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Time for a cross-Europe living wage

Living WageThe latest official research from the Greater London Authority (GLA) demonstrates that the gap between rich and poor in London is growing. For example, the tenth of the capital’s population with the highest income have weekly income of over £1,000 while people in the lowest tenth have under £94 per week. We also know that London has suffered worse already from the impact of Coalition cuts than any area in the country other than the North East.

One of the best weapons in fighting poverty is to ensure that employers in both the public and private sectors pay a Living Wage. Labour in government made a good start with the statutory National Minimum Wage in 1998, but unfortunately not enough resources were put into enforcement.

As was so often the case, Ken Livingstone led the way in London by establishing the London Living Wage, specifying that Transport for London contracts must include a LLW clause, and pushing businesses in London to adopt the LLW.

As a result, during subsequent election campaigns, the current Tory Mayor was politically not in a position to detract from such a popular and successful policy. Then again the London Living Wage is currently £8.55 per hour, still not a fortune in respect of prices in the capital!

A few years ago, despite the lead from the GLA, it was hard to persuade Labour Groups in London that all contracts and Council services must involve paying the LLW. Trade unions and campaigners such as London Citizens worked hard and lobbied Council leaderships, but we were told that it was unaffordable and unrealistic. However, people have thankfully now seen the light and many Labour Councils in London have given concrete commitments on the LLW, and this is to be welcomed.

But there still is an urgent need to take this approach to a whole new level. Labour nationally continues to be cautious on the issue, talking about ‘making the case’ for a Living Wage rather than putting into place a framework on public sector contracts in particular that ensures it is a requirement. Many in the Labour party are restless and want to see more action on Living Wages in the run up to the manifesto.

And it is also time to take the fight to Europe. So far only the Green and Left blocs in the European Parliament have been debating seriously the idea of a European Living Wage. It is vital that the idea gets more of a look in if we are serious about challenging austerity and creating a level playing field across Europe.

There are massive variations at present on minimum wages in different European Union countries, and campaigners for a genuine Social Europe can argue for a measure that is binding. Some will say that there are legal hurdles, but we must not be distracted by such blocking tactics. The treaties have supported action on pay issues previously especially where there are equality or health and safety justifications. In many sectors, particularly social care, hospitality and food industries and cleaning, it is overwhelmingly women, young people and black and ethnic minority workers who are paid shockingly low wages.

Lucy Anderson is a Labour MEP candidate for London and a London regional representative on the National Policy Forum. Follow her on Twitter @Lucy4MEP

One Comment

  1. Rob says:

    Labour states that a living wage out side of London would be £7.20 which is just about the rate people would lose any housing or council tax rebates and would not get any income benefits, but is £7.20 enough, is that today a living wage.

    But yes across the EU, I can see Spain saying yes to that or Greece or in fact Italy…. even Germany does not have a min set wage you have no chance.

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