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Wage Levels

Volume 646: debated on Tuesday 11 September 2018

Today’s data show regular wages growing at the fastest rate for three years. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that wages will continue to grow, reaching 3.5% by 2021, while consumer prices index inflation will continue to fall, reaching the target of 2% by the end of this year. That is welcome news for everybody. Nevertheless, the Government recognise the pressure on household budgets, which is why we introduced the national living wage, delivering a 7% pay rise in real terms for the lowest, paid from April 2015 to April 2017. It is why we raised income tax thresholds, saving the average taxpayer more than £1,000 this year and, at the last Budget, froze fuel and alcohol duties for a further year.

Under the current business rates system, city centre-based businesses are paying more in rates than large out-of-town-based warehouses, severely restricting the amount that they can put towards wages and hampering wage growth for employees. Will the Chancellor today commit to reforming this outdated business rates system so that businesses are able to pay their staff higher wages while boosting our high street economy?

I have already acknowledged the pressure that the high street is under, and it is certainly something that the Government are extremely concerned about. I do not think that we can hold back the tide of changing consumer behaviour, but it is certainly right that we seek to facilitate high streets as they evolve. I remember, when I came into this House 21 years ago, that there was a similar angst among our electorates about the growth of out-of-town supermarkets and the impact that that was having on high streets. High streets evolved and survived and, in many cases, prospered. Now they are facing another challenge and we must help them again to rise and meet it.

Sheffield city region has the lowest hourly pay of any city region, at £1.15 below the national average. A real living wage, action on zero-hours contracts and tougher labour market regulation would transform the lives of hard-pressed working people across South Yorkshire. When will the Government recognise that and do something?

The hon. Gentleman needs to look a little deeper. The real answer to low wages is improving productivity. The challenge for this Government—for any Government in this country—is to work with industry, trade unions and training institutions to ensure that we address our productivity challenge. That means investment in infrastructure and skills, support for businesses to improve management and access to capital for growing businesses. Only when business is growing, successful and productive can it pay the higher wages that we all want to see.

One of the people most interested in the trends in wage growth and inflation—and who gives the Treasury Committee evidence about that—is the Governor of the Bank of England. Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the House when he expects to be able to let us know about the discussions that he has been having with the current holder of that post about extending his position?

I know that he does have such views, Mr Speaker. As my right hon. Friend asked—and I know that her Committee questioned the Governor on this subject last week—I can now announce to the House that I have been discussing with the Governor his ability to serve a little longer in post in order to ensure continuity through what could be quite a turbulent period for our economy in the early summer of 2019. I can tell the House today that the Governor has agreed, despite various personal pressures to conclude his term in June, that he will continue until the end of January 2020 in order to help to support continuity in our economy during this period.

Will the Chancellor please confirm that the income of the lowest-paid has grown more than twice as fast as the income of the very highest over recent years?