National Minimum Wage

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:33 pm on 15th October 2014.

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Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Shadow Minister (Scotland) 2:33 pm, 15th October 2014

It is a pleasure to follow Heather Wheeler, who is, dare I say, one of the jovial characters in this place. She speaks much sense. She speaks about doom and gloom among Labour Members, and I try as best I can to be upbeat, but I am sure that she would recognise that the economic recovery that Government Members talk about is not being seen across the country. I have said it time and again, and I hate to say it, but I will not let people forget that 13 or 14 months ago the average wage in my constituency in rural south-west Scotland was 24% beneath the UK average. Thankfully, that has improved and it is now at about 17% or 18%, but people are struggling.

Across the country, working people have seen their wages fall by an average of £1,600 a year, because under what I—and my colleagues, I am sure—see as the Government’s failing plan, the recovery is benefiting a privileged few and most families are not seeing the green shoots of any kind of economic recovery. The real value of the national minimum wage has fallen and one in five employees are low paid. That impacts not only on low-paid workers but on their families, their communities and the local economy. It piles up across the country as more people in work have to rely, as has been said this afternoon, on the social security system to make ends meet.

My hon. Friend Ms Buck mentioned the Campaign to End Child Poverty and the work done by the centre for research and social policy at Loughborough university. The figures out today for my area are soul destroying. The figure for the number of children living in poverty is now 23.2%. Those figures include more than 3,000 children affected by in-work poverty, whereas 1,200 are affected by out-of-work poverty. A massive shift is going on and we are seeing more and more families affected—families with children. We should all be saying that we are going to do something about that together to get children out of poverty. The situation is pretty desperate in some areas, and I recognise that my hon. Friend cited even higher figures from her London constituency.

The hon. Member for South Derbyshire mentioned colleges. I have to tell her that the college system and the further and higher education systems are different north of the border. I have a new college in my constituency that is only two or three years old, but the budget has been cut by the Scottish Government. Over the years, about 30% of the young students going into that college have had no formal qualifications whatsoever. The formal education system has failed them, but the college offers them a second chance that many of them have seized. However, the budget for our further education colleges is being cut—that is not the fault of Government Members, because it is a devolved issue—and so courses are being cut. That means that young people who need that second chance are being deprived of the opportunity.