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Community  Democracy  Equality  Justice

Labour Leadership contender and Shadow Home Secretary, Griff Rhys Morrison spoke about his passion for introducing a national minimum wage. 

The case for a national minimum wage has never been stronger. However, it is not a new one. In 1905 the Fabian Society called for a standard basic level of income, mandated by law, to ensure a basic dignity in the working classes. Our economy has stagnated after years of neglect under the Conservatives. Their ideological obsession with free market economics has prioritised a single measure, GDP, above all others. Industries were allowed to fail causing rises in unemployment, all in the sacrificial name of profitability. They called it streamlining. I called it neglect.

A healthy economy is not judged by a single measure but by a range. One of the measures that has fallen massively by the wayside over the last decade is living standards; the average standard of people’s livelihoods across society. In the UK today, levels of child poverty, unemployment and skills gaps are out biggest indicators that our economy is fundamentally unfair and unhealthy.

In many industries, workers at so-called entry-level would be able to work full time, every hour God sends, productively and efficiently and in a way which makes profit, and still be unable to feed their children, pay their rent, or maintain a basic level of dignity. In a theoretically modern, civilised and liberal democracy that cannot be allowed to continue.

One of the biggest challenges in this country is that there are great swathes of people grafting incredibly hard who are not just low-paid but under-paid. That level of income is wholly unsustainable because an economy and country cannot perceive itself to be progressive and modern and strong if huge large populations of people are not getting a level of income which afford them the ability to do the most basic of thing. Introducing a national minimum wage guarantees that in the UK, that level of under-pay is abolished and sets the standard against those measures we talked about earlier. It matches the income of our poorest with the cost of living in our economy and takes the threat of under-pay away.In doing so, relative poverty can be dramatically reduced because our poorest citizens have additional income to sustain themselves.

One of the biggest arguments I have heard being bandied about against the case for a minimum wage is that it will lead to higher prices. However when you scratch beneath the surface, there is more to it. Even if, in our example, we set a minimum wage, an imaginary £2.50 an hour. Now if a company felt that because of this additional cost they needed to adjust prices, they would do so and the cost would be offset to the consumer. It sounds bad, right? But consider this; that worker now has a higher level of income weekly and therefore is able to use that disposable income to put more money into the local economy. If everybody did this,it creates more demand, which means firms need to hire more, buy more, trade more, sell more. This creates expansion and more jobs. The myth that higher basic income leads to higher prices is a fundamental misconception that, as a Party, Labour need to be clear in countering.

I don’t think we’ve talked enough about how the minimum wage would work. I don’t think we’re talking enough about the serious advantages, I don’t think we did that well enough in the last election. But we can. We can do more and we must do more.

We need to be out there, explaining to people that higher wages increase incentives and actually makes workers more productive. They want to do better because they’re achieving and getting somewhere and so work harder at what they do. This positively impacts businesses, making them more efficient, more productive, more profitable and ultimately allows them to grow and expand.

We need to be telling people about the incentive to accept a job. If we want to reduce the burden on our public services, making work pay more than welfare is a good start. If workers know that by accepting that job, even if it means the extra bus ride, they’ll be better off and have more disposable income than if they relied on welfare, they’ll be more inclined to do just that.

We need to remind people that businesses invest in whatever costs them money. If paying wages costs, they’ll invest in people. They’ll want highly skilled, productive, happy workers if they’re paying them good money for it.

We need to remind people that this isn’t a poor-people problem. In fact, by introducing a basic level of income, it encourages firms to raise other salaries too and pushes everybody’s income up. That additional income can then go back into the economy through spending or through taxation; benefiting the whole of society equitably.

We need to be out there making this positive case of the minimum wage and we need to be doing so with conviction and passion. The Labour movement was based on meeting the needs and raising the status of the working people of this country and this should be our primary goal. If elected Leader of the Labour Party, I will make achieving a national minimum wage my highest priority. That is my promise to you.

Labour’s values are, I believe, British values too. Fair pay for fair work. I want to fight for an economy that’s fairer, a Britain that is safer and to lead an eventual Labour Government that makes life that little bit easier. Join me, and let’s make that happen together. From 1905 to 1992, and no further. Thank you.