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It's time to tackle low pay

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03 February 2015
Living Wage speech 1 There are times as an opposition MP when you wish you could shake the government by the lapels and try to put into practice some of the ideas and ideals that you came into politics to promote. And there are very occasional times when you get to do exactly that. 

Today I was lucky to put forward an idea for a law of my own; what we call in Parliament a Ten Minute Rule Bill. I’ll be arguing for “a Bill to require listed companies to report annually on the percentage of their staff paid below a Living Wage” and you won’t be surprised to discover that I have just ten minutes to make my case.

I’m calling for this Bill because I think we need to be more open about the problem of low pay in our economy. Crushingly low pay is an insult to people who are working hard and doing the right thing, but it is also a drain on the public finances as the government steps in to top-up low pay with tax credits and in-work benefits. We all agree on the need to get down the deficit, but the government spend vast amounts of money we can ill-afford topping-up the low pay of highly profitable listed companies. That can’t be right.

My Bill wouldn’t force companies to pay the Living Wage, so nobody can argue that it would threaten jobs, but it would force listed companies to report whether they pay it. I have a suspicion that a gentle nudge in the form of greater transparency might be just what is needed to get some of our biggest employers to do the right thing. And if they don’t? We’ll be able to act accordingly as consumers who want a better economy and dignity in work for our friends and neighbours. 

I know a Living Wage is possible. Eighteen of the FTSE 100 are already Living Wage employers and I was proud to be a member of Lewisham Council when they became the first such local authority employer despite a very tough economic outlook. They understand that a fairer economy is a stronger economy.

I know too what life is like for people when we say a Living Wage isn’t possible. I’ve been shown payslips at my advice surgeries where people are taking home wages of less than £1000 a month. How can they live, they ask me, after they’ve paid £700 in rent?

The Conservatives have introduced a peculiar cruel-to-be-kind economy that can be cruel to working people and taxpayers whilst being kind to big companies and CEOs. It isn’t working in the interests of British people or the British economy. I think Bill would be a step in the right direction and I await the view of this government with interest.

You can read the speech I delivered in full here.

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