The following column appeared in this weeks Barnsley Independent:
Time to make work pay
I’m proud that Labour introduced the National Minimum Wage in 1999. It was one of the last Labour Government’s greatest achievements.
It was created, in the face of Tory opposition, to help tackle poverty pay without risking jobs. It ended the scandal of people going to work for as little as £1 an hour.
Did you know that there are 5,400 people in Barnsley in a job that pays the minimum wage? That’s the equivalent of eight per cent of the total jobs in the area, which is higher than the average for Yorkshire region or the rest of England.
But 15 years later, we’ve got work to do. With the value of the minimum wage having been run down and declined by five cent since 2010, many of my constituents are really struggling to make ends meet. Under David Cameron millions of people are having to work harder for less, with people on average £1,600 a year worse off.
And by giving a tax cut to millionaires, it’s clear that Cameron and the Tories only stand up for a privileged few - not the millions earning the National Minimum Wage.
That’s why it was good news last month when Ed Miliband announced that a future Labour government will increase the Minimum Wage to £8 per hour by 2020.
The scale of the challenge we face as a country was brought home to me last month when I visited the Kendray Foodbank and the Fareshare distribution warehouse in Stairfoot.
I have huge admiration for the amazing hard work of the volunteers there, together with the brilliant generosity of Barnsley folk in the local community. But it’s a disgrace that we have to set up foodbanks in Barnsley to feed those in need when we live in one of the richest economies in the world.
One of the most shocking things of all is the fact that so many people who are really struggling are in work. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, some 6.7 million people in poverty live in a household where someone works. And Trussell Trust figures show that the number of people using foodbanks has increased by a shocking 1,386 per cent since 2010/11.
Labour’s increase to £8 per hour in the National Minimum Wage is not a King’s ransom, but it will put £3,000 a year back in the pocket of Britain’s lowest paid workers.
People who do a fair day’s work should be entitled to a fair day’s pay. But under Cameron, Britain is going backwards.
I was proud when Labour introduced the National Minimum Wage. And it’s good news for Barnsley that Labour is leading the fight to make work pay. But it’s also high time some of the big employers, many of them making big profits, started paying people a decent, living wage too.