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National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Volume 802: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2020

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, the purpose of the regulations is to increase the national living wage and all of the national minimum wage rates from 1 April 2020. The regulations also include an increase in the accommodation offset rate, which is the only benefit in kind that counts towards minimum wage pay.

The national living wage has had a positive, real-terms impact on the earnings of the lowest paid. Between April 2015 and April 2019, those at the fifth percentile of the earnings distribution saw their wages grow by almost 11% above inflation. This is faster than at any other equivalent point in the earnings distribution. The labour market has continued to perform well: the employment rate is at a record high of 76.5%, while the unemployment rate is at 3.8%, the lowest rate since the 1970s.

From April, the national living wage for those aged 25 and over will increase by 51p to £8.72, which is a 6.2% increase. The 51p increase in April will mean that full-time workers on the national living wage will see their pay increase by £930 over the year. This national living wage increase is projected to meet the Government’s target of 60% of median earnings in 2020. The national minimum wage rate for 21 to 24 year-olds will increase by 50p, meaning that those in this age group will be entitled to a minimum of £8.20, an annual increase of 6.5%. Those aged between 18 and 20 years old will be entitled to a minimum of £6.45, which is an annual increase of 4.9%, while those aged under 18 will be entitled to a minimum of £4.55, an annual increase of 4.6%. Finally, apprentices aged under 19, or those aged 19 and over in the first year of their apprenticeship, will be entitled to £4.15, which is a 6.4% increase. All of these above-inflation increases represent real pay rises for the lowest-paid workers in the United Kingdom.

All the rates in these regulations have been recommended by the independent and expert Low Pay Commission. As noble Lords will be aware, the commission brings together employer and worker representatives to reach a consensus when making their recommendations. The Government asked the commission to recommend the rate of the national living wage such that it reaches 60% of median earnings in 2020, subject to sustained economic growth. For the national minimum wage, the commission has recommended rates that increase the earnings of the lowest-paid younger workers as high as possible without damaging their employment prospects. I thank the Low Pay Commission for its extensive research and consultation, which has informed these rate recommendations, all of which is set out in its 2019 report, published in January.

The Government have further pledged to raise the national living wage to two-thirds of median earnings and apply it to those aged 21 and over by 2024. The Low Pay Commission will continue to have a central role, ensuring that the lowest-paid workers benefit from national living wage increases.

On the subject of enforcement, the Government are clear that anyone entitled to be paid the minimum wage should receive it. That is why we have more than doubled the enforcement and compliance budget, with funding reaching £27.4 million for 2019-20, up from £13.2 million in 2015-16. HMRC follows up on every complaint it receives, even those which are anonymous. This includes complaints made to the ACAS helpline, via the online complaint form, or from other sources. Increasing the budget allows HMRC to focus on tackling the most serious cases of non-compliance, while educating employers into compliance. In 2018-19, HMRC identified a record £24.4 million in pay arrears for over 220,000 workers, and issued more than £17 million in penalties for non-compliant employers. The Government have taken further measures to help employers get the rules right first time by providing improved guidance and support.

While increases in the national living wage and national minimum wage represent a cost to some businesses, the Government have introduced a number of measures to support them. For example, we have cut the corporation tax rate from 28% in 2010 to 19% today, benefiting more than 1 million companies and delivering the lowest rate in the G20.

Record increases to the national living wage and national minimum wage rates are just part of this Government’s agenda to make the UK the best place in the world to work. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, it would be churlish not to congratulate the Government on achieving their target of 60% of median earnings this year. I also welcome the increased funding for enforcement.

The increase in the national living wage will provide a considerable uplift for the working poor in our country. A top rate of £8.72 is getting closer to the Living Wage Foundation’s recommended £9.30—I presume that it will be further uprated in due course—but it is still a way off the London living wage of £10.75. I should probably know this, but can the Minister explain why there is no Low Pay Commission London minimum wage, when clearly it is more expensive to live in London than anywhere else?

The difference between the minimum wage and the living wage is that the living wage is based on a basket of goods and services which should give a basic but acceptable standard of living. It therefore follows that the national minimum wage is not sufficient for someone to live on. Instead, it has to be subsidised by the Government through universal credit and various other benefits.

I can see that different individual and family circumstances will need a different underpinning level of help. The idea of always making work pay was quite a genius move on the part of the Government when it came in, but implementation was, and still is, another story. Fortunately, that does not come within our remit today. We are where we are and there is something to celebrate.

The adult rate for 21 to 24 year-olds received the greatest percentage uplift, at 6.5%, but the youth rate for under-18s has fared proportionately worse, at 4.6%, or the princely sum of 20p an hour. I know that it is argued that these youngsters enter the world of work with very little knowledge, but it cannot help their self-esteem to give them a 20p rise, especially if they and their families need that money.

