It is time for this country to introduce a genuine national living wage. It would raise living standards, clamp down on exploitative employers, write into the law the basic principle that work should pay, and potentially boost Britain’s productivity.

One of the great landmark achievements of the last Labour government was the introduction of a national minimum wage. It had been Labour policy since 1986, and was passed into law in 1998, initially standing at £3.60/hour and £3/hour for 18-21 year olds. Dumbfounding Tory predictions of huge job losses, it improved the lives of millions of low-paid workers, particularly women. A 2010 survey of British political experts rated it as the most successful government policy of the previous 30 years.[1]

In 2015, George Osborne introduced a so-called ‘living wage’, but, typically of the former Chancellor, it was more rhetoric than substance.[2] The independently-calculated real Living Wage rates are currently £9.75/hour in London and £8.45 outside the capital,[3] whereas the Tories’ minimum wage is currently £7.50.[4] With inflation at 2.9%,[5] Osborne’s promise of £9/hour by 2020 is clearly nowhere near a genuine living wage.

Recent studies suggest that a record 60% of Britons in poverty are in working families.[6] Successive governments have argued that work is the best route out of poverty, but this is only true so long as work pays. The Government currently spends £27 billion on tax credits.[7] Raising the minimum wage to a genuine living wage would reduce the welfare bill, allowing scope for much needed investment in education and training to help tackle Britain’s productivity crisis. Being forced to pay a living wage could also encourage British employers to up-skill staff, and move us away from a low-wage, low-skill economy.

With the Tories still in power (for now), it has fallen on hard-working activists and trades unions to push for all employers to pay the living wage. There has been some success, with a range of big-name companies – from Aviva to Nationwide – signing up to be Living Wage Employers.[8]

The Durham University Labour Club – alongside other students and the Durham University Campaign for the Living Wage – has