National Minimum Wage

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 15th October 2014.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 2:08 pm, 15th October 2014

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. We know that the £1,600 fall in income in cash terms and the fact that wages are 20% lower than they would have been if wage growth had been consistent with its level before the global economic crash—before 2008-09 and beyond–—means several things for the wider economy. Obviously, low-paid people invest their money in the local economy; they spend it, and that has a beneficial effect on the shops, services and communities where they live. It also means that some of those people who would have been paying tax are no longer doing so, which has a beneficial effect for low-paid people coming out of tax but means that total tax revenues are undershooting dramatically, as the Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed. Indeed, the problem of low pay and tax revenues is a contributing factor to not being able to reduce the deficit, which of course the Conservative party told us would be completed by the next financial year. That has been a complete public policy failure, with a reduction of only a third compared with a target of almost total elimination.

Other issues arise from low pay. It damages work incentives, and we hear a great deal from the Conservative party about those. It is as if it were the party that discovered the idea of work incentives and making work pay. In fact, we all want to see work pay and for that to be an incentive for people going into work. Let us accept that that is universally shared. The trouble is that the worsening scandal of low pay, including in cities such as London, means that work simply does not necessarily guarantee a route out of poverty and it traps people on benefits. That is partly because wages have fallen, as we have heard, but also because they have fallen, particularly in places such as London, relative to soaring housing costs and rising rents. The rise in rents in London means that many households simply cannot work enough hours at the kind of pay that is being offered to get free of benefit tapers. That is particularly true for lone parents and couples with children.

Let me return to the question I was asked by Richard Fuller about tax credits. It is very important to put on the record just how crucial they are, because whatever one does about the tax threshold and taking people out of tax completely, it simply will not be enough to make sure that people with children are earning enough to make ends meet. The tax credit policy is not a substitute for tax thresholds; it is an essential complement to them, particularly for parents.