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Low-Paid Workers

Volume 774: debated on Monday 25 November 1968

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what steps she is taking to secure regular and reliable information about low pay and its causes in particular industries.

A new type of survey of earnings of a random sample of one in every 200 individual employees was launched in September. This will provide information on the incidence of earnings below particular weekly or hourly levels within particular industries, occupational groups and regions, with some indications of special factors, such as income in kind or physical handicap, effecting earning capacity. The question of obtaining such information in this way on a regular basis will be determined in the light of the experience gained in the present survey.

In view of the importance of giving priority, wherever possible, to the lower paid, will this survey reveal the causes of low pay in individual cases?

It is because my Department is anxious to tackle the problem of the lower paid and because it is essential for us to have more information to this end that the sample survey has been launched. While it will not explain why all workers are low paid, it will give an indication of the numbers who may receive low pay for certain reasons; for example, whether they are apprentices or trainees, whether they lack experience and whether they are mentally or physically handicapped. This information will be invaluable to us in helping to tackle this problem.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that a constituent of mine has just received one of these vast Domesday forms, which I hold in my hand, and that it will take him at least half-an-hour to answer all the questions on it, most of which are totally irrelevant? Would she instruct her Department to conduct a first-hand inquiry to discover the reaction of busy people when they receive these piles of nonsense?

My answer is, "Most emphatically no, Sir." Everybody concerned with the study of the problem of the low-paid worker is well aware that up to now we have had an inadequate breakdown of the incidence of low pay. Past surveys have merely provided information about average earnings but not about the spread of individual earnings around the average. If we are to tackle this problem—which the Labour Party cares about, even if hon. Gentlemen opposite do not—we must have more detailed information.