I am pleased to see the national living wage and the national minimum wage continue to increase and support the lowest paid. Those on the minimum wage often have the hardest jobs, and those jobs are vital to our daily lives. Carers are just one example; many of us who have a cared-for relative know just how demanding and invaluable—indeed, priceless—such work is. We need to make sure that carers and many on the minimum wage are properly rewarded for their work, as everybody should be. The Government have made some promising steps, with net wages for people on the minimum wage increasing by 39% since 2010.
It is estimated that 2,600 people in Chichester are on either the national living wage or the national minimum wage, and they are all set to benefit from the above-inflation increases to their hourly rate. They represent about 6% of the local workforce, and Chichester chamber of commerce and industry has welcomed the Government’s acceptance of the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations. The CCCI has said that Chichester businesses want to recruit the very best employees, and this needs to come with a decent wage. I completely agree. I am encouraged by the fact that the CCCI does not foresee any adverse effects on local businesses from of the proposed increases.
I am not saying that raising the minimum age alone is the silver bullet, but the proposed increases mean that the earnings of a full-time minimum wage worker will increase by more than £2,750 annually from next year—that represents a number of Freddo bars. That good news comes on top of other Government measures, such as increases to the personal tax allowance.
I also celebrate the 20p increase to the hourly rate for an apprentice, which represents by far the biggest proposed increase—a 5.4% rise on current rates. That will be a welcome boost to the pockets of the 540 people who started an apprenticeship this year in Chichester, although we should not forget that this is a minimum wage and many people pay apprentices above the minimum wage. I was an apprentice at 16, more than 30 years ago, when the Labour policy was not to pay me the same minimum wage as someone aged 50. It seems that that could be the policy Labour is about to introduce, according to their Front Benchers. In addition, apprentices are getting valuable new skills, which are sponsored and paid for by their employers. As a newly appointed apprenticeship ambassador, and with National Apprenticeship Week coming up, let me use this opportunity to say that, along with learning the necessary skills, this increase will be one of the benefits of taking the apprenticeship route into the workplace. I will be welcoming that.
Unemployment is at an all-time low under this Government. Only 1.2% of people in Chichester are unemployed, so the jobcentre’s aim to get everybody a job, then get them a better job and then move them into a career is a realistic ambition. The minimum wage will help along that journey, so I welcome the proposed increases and I am pleased that we are on our way to making the national living wage reach 60% of median income by 2020. Hard-working people deserve an income that reflects their importance to our economy and the services we rely on daily. We all want to make sure that work pays, and I think these inflation-beating increases are a good step in making that a realistic prospect.