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Labour silent on calls for £15 minimum wage that would ‘change lives’

The Trade Union Congress has demanded a minimum wage hike amid the ‘harshest wage squeeze in modern history’

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
24 August 2022, 1.20pm
Keir Starmer delivers a speech on Labour's plans for growing the UK economy.
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Demands for the minimum wage to be urgently increased to £15 have been met by silence from the Labour Party – despite the UK facing the “longest and harshest wage squeeze in modern history.”

On Tuesday, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) released a report calling for the minimum wage to be increased to £15 an hour for all workers in 2030, up from £9.50 for those aged 23 and over. Workers aged 21-22 currently receive £9.18 and workers aged 18-20 receive a mere £6.83.

Asked whether it supported paying all workers £15, Labour – the party that introduced the national minimum wage in 1998 – told openDemocracy it would not comment, saying it had already set out its own proposals on wages.

But Neil Hartland, 30, who earns £11 an hour working in a warehouse for fashion brand Paul Smith in Nottingham, told openDemocracy a £15 minimum wage would be “life-changing”.

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“People don't understand a rise is so needed but also massive for people on low incomes,” Hartland said. “A £15 minimum wage would be life-changing.

“People I work with really feel the cost of living and a jump to £15 would give people safety, hope and bit of freedom back.”

Hartland’s sentiment was echoed by TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, who told openDemocracy: “Low-paid workers live wage packet to wage packet – and they are now being pushed to the brink by eye-watering bills and soaring prices.

“While millions are struggling to keep their heads above water, those at the top continue to rake it in,” she added. “After 12 years of declining living standards, it's time to make work pay.”

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James Meadway, director at the Progressive Economy Forum, told openDemocracy he was disappointed Labour has not backed calls for a £15 minimum wage.

He said: “The TUC’s support for a £15/hour minimum wage is very welcome, reflecting the grim reality of rapidly rising inflation that is particularly painful for those on lower incomes. The Labour Party has no excuse to not now back the call.”

Meadway added that the change to minimum wage should be implemented sooner than the TUC has suggested, saying: “2030 is far too late for introducing an essential measure like this, and it should not be dependent on uncertain future growth.

“Research by the Progressive Economy Forum has shown that a £15/hour minimum wage is affordable now, given high very profits and worsening inequality, and would lift nearly 14 million out of poverty pay.”

The stony silence from Keir Starmer’s party draws attention to the policy gap between Labour and unions’ positions on wage increases. The Labour Party, which was founded in 1900, grew out of the trade union and socialist movements of the 19th century.

Labour this month pledged to link the minimum wage to the cost of living if elected, but did not give a figure. This would mean the Low Pay Commission, an independent body that advises the government about the national living wage and the national minimum wage, would consider rising living costs in its recommendations going forward.

People I work with really feel the cost of living, a jump to £15 would give safety, hope and a bit of freedom back

The party also said it would scrap the lower rate of minimum wage for 18- to 22-year-olds.

But the TUC, which is not politically affiliated, said ministers needed “a real plan to deliver a high-wage economy – not just a convenient political slogan”, as “workers are suffering the longest and harshest wage squeeze in modern history”.

Writing in a joint article in The Guardian last week, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “People are worn out not just with their jobs, but financial stress. No one should have to lie awake at night worrying whether they’ll be able to feed their children.”

The party’s silence on a call for the minimum wage to reach £15 comes as wages have fallen by a record 3%, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The UK is set for a difficult winter, with energy prices set to rise and rent prices growing at their highest rate since 2016.

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