As you may well know, last week Labour leader, Ed Miliband, announced that if Labour were to form the next government they would encourage businesses to pay employees the Living Wage (approximately £8.55) by cutting business rates or tax levels for those that do. As someone who employees 20-30 people (some on PAYE and others freelance) at the London Jewellery School, I whole-heartedly welcome these plans. I already pay those who work at LJS, whether tutors teaching how to make jewellery, or managers running the school, or handyman putting up new shelves, well over the Living Wage because the work they do is integral to making the place thrive and I feel passionately that they should be valued members of the team that are rewarded for the great work they do.
I think this should be the same for every business, every employee and worker who is contributing to creating an organisation that can maintain itself is of value and should be treated as such. Although the business directors and higher management staff may create the strategy and plans for the business itself, don't those who work every day to make it happen, deserve reward too?
Under the Tories my business was almost bankrupted by the new higher rate of VAT. If it had made the London Jewellery School go under, that would be 20-30 jobs gone and we would never have grown to be the largest jewellery-training centre in the world. We managed to survive, and are now a high-growth company franchising nationally, creating jobs across the UK and furthering the arts - another sector under attack.
How can this Conservative government claim to want to slash the welfare bill when they're imposing policies that are actively putting people out of work? Whether cutting public sector jobs or stifling business growth through the VAT rise, it's obvious to me, due to my experience first-hand that how we can reduce unemployment is by allowing businesses to grow so they create jobs and encouraging them to pay their employees properly, by such measures as adhering to the Living Wage. Lets remember that statistics clearly show the majority of those on some form of benefits are in employment - if the Tories were serious about helping those reliant on benefits they'd raise the minimum wage so that people have stable and secure incomes.
It's my view Ed Miliband should put the call out wider. I, as a business Director would be happy to sign an agreement to uphold the Living Wage for all employees - people deserve real livelihoods, fair pay and real career prospects. This government of millionaires don't have to worry about affording childcare, the weekly shop or travel, but most 'ordinary' people do. I suspect that Labour will win the 2015 election - most of my friends in their 20s, many first time voters, have been demoralised by being put on the dole-queue, forced into workfare, and dissatisfied with the Liberal Democrats propping up the Conservatives.
I just hope when they do win, Ed Miliband will stick to his word, not return to the policies of New Labour, but instead, introduce legislation that both supports employees by highlighting the importance and benefit of the Living Wage for all, and also roll-back the Tory policies that have been oppressing small businesses like mine. We need to boost productivity and maintain a strong welfare system so no one is left to live in poverty, but in doing the first, it will surely ease the strain on the latter.
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