THE BLOG
09/02/2016 05:29 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 05:12 GMT

What's in a Name? When 'Minimum' Is More Accurate Than 'Living' Wage

The House of Lords recently considered two proposals relating to the government's so-called 'Living Wage'.

The first, proposed by Conservative peer and under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, asked us to approve the proposed Regulations, which would see the national Minimum Wage increased to £7.20 per hour for all workers aged over 25.

The second, raised by Labour's Shadow Spokesperson for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, asked us to express 'regret' that businesses might not comply with the new rule.

The problem is that neither really comes close to the heart of the matter, which is that what the government calls a Living Wage is in fact nothing of the sort.

The Living Wage, as campaigned for by the Green Party and the national Living Wage Foundation, is a rate of pay calculated according to the cost of living, which determines whether someone is living in poverty .

The Foundation's most recent calculations show the amount a worker must be paid to exist above the poverty line is now £8.25 per hour outside London - more than £1 per hour more than the government's proposed wage.

But in spite of this considerable gap, the government is still referring to its proposal as a 'Living Wage', when it is in fact simply an increase in the national Minimum Wage, and even then only for workers aged 25 and above.

It is not as if the Conservative Party is unaware of this - or of the difference between what it proposes and the Living Wage working people deserve and require. In Parliament, the legislation is called the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016.

But outside of Parliament, it consistently refers to £7.20 as a Living Wage. In a letter I sent to Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills , I pointed out that the government's own website, launched to 'explain' the £7.20 rate to businesses, is named 'www.livingwage.gov.uk', extremely similar to the Living Wage Foundation's 'www.livingwage.org.uk' home address.

(My Green Party colleague, Caroline Lucas MP, has worked to reveal that the government's one-page site cost almost £29,000 - a price one web developer called 'ridiculous', adding that 'hiring a professional to do it should cost under a grand' )

And this is a matter that should concern us. Because it is about more than just a name.

The amount of money people are paid is central, in our current system, to almost every part of their lives - to where they live, what they eat, how they care for their family. Wealth or lack of it impacts health, education, young people's chances in life, and older people's ability to live in comfort.

An increased minimum wage, which is what the government is offering, is a small step towards improving thousands of working people's lives.

But to call it a Living Wage, and imply that it will lift working people out of poverty when it will not, is to pretend that a problem has been solved, and that we do not need to keep working to make sure people's earnings are enough to support them and their families.

Of course, we do. The point of a wage policy must have as its base the lifting of workers from poverty.

Not doing so - and not debating such a failure - are serious missed opportunities.