Blog & Articles

The price we pay for poverty wages is too high

Date: 27. November 2013
Gavin Kelly

Low pay is not simply a rite of passage that young people go through, the odds of escaping are truly grim.

Living on low pay in 2013 is a rough and all too common experience, but being stuck on poverty-pay for a decade or more is tougher still. Yet for all the talk in Westminster about living standards, and the growing recognition that nearly five million workers are paid less than the living wage, there is very little understanding of the fact that many people survive on low pay for years on end. Low pay is too often thought of in terms of a series of snapshots rather than a motion picture.

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Low pay and the minimum wage at Conservative Party Conference 2013

Date: 1. October 2013
Conor D'Arcy

Low pay and the minimum wage have been one of the key themes of this year’s party conference season. Because of the running order, the Lib Dems and Labour have already had the chance to set out their stalls. Vince Cable has asked the Low Pay Commission to look at how a higher national minimum wage could be achieved without damaging employment. Ed Miliband is concerned about the minimum wage’s falling real-terms value and has indicated his support for a sectoral element to setting the minimum wage. Bright Blue has now joined others in Conservative ranks by calling on the Tories to match, or even raise, these opening stakes.

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Labour must now clear a higher bar on the minimum wage

Date: 19. September 2013
James Plunkett

Vince Cable's announcements have allowed the Lib Dems to make the running on low pay but they still leave an opportunity to set out a tougher approach.

This year's pre-conference rumours gave unusual prominence to the minimum wage. After the consensus reached in the late 2000s, leading thinkers in all parties have begun to argue that it's time for the system to be strengthened. There were even suggestions that the Conservatives planned to announce an increase in the minimum wage at their conference. With as much as a fifth of the UK workforce now struggling on low pay, the problem has become too big to ignore.

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There's no single, simple solution to low pay

Date: 14. April 2013
Gavin Kelly

Another year, another drop. The odds are that the impending announcement on the new rate for the national minimum wage will see a further decline in its real value, meaning a lost decade for those on the lowest pay.

Wages right across the earnings spectrum have fallen, so many experts will greet this news with a shrug. But that's unlikely to be the reaction of those toiling at the sharp end of the jobs market, where working poverty is escalating and people are living on ever tighter margins (even before the arrival of the majority of cuts).

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At Last, the Minimum Wage Debate Is Growing Up

Date: 27. March 2013
James Plunkett

This post originally appeared on James's Huffington Post blog

While low pay and in-work poverty have risen up the economic agenda in recent years, our policy debate has been stuck in a loop. Ask most Labour politicians about low pay and you can expect a well-intentioned but passive mixture of pride in the minimum wage and warm words on the living wage before the topic is changed to the importance of protecting support like working tax credits. Turn to a Conservative and the ingredients generally differ but are no less predictable, giving little more traction on low pay itself: a worrying silence on the minimum wage, a touching faith in general skills policy (and a falling skills budget) to help the lowest paid, before a swift change of topic to the importance of tax cuts.

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Low Pay Is Fast Becoming a Defining Challenge of Our Age

Date: 28. February 2013
James Plunkett

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post

You can tell a lot about a downturn by the image that comes to define it. From queues outside job centres in the 1970s and early 1980s to the poll tax riots that preceded the early 1990s recession, the pictures that stick in the mind have a habit of reflecting the key economic and political challenge of the time. So what will be the iconic image this time around? Images of last summers' riots will undoubtedly endure. But the more representative picture of the squeeze so far would be much less dramatic: a low paid, part-time worker, struggling in to work each day, bringing home a wage that barely pays the bills.

Today's new figures from the ONS confirm what's been suspected for some time: low pay is fast becoming one of the defining economic challenges of our age.

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The problem of low wage work runs far beyond workfare

Date: 3. March 2012
Matthew Pennycook

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post

The recent furore surrounding the UK government's Work Experience programme has centred somewhat narrowly on the rights and wrongs of large corporations benefiting from free youth labour. Largely absent from the debate has been the wider problem of low wage work in our economy. At a time of rising unemployment one could be forgiven for thinking that raising job quality and wages is hardly a priority. Yet there are good reasons for believing that, alongside the pressing issue of unemployment among low-skilled workers, improving low paid jobs will be one of the key routes to higher living standards in the next decade.

Precarious low paid work - often with little means of advancement - is now a key feature of labour markets in advanced economies throughout the world. A combination of factors have driven its onward expansion including declining worker bargaining power and technological advances that have driven down wages for tasks traditionally undertaken by low and medium-skilled workers while increasing the demand for low-skill, low-wage work in personal service sectors.


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