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Low-Paid Workers

Volume 645: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018

There used to be those who said it is not possible to have protection for minimum-wage workers and lots of jobs. How wrong they are! Today, thanks to a Conservative Government since 2010, we have record employment, and a full-time worker on the minimum wage is now £3,800 better off thanks to the wage legislation we passed and changes to the income tax personal allowance. Since 2015, we have doubled the budget for enforcing the national minimum wage, and last year we identified a record 15.6 million workers who were not being paid properly for low-paid work.

Will my right hon. Friend encourage HMRC to investigate proactively employers who are systematically breaching national minimum wage legislation, instead of expecting each worker individually to complain and produce detailed evidence?

That is absolutely right. Any employer who is not paying the national minimum wage and is breaching the law deserves to be found out and taken to task. That is why HMRC is conducting proactive risk-based analyses, particularly in sectors or areas where there is a high-risk of workers not being paid. In 2016-17, HMRC proactively investigated over 1,400 cases, in which 68,000 workers were being illegally underpaid. That is absolutely outrageous, and penalties have been issued. The work will continue: employers must pay the national minimum and living wage.

I thank the Minister for her answer. She highlights that a number of employers are not paying the minimum wage, so what support do the Government intend to give small employers to help ensure that they can pay their employees a fair wage?

That is an excellent point, and it is quite right that small employers who may struggle with some of this are encouraged to do so. We have taken up to £3,000 off their national insurance contributions bill through the employment allowance. We have cut corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to 19% today, and we reduced business rates to the tune of £2.3 billion in the 2017 Budget. All that is going into small employers’ cash flows, so they can pay their workers what they deserve.

The latest figures show that weekly wages in Mansfield are notably—several hundred pounds a week—lower than the national average. Projects such as the Heathrow logistics hub could provide huge opportunities for my constituents, but what support are the Government offering to help low-wage areas such as Mansfield and Warsop attract such high-skill and well-paid jobs?

I commend my hon. Friend for fighting tirelessly for his constituents. I basically reassure him that, through the industrial strategy—it, of course, sets out our long-term plan to boost productivity and earning power across the country—we are supporting the development of local industrial strategies to drive up productivity, because productivity increases are what drive pay increases.

Given the Court of Appeal’s decision last Friday, will the Government now urgently bring forward legislation to end the uncertainty and to enshrine the right of all workers on all shifts to the national minimum wage, including for careworkers’ sleep-ins?

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. I know from my own constituents the difficulty that the original decision has provided both for employers and for workers. I am afraid that I cannot answer her question from the Dispatch Box, but I will take it away and write to her.

Not only is it true that the number of people on zero-hours contracts is rising at a very high rate, but the Government do not seem to think that it is anything to do with them. There are close on 1 million people on zero-hours contracts—there are 2,000 or 3,000 on one pit site in Shirebrook near Mansfield in my area—and the Government sit idly by. It is only when they talk about the golden future for workers and get stuck in with getting rid of zero-hours contracts that we will believe a word they say.

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman, despite the rhetoric, is just wrong. I have visited some of the pit areas, and one of the saddest things I ever saw was a former pit engineer who, because of the appalling transport links left as a terrible legacy to the pit areas, was unable to get out of the area and find work. [Interruption.] If he would just listen for one second, he would know that many people on zero-hours contracts actually choose that level of flexibility. [Interruption.] Well, they do, and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) should talk to her constituents and find out. However, he is absolutely right that the thing we need to do—[Interruption.] Blimey, you must be hell to live with. [Interruption.] He must be hell to live with; not you, Mr Speaker, clearly. The hon. Gentleman must be hell to live with. He will know that this Government are determined to drive up wages and standards for working people, because we, not the north London intelligentsia, are the party of working people.

The lowest-paid workers are young workers, who are not entitled even to the Government’s pretendy living wage. A 17-year-old is entitled to £3.63 an hour less than a 25-year-old starting on the same day in the same job. When will this Government end the scandal of state-sponsored age discrimination?

My understanding is that there have always been differentials for different age groups. We will continue to review this because we are the party that nationally—right across the UK—wants to make sure that productivity and wages increase, rather than using the rhetoric we hear from other Members.