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Low Pay

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 18 December 2013

With your permission, Mr Speaker, before I answer that question, may I draw the House’s attention to the fact that Saturday 21 December will be the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing? That remains the single largest loss of life ever in the United Kingdom, with 270 people perishing on that fateful evening. I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with the community and with those who lost friends and family on that day. Much of the focus over the past 25 years has been on the perpetrators, but the friends and families of the victims and the community of Lockerbie deserve our respect and admiration for the formidable way in which they have coped with 25 years of unprecedented global attention.

The national minimum wage is one of Government’s key policies to support the low paid, and it is UK wide. On 1 October, the adult minimum wage increased to £6.31 per hour. We have also increased the income tax personal allowance to £10,000, taking 224,000 Scots out of income tax altogether and benefiting 2.2 million Scottish taxpayers.

I am sure that the whole House will commend and agree with the Minister’s remarks about Lockerbie.

In his subsequent answer, the right hon. Gentleman omitted to say that prices had risen more quickly than wages in 41 of the 42 months he has served as a Minister in this House, that low pay was on the rise in Scotland and that the value of the national minimum wage had declined in real terms under this Government. When are he and the Business Secretary going to do something concrete to deal with all that? Or is he just going to sit on his hands while the cost of living crisis in Scotland gets worse by the day?

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. The October 2013 adult minimum wage rate is around 27% higher in real terms compared with the consumer prices index and about 15% higher in real terms compared with the retail prices index than it was on its introduction in 1999.

Does the Minister agree that the best way to tackle low pay in Scotland is to get the economy growing and to create more job opportunities?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope that Opposition Members will welcome today’s announcement that employment is up and unemployment is down in Scotland. We are not complacent, but we are on the right track.

12. Low pay is a scourge that is now affecting thousands of families throughout Scotland. Would those families best be helped by giving them a decent living wage or by introducing a tax cut for millionaires? (901644)

The Government support the concept of the living wage, where employers can afford to pay it and where it is not introduced at the cost of jobs. It is something to be encouraged.

The UK Government’s attitude to the living wage was encapsulated by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) earlier this year when she said:

“There is no recognised definition of a national living wage.”—[Official Report, 10 June 2013; Vol. 563, c. 211W.]

She went on to explain that the Government had therefore made no assessment of its consequences, were it to be introduced. Should not the Government move quickly to introduce a living wage for their employees, wherever they might be based in the UK, rather than hiding behind the vacuous argument that it is too difficult to calculate, given that we know it will be £7.65 an hour in Scotland and £8.80 in London next year?

It is never a surprise to hear the Scottish National party mention London in the same breath as Scotland. As I said to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy), the Government believe that the living wage is a concept that should be supported, where employers can afford it and where it is not introduced at the cost of jobs.

May I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about the terrible tragedy of Lockerbie?

Low pay is one of the reasons that people are using food banks in Scotland today. I wish nothing personal towards the Minister, but I am disappointed that the Secretary of State did not answer this question himself, because we know that the Secretary of State has recently begun to struggle with some of the details of his brief. Let me see whether the Minister can do any better. Will he tell the House what the percentage increase in the number of people using food banks in Scotland in the past year has been? Given that it is Christmas, I will offer him a hand. Is it (a) 100%; (b) 200%; (c) over 400%?

What the hon. Lady omitted to tell us was that under her Government the increase in people using food banks was 1,000%. Our Government are concerned about people needing to use food banks in a moment of crisis in their lives. We support the development of food banks and those who operate them, and I was very proud to open the food bank in Peebles in my constituency. But to pretend that these crises are of this Government’s making and that they have not been going on for a continuing period is to mislead the House.

The Minister should know that the increase in the past year has been 435%, which is more than 34,000 people, including more than 10,000 children, using food banks in Scotland. Those are shameful figures and all Members of this House should pay attention to them. He has refused to be drawn on why this is happening. Citizens Advice, the Trussell Trust and the Child Poverty Action Group are all saying that this Government’s policies are driving people in Scotland to use food banks. Are they all wrong?

Of course the hon. Lady does not acknowledge the 1,000% rise in the use of food banks under the last Labour Government. We want to look at, and understand, why there has been an increase in the use of food banks. That is why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has committed to an extensive study on the use of food aid across the United Kingdom, and she will be able to read that when it is published.