay their staff a living wage. 

Indeed, Lewisham, under the leadership of Sir Steve Bullock, was the first council in the country to be made an accredited living wage employer. 

Councils pay it, big companies like PwC and Barclays pay it, and yet the supermarkets, the places where we all spend hundreds of pounds a year don’t. I think they should and Government should do all they can to encourage them. 

This article was originally written for the South London Press (published 2nd May 2014)

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