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Minimum Wage/Living Wage

Volume 590: debated on Thursday 8 January 2015

1. What steps the Government are taking to increase the value of the minimum wage and encourage firms to pay the living wage. (906858)

On our return to Business questions after the break, may I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Members a happy new year? I am sure that the thoughts of everybody in the House this morning are with France and, in particular, with the relatives and friends of those who were killed and injured in the appalling terrorist atrocity yesterday.

Last year, the Government announced the first above inflation increase in the national minimum wage since the 2008 banking crisis, benefiting more than 1 million workers. Since 1 October 2014, full-time minimum wage workers have seen an annual cash increase of £355 in their pay packets, and we expect real-terms increases to continue as the economy recovers. We support employers paying the living wage where it is affordable and not at the expense of jobs.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. He will know that for every £1 that employers pay above the minimum wage to lift workers to the living wage, the Treasury reaps 49p in reduced benefits and increased tax revenues. Why will his Department not consider using that increased revenue to incentivise businesses to pay the living wage for the first 12 months, as Labour is proposing with its make work pay contracts?

It is precisely because of that revenue wedge that the Government have invested so much resource in lifting the threshold so that low-paid workers are not caught in taxation. That has substantially alleviated the pressure on the living standards of low-paid workers.

It is really very important that minimum wage legislation is enforced, as those in receipt of the minimum wage tend to be at the bottom of organisations and among the lowest paid. What sanctions are being used on those at the top of organisations who receive the highest pay—the board directors—when minimum wage legislation is not being followed?

There is a legitimate concern about high pay as well as low pay, which is why the Government introduced reforms of executive pay, with a binding vote on executive pay by shareholders, significantly strengthening the Government’s powers to ensure that shareholders exercise proper responsibility over top pay.

The Secretary of State talks about relieving pressures on the living standards of the lowest paid, but is he aware that the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty in Britain found, to its surprise, that a number of people using food banks were on the minimum wage? Might he not therefore use whatever powers he can to press those sectors of industry that could pay the living wage, such as banking and finance, to do so?

I suspect that relatively few people are on the minimum wage in the banking and finance sectors, but we support the living wage for those companies that can afford it and are not putting people out of work. My responsibilities are more in respect of strengthening the minimum wage and making enforcement tougher. We are doing that and we are signalling to the Low Pay Commission that we respect its independence but are looking forward to real-terms increases in the minimum wage in the future.

In a debate in Westminster Hall on the widespread abuse of employment practice for care workers, the Secretary of State’s colleague, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), said that he was pressing the Department for stronger enforcement against illegal practices. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing about it?

I worked actively and closely with my colleague in the Department of Health on this issue. There are two issues involved: minimum wage enforcement and ensuring that we have tougher legislation to deal with some of the practices that operate in that sector, such as zero-hours contracts. At the moment, we are looking more widely at employment rights for groups of people who are classified as workers but who do not currently enjoy those rights. The care sector is one such group.