Mark Seddon is a member of Momentum and a campaigner for a higher minimum wage. Here he maps out why he believes it is vital for Britain's future.
For almost six months I’ve been part of an organisation called Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise, a group of activists and low-paid workers in Sheffield campaigning for a £10 minimum wage and support for low-paid workers. Having seen so many people campaign so hard for this, it’s fantastic to have Jeremy come out in support.
I was an economic history lecturer previously, but I gave that up to get more involved in campaigning around low pay. Having grown up in Bolton, and moved to Sheffield, it’s an issue whose crippling effects I’ve witnessed throughout my life.
If you take a city like Sheffield, there’s a huge percentage of the population on less than £10 an hour, and it causes people real problems, not just here but nationwide. Over a million people are using food banks at the moment and around 23% of those people are in work. You’re not talking about people who can’t or won’t find a job; you’re talking about people who are in work and still can’t afford to feed their family.
People are having to make horrific choices everywhere. I know someone, for example, who had to make the choice between putting the heating on and eating. From the stories I hear around Sheffield (and elsewhere), that’s not untypical. People are having to pick between everyday necessities like food, heating and clothing, making choices no-one should have to make.
Jeremy’s £10 minimum wage would affect six million people across the country, and help thousands upon thousands avoid choosing between freeze and famine. And there’s a wider benefit here, aside from the individuals themselves; the entire economy would be better balanced, both vertically (between the highest and lowest paid) and horizontally (between different sectors and regions).
With a £10 minimum wage, we could finally start closing the yawning chasm between London and the rest, the black hole which sucks talent and money into our capital. The Tory government has talked big on regional development but failed to back it up; a £10 minimum wage would replace cheap words with positive, crucial action.
People might suggest that, instead of raising the minimum wage, we should be cutting taxes. They might point out that Britain’s minimum wage is almost on a par with that of Germany. I, and my fellow activists, get that.
But the fact is that trickle-down economics has never worked. Since its introduction under Thatcher in the 1980s, cutting taxes for the wealthy has only served to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, resulting in unprecedented levels on inequality.
The fact is that tax cuts aren’t going to affect the lowest-paid; those on the lowest wages would benefit much more from a wage hike than a tax cut. And, if you want to pick out the German example, the two cases aren’t really comparable.
In Germany, you won’t find the same regional imbalance, the sheer number of towns and cities where low-wage workers predominate. In both Bolton, where I grew up, and Sheffield, where I live now, the deindustrialisation of Britain has decimated the working classes and left huge numbers of people in low-paid jobs. It’s time we tackled this, and a £10 minimum wage would set about doing that.
And, just as importantly, this is something that would unite both domestic and foreign-born workers. Migrant workers aren’t responsible for the wage squeeze; we have the evidence to show that. In fact, they want this. Through campaigning, we’ve seen that migrants are committed to a higher wage, because they know they have a stake in society going forward.
Yes some will suggest there is more we can spend our money on. Further education, for example, is something that could also improve the lives of our most marginalised people and help unlock the potential of our regions. Again, that’s a point we fully endorse; we want to see money invested across the board. It’s not a zero-sum game.
But in terms of getting the economy moving and taking a first step to rebalancing the economy, a £10 minimum wage is crucial.
When people have money in their pocket they can go out and spend more. We know the lowest-paid spend a higher proportion of their wage than the highest-paid, so this policy would benefit cafes, retail centres, leisure facilities… the list is endless.
Jeremy Corbyn is kicked from pillar to post by the British press on a daily basis. Perhaps, on this issue, they should cut through their prejudice and think about what he has to say.