Living Wage Week is a time to take stock of the low pay challenge that confronts a growing number of working people in the UK - and think about what more can be done to tackle it. Despite the many living wage victories, the outlook is bleak.... Against this backdrop, we should see George Osborne's 'national living wage' for what it is - an enhanced minimum wage. And while it would be churlish to deny that it will do some good (it was after all a policy that was swiped straight out of Labour's 2015 manifesto), we need to recognise three big flaws in the government's way of going about things that reveal the weakness of its approach to tackling lowpay.
Speaking after the election, David Cameron told the nation that his government would be on the side of those 'who work hard.' But six months on a very different story is emerging. And it is the incomes of hard-working families that are to be hit once again. Next April, three million low to middle income households face a savage cut to their incomes - the equivalent in some cases of more than 10% of their take home pay. A contract cleaner recently burst into tears when she realised what the changes meant for her family, and I am sadly not short of other heartbreaking stories.
If ministers are really concerned about low pay, they should start by announcing that all government departments are to become living wage employers, and encourage other employers to follow suit. They must also fund local councils properly so that the introduction of the living wage does not bankrupt the social care sector. The government should also back UNISON's Ethical Care Charter and help address the endemic levels of non-compliance in the care sector by ensuring that all care workers are paid for their travel time.
Warning bells should be sounding in Westminster in the run up to Christmas. While the government gears up for the recess and festive celebrations, hard-pressed families across the UK are wondering how they are going to put a turkey on the table this year. What a seriously bleak midwinter for the 2.64million now unemployed and the millions of low paid workers, suffering from pay freezes in the face of high inflation.
Nurses, teaching assistants, social workers, dinner ladies and paramedics are lining up at the picket lines to protect their pensions during the biggest strike in living memory. UNISON has said from the start that we want to reach a negotiated settlement, and that still stands. We were willing to take part in scheme specific talks, right up until 30 November and we are still committed to continuing negotiations. Action is a last resort, but after eight months of negotiations we still have no firm offer to put to a single public sector worker.