Making Wales a Living Wage- Mike Hedges AM

Whilst Wales has very little unemployment, we are unfortunately blighted by low wages and the sort of ‘flexible contracts’ which benefit employers at the expense of employees.

From 1 April 2016, the Conservative government at Westminster renamed the minimum wage the Living Wage and introduced a new mandatory national living for workers aged 25 and above. That was set at £7.20, a rise of 50p on the national minimum wage. From April 2017, the new minimum wage is set to increase to £7.50 for those over 25, but is still only £4.05 for those under 18.          

The renaming of the minimum wage as the national living wage has obviously caused some confusion, as there was already a national living wage calculated by the living wage foundation. The Living Wage, as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, stood at £8. 45 for workers over 21 in the UK (£9.75 for London), compared to the minimum wage of £7.50. Almost six million workers in the UK are currently paid less than the living wage.

I believe that the case for everyone to be paid at least the living wage (as defined by the Living Wage Foundation) is overwhelming. It makes no sense that the government enforces a minimum wage not considered enough to live on, renaming it the national living wage. This can only lead to confusion with the ‘real living wage’. I believe the living wage, as defined by the Living Wage Foundation, is desperately needed.

One of the biggest problems facing us in Wales today is in work poverty. The living wage would help address this; one of the Westminster government’s biggest problems is paying in work benefits, which paying a living wage would help address. I believe that the government has a moral duty to ensure a decent standard of living for all.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has gone further in saying that “a Labour government could ban companies from paying dividends to shareholders unless they pay workers the living wage. Only profitable employers will be paying dividends; if they depend on cheap labour for those profits then I think there is a question over whether that is a business model to which we should be turning a blind eye.” Consequently, a Conservative Party spokesman called Labour a “clear threat to our economic security, because of their support for the living wage, as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.” It is surely a concern that the Tories believe that our economic prosperity is based on low pay.

There are also benefits for employers; the Living Wage Foundation report says that “A Living Wage Employer ensures that all employees are paid at least the Living Wage. This includes individuals who work on a regular basis at your premises for a subcontractor, such as cleaners or security staff. Living Wage employers report improved morale, lower turn over of staff, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and improved customer service.”

Our ambition for Wales must be to create a high wage and high skilled economy. Becoming a living wage country would be one further step along that road. That we cannot afford it and that it will cost jobs have been the arguments used against all progressive changes, from the abolition of slavery to the minimum wage. These arguments can be challenged and should not stand in the way of equality.

We won the battle over the minimum wage and the predicted jobs losses did not materialise. It may have reduced sales of top of the range cars, but it put money in people’s pockets and helped local economies. I believe that the economic and moral imperative is to set the challenge to make Wales a living wage country.

I believe that this would make Wales a fairer country. This is a policy that all of us living in Wales could be proud of, and one we, as socialists, should be campaigning for.