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National Living Wage

Volume 639: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2018

7. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the introduction of the national living wage on low pay. (904780)

The national living wage has increased levels of pay. In fact, we have seen the wages of the lowest fifth of our population in terms of earnings increase by 7% in real terms since 2015.

My right hon. Friend will know that the two biggest policies that have put more money into the pockets of the lowest earners in this country have come from this Government—namely, the increase in the tax threshold and the minimum wage. What more will the Government do to make sure that private businesses, together with public services, are working to continue to increase wages and improve the quality of life in cities such as Plymouth?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to increase productivity, which will help drive up wages. That is why we are working with employers on the national training scheme, and why we are increasing our investment in areas such as maths and computer science to make sure that our young people have the skills for the future that will enable them to earn high wages and compete with the rest of the world.

The national living wage applies only to people over the age of 25, yet the cost of living in places such as Stoke-on-Trent is the same for people under the age of 25: there is no discount on their rates, mortgage or utility bills. Do the Chancellor and his Ministers think it is fair that these people are expected to earn less when their living costs are not affected?

What is unfair is the fact that, under the last Labour Government, youth unemployment went up to 20% and those young people were left on the scrapheap, whereas we have reduced youth unemployment by 40%. We have more young people in work earning the vital skills for their future.

21. Despite this increase in the price of labour, why is unemployment continuing to fall, particularly youth unemployment? (904794)

My right hon. Friend is right, and the reason is that we have taken the time to reduce the deficit to make it easier for employers to take on staff. We have reduced corporation tax, making it easier for companies to hire people. That is why we have the lowest unemployment since 1975, and rising wages. It is a shame that Members on the Opposition Benches cannot acknowledge that massive achievement.

It is completely unacceptable that a 17-year-old and a 25-year-old starting on the same day in the same job face a £3.63 gap due to their ages. When will the Chief Secretary end the scandal of state-sanctioned age discrimination?

It is extremely worrying that those on the Opposition Benches would rather see young people out of work and without opportunities than in work, learning and getting the skills for their future. All the evidence shows that if we set the rate too high we see youth unemployment, which is exactly what happened under the previous Labour Government.