Opinion Former

#FoolsGold: It's a Gimmick Wage not a Living Wage

BY Ian Hodson - National President, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union.

In truly ironic fashion, April 1st 2016 will see the introduction of the Conservatives’ ‘living wage’, which they unveiled as a gimmick and a ruse to hide the true impact of their ‘emergency budget’, after they won the general election in 2015.

Predictably, the right-wing, Tory supporting media used every propaganda tool at their disposal in order to force the public to lap up what was in effect, nothing more than a clever sleight of hand.

Unfortunately, by the time reality kicked in and people started to see through the hype, it was too late. The truth of the matter is that the government’s paltry ‘living wage’ won’t reach the levels recommended by the Living Wage Foundation until 2020.

How typical of this Tory government to use spin and deception to distract people from the real agenda of savage cuts to in-work benefits, originally designed to cushion the blow of poverty pay.

The impact of George Osborne’s gimmick wage is far reaching. For starters, those under the age of 25 are excluded, thus widening inequality and potentially causing division at the workplace, as people get paid less/more for doing the same job.

This loophole certainly hasn’t been lost on fat cat employers, who initially greeted what amounts to a derisory increase as if they’d been asked to donate a kidney. Since then, what we have witnessed as a Union has been an all-out assault on workers, as bosses have used any excuse to dismiss or remove anyone over the age of 25 and replace them with someone younger, in order to avoid paying a small increase in wages.

If that wasn’t enough, many employers are now attempting to lay waste to long-standing terms and conditions by removing shift premium payments, overtime rates, sick pay and bank holiday pay.

In effect, they are making already low paid workers fund the ‘living wage’ themselves, rather than do the right thing as an employer. The real scandal is that the government’s ‘living wage’ was never intended to look after low-paid workers.

The aforementioned Living Wage Foundation cite the living wage as being £9.40 inside London and £8.25 everywhere else. This means that Osborne’s ‘step up for working people’ is £2.20 below a real living wage in London and £1.05 less outside of the capital.

In other words, it’s a gimmick wage; pure window dressing designed to steer people’s gaze away from its real purpose, which is ‘trickle-up’ economics and the further redistribution of wealth from those with the least, to those already with the most.

It’s hard to fathom why David Cameron and his government despise young people so much. Their life chances have been hamstrung year on year since Cameron took office in 2010.

Closing Sure Start Centres and libraries along with selling off playing fields was bad enough for youngsters, but then scaring countless numbers of teenagers out of going to university by way of a confusing and punitive tuition fees system gave a valuable insight into what Cameron meant when he boasted about ‘protecting  future generations’.

The only future generations he wants to protect are the wealthy ones with a similar background and ‘born to rule’ mentality that he has. Having now scuppered the life chances and social mobility of working/lower-middle class young people that could have been gained from further education, Cameron doesn’t offer them much in the world of work, as those who couldn’t afford to go to university face unemployment or exploitation via workfare, agency labour or zero hours contracts.

Cameron’s ‘future generations’ can also forget about a pension and almost certainly face the prospect of working until they drop dead, as they are completely priced out of retirement. 21st century Britain is lurching towards the kind of dystopia that George Orwell and Ray Bradbury wrote about, the difference being, that this isn’t fiction.

Our Union is calling for a real living wage of at least £10 an hour.

Why should corporations get huge tax breaks while the workers live hand to mouth?

Why should the state subsidise tax-avoiding, multi-million pound employers who choose to pay their workers so poorly, by way of cheap labour and working tax credits?

Why should a fully trained 24 year old be paid less than someone aged 26 despite doing the same job?

Is it right that older workers can be fired at will in order to be replaced by younger workers?

Can we really justify this inequality? If the answer is ‘no’, then why the hell are we allowing it? I don’t believe that anyone who lives and works in Britain desires to live in a nation built on division, fear, scapegoating and insecurity.

I believe that working people of these islands are fundamentally decent folk who ask for nothing other than a fair, inclusive and truly equal society. However, simply asking for it is never going to be enough. It’s time we started demanding it.

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