We must have a fair wage for a hard day's work

Earlier this year I won the lottery. Not the national lottery (although with Christmas around the corner that would have been quite handy)!

My name was pulled out of the hat in a special draw that takes place in Parliament each year. It gave me the chance to introduce a Bill into the House of Commons on any subject of my choice.

Choosing the subject was a difficult decision – there are no shortage of things in the world that I would like to fix.

Ultimately, I wanted to propose a Bill that would make a difference to the lives of my constituents here in Barnsley.

I wanted to help people like Catherine. It was her story that helped make my mind up that I would introduce a Bill to make work pay.

Catherine is a cleaner and housekeeper in Barnsley.

She juggles six jobs working in six different locations across the town, working more than 50 hours a week on the minimum wage.

Like many people, Catherine struggles to make ends meet, especially as the real terms value of the minimum wage has declined by 5% since 2010.

When I asked her how this affected her life, she said she’d had to cut down on what she described as “luxuries.” Soon I realised she meant she couldn’t afford essentials like clothes.

“I just work to exist,” she said. “I can’t afford nice stuff. I just work to keep my head above water.”

Catherine is just one of more than 5 million people across Britain stuck on low pay – an all-time record.

Before 1997, Catherine and many workers were expected to work for jobs paying as little as £1 or £2 an hour.

The introduction of the National Minimum Wage ended this scandal and was one of the last Labour Government’s proudest achievements.

A generation later, the challenge has changed.

The National Minimum Wage has helped root out exploitation and extreme examples of poverty pay. Instead, the challenge is now the sheer number of people we have across our country who do a hard day’s work but are still living on the breadline. 

My Bill, which is scheduled for debate in Parliament this week, would help change that.

It would require the Government to introduce an ambitious target to increase the minimum wage over five years. It would also give the Low Pay Commission new powers to raise productivity and tackle low pay in different sectors of our economy.

And if the Government don’t support this proposal this week, then Labour will if we are elected in six months’ time. We will strengthen the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020.

A clear long term target will give businesses time to plan and adapt their business models to boost productivity to support higher wages.

And it would make a huge difference to people in Barnsley like Catherine.

When I asked her what difference a higher wage would make to her life, she couldn’t quite imagine it.

“I could cut down my hours, couldn’t I?” she said. “I would have some time do to other things?” 

Sometimes it’s the small things in life like that which are most important. That’s why we must repair the bond between our national wealth and the wages that people take home for a hard day’s work.

This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 25th November 2014.