I wish I had a crystal ball to see whether, in a time of full employment and even greater skills shortages, not helped by this Government’s immigration policies, wage rates will rise above and beyond the minimum. Unfortunately, I do not have a crystal ball, except to predict that we are all likely to meet here next March. Who knows what state the country and wage rates will be in then?

My Lords, I welcome the SI before us. As has been said, it is interesting to see every year the amount of work that goes into providing the analysis and evidence for it. It is of a very high standard and one enjoys reading the recent literature on these areas. I know that it has been updated this time, although I am afraid that I have not gone to the original texts.

I should have declared my interests. I am the father of a child who is receiving the apprentice wage, being over 19 and still in the first year of his apprenticeship—although I think that comes to an end next week.

Having said that, I want to come back to two questions I have asked previously. The first concerns the disregard for accommodation, which there is not very much detail about. I do not particularly need an answer now, but will the Minister write to me at some point in the not-too-distant future explaining why the percentage used for the disregard for accommodation is still at variance with the figures used for any of the others? My simplistic approach to this is that if there is a broad range of indicators which suggest that pay needs to increase on a particular range, and there are reasons why that might vary across the individual numbers, why do we come to a different figure for the accommodation disregard, even though it affects all those in the sector? It is too complex an issue for the Minister to respond to today, but I would be grateful to receive a letter on that point.

The noble Baroness asked about the work on making sure that employers are paying the national minimum wage, subject to a big increase in funding announced in last year’s Budget. We do not get much detail in these figures about what exactly is happening. A reference on page 37, in paragraph 146, suggests that there will be a change this year, because a greater number of employees are in the lower bands of the national living wage and there will therefore be instances where non-compliance could occur. In fact, there could be an increase in that. There is no explanation given, but if there is anything of significance, perhaps the Minister could write to me about it. I just note it at this stage.

The basic concern is that although the budget has increased and the numbers are down, an alarmingly large number of people are still thought to be affected. In April 2019, it was estimated that 424,000 jobs with pay less than the national minimum wage and national living wage were held by employees aged 16 and over. That is 1.5% of all those aged 16 plus in UK employed jobs. It is true that that is less than last year, when it was 1.6%, but it is still an awful lot of people. Will the Minister say what activity is going to be involved in the expenditure of the greater funds made available for enforcement? Does he judge that it will be successful?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for their contributions to this important debate. I do not know whether it is a commentary on the time that the debate is being held or the fact that there is such widespread support for the Government’s policy that they are the only two valiant Peers who have turned up to comment on something that will make such a difference to hundreds of thousands of workers in this country.

The introduction of the national minimum wage and the national living wage is one of the great successes of the UK labour market. Since the year that the national living wage was announced, the annual earnings of a full-time minimum wage worker will have increased by more than £3,700. That is equivalent to a 21% increase in the national living wage since 2015. The record high employment rate shows that a higher minimum wage can go hand in hand with strong employment growth. The Government’s green-rated impact assessment estimates that the minimum wage increases we have debated today will directly benefit around 2.4 million low-paid workers, and of course nearly 8 million workers are estimated to benefit both directly and indirectly because some workers who are paid slightly above the minimum wage will also benefit from increases in the average wage of employees in their companies.

Sustainable increases in minimum wage rates also depend on strong economic fundamentals and I am delighted to say that those of the UK are strong. Since 2010 our economy has grown by 19.5%, which is faster than in France, Italy and Japan. In 2016 the Government committed to raise the national living wage to 60% per cent of median earnings and we have stayed loyal and true to that commitment. Looking ahead, our pledge to raise the national living wage to two-thirds of median earnings by 2024 makes the UK the first major economy in the world to set such an ambition.

Of course, there is sensible flexibility built into this policy. The value of the national living wage in 2024—which is projected on current earnings to be £10.50—will rise and fall in line with average earnings forecasts. This will ensure that the lowest-paid workers continue to benefit from such minimum wage increases. The Low Pay Commission has a central role in advising the Government to ensure that economic conditions are taken into account, and we will soon publish its remit for 2020. To further protect workers—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—we are committed to cracking down on employers who breach the national minimum wage rules, ensuring that all those owed the national minimum wage or national living wage do then receive it.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the accommodation off-set. In recent years, the Low Pay Commission has sought to raise this to reach the level of the rate for 21 to 24-year-olds, and it achieved that this year. A higher rate for the offset better reflects the cost of provision and enables investment in higher standards of accommodation by businesses. I am happy to write to the noble Lord to amplify my answer. He asked why non-compliance may continue to rise. The rise in the minimum wage is affecting an increasing number of businesses, many of which are being affected for the first time. The increased coverage of the minimum wage means that if the rate of non-compliance stays constant then the number of underpaid workers will therefore increase.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asked why there is no Low Pay Commission for London and a separate rate. Primary legislation does not permit separate minimum wage rates based on geographical areas. We encourage employers to pay more than the statutory minimum but we recognise that their ability to do so will vary from business to business.

I think I have dealt with the three questions I have been asked. With that, I am happy to commend these regulations to the House.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.17 pm.