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Minimum Wage

Volume 586: debated on Wednesday 22 October 2014

2. If he will estimate the potential effect of increasing the minimum wage rate by £1.50 on the economy in Wales. (905489)

The Government’s increase of 3% in the national minimum wage this year means that low-paid workers are enjoying the biggest cash increase in their take-home pay since 2008. The independent Low Pay Commission is responsible for recommending the level of the national minimum wage.

About 73,000 people in Wales are in minimum wage jobs, and a quarter of a million earn less than the living wage. Will the Minister commit his party to Labour’s plan to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour, which would at least start to tackle the scandal of low pay in Wales?

I am surprised that the hon. Lady raises that question, given that the commitment to £8 an hour by 2020 has been somewhat derided by independent commentators—Alan Milburn himself said that it lacked ambition—because the current projection shows that the minimum wage will rise to £8.23 an hour by 2020.

May I take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench, along with the Secretary of State, and associate myself with the tribute to his predecessor? Is my hon. Friend aware of the work that has been done by the Mayor of London on the living wage, promoting the idea that public authorities themselves have powers when they structure their pay settlements to lift the position of those who are on the minimum wage and on their payroll? In that regard, perhaps he shares my disappointment that the trade unions in Wales have rejected the Welsh Assembly’s plan to do just that.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Of course, it is a matter for employers to pay the living wage. The national minimum wage is set by the Low Pay Commission, but obviously when an employer can afford to pay the living wage, we would encourage them to do so.

As the Minister mentioned, Alan Milburn and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission have pointed out that under Labour’s minimum wage proposals, the rate of increase between now and 2020 would be slower than that between 1999 and 2014. Does he agree that what we have heard from the Labour party about an £8 minimum wage shows that the Labour machine is still firmly stuck on the spin cycle?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, which gives me the opportunity to underline yet again Alan Milburn’s point about the lack of ambition among those on the Labour Benches. Only my party cares about low pay and only my party has given, in the past year, the largest increase in the national minimum wage, 3%—more than twice the rate of inflation.

Does the Minister therefore agree with my contention that the way to achieve a basic but decent standard of life is the living wage, which would benefit 266,000 workers in Wales alone, and in the UK would slash the tax credits bill by £1.5 billion per annum? Clearly, Plaid Cymru’s policy on the living wage is the best for Wales and for the UK.

Where possible, we would encourage employers to pay the living wage, but the Government’s responsibility is to ensure that the national minimum wage is adhered to. It is set independently, and it is a balanced discussion between employers, Government and employees.

If Conservative Members are so keen on improving poor wages, why did they do everything in their power to prevent the national minimum wage from coming into law? Why do Conservative Ministers regularly accuse the poor of being workshy when actually, in my constituency, many of the most hard-working are those who are hit by a double whammy—low wages and few hours? That means that when they travel to work in Wales they are working a damn sight harder than the Minister ever did.

We have not only increased the national minimum wage by the largest cash increase since 2008 but taken the lowest earners out of income tax, which means that a full-time employee on the national minimum wage is paying two thirds less income tax. I hope that that is something that the hon. Gentleman would welcome.