I was recently asked by a very nice radio presenter what the most important issue is for us young people. Being 21 I suppose I fit into this category. My answer was low wages and this is certainly true for me. I am one of the many young people (or indeed people generally) who are on a low wage, counting down the days until the next pay cheque.
One of Labour's big successes, as Labour politicians like to harp on about, was bringing in a minimum wage which currently stands at £6.50. What luxury! However, some wishy-washy, liberal Guardian readers say this is not enough. Labour had given extra help by introducing tax credits, basically benefits for those on low incomes. However Cameron, someone who likes to 'make work pay', decided to slash them. My immediate reaction is to shout 'give me my tax credits back!' but in an age of austerity we may have to come up with a different solution.
The working tax credits were income top-ups paid by the government to people whose wages put them below the poverty line; aka the taxpayer was paying the incomes of poor people because their bosses would not pay a proper wage. Yet one could argue that the government still gets the money back from companies that pay their workers at minimum wage, through the means of taxes, companies like, err, Starbucks.
During the infamous Starbucks kerfuffle it was discovered that the multinational corporation had, without breaking any laws (although bending a few), paid almost zero tax in the UK. This was clearly immoral, destructive and just a little impressive. This means that not only do Starbucks decline to pay the living wage, they don't pay their fair share of tax either. It's a bit like socialism for the multinational corporations and capitalism for the average man. However, some will point at me and shout 'But Starbucks pays tax now!' Indeed they do (sort of). Starbucks has voluntarily offered to pay some of its corporation tax for the next two years. How generous of them! It's not like paying tax is an obligation after all. However, even with this miserable compromise it's not good enough. The tax they pay should not be used to pay their workers, that's what wages are for. The tax they pay is the cost of operating in an economic and legal system that supports their businesses. Further subsidy of businesses like Starbucks through benefits like tax credits is not the way forward.
I'm not saying I want a six figure salary; as I work with children, I, as the cliché goes, don't do it for the money. However, I, like many other people, believe we deserve a liveable income. That's why I support the campaign to introduce a living wage, which currently stands at £7.85 an hour. This would mean many people in the UK would be lifted out of poverty, an increasingly worrying issue under this Tory government. The higher wages would result in ordinary people having more spending power, helping to get our sluggish economy moving. It would also mean that the government would no longer have to subsidise low incomes and will have extra tax revenue so could focus on dealing with our housing crisis, lowering VAT or cutting the deficit if you want to be all neoliberal about it. As for the doomsayers who say the apocalypse will occur if we adopt a living wage, they tend to have vested interests and gave the same warnings over the minimum wage back in 1998. Besides, Australia has a minimum wage equivalent to £8.82 and they've got much faster economic growth than us.
Admittedly I'm a bit biased. I am, shock and horror, a Labour supporter. Had Labour formed the government their policies would have seen a revolution in low pay. However, the movement is not finished. I implore Cameron, as some Conservatives have already done, to back the Living Wage, something which would help detoxify the Tory brand. I beg business to do the right thing and pay decent wages, something which has been shown to increase the productivity of workers. Finally, I speak to the potential leaders of my own party. Do not drop this much needed change in an attempt to seem more centrist. I am not convinced that there would be room for me in a party that does not fight poverty wages.
This blog was written Thomas Diamond. His views are entirely his own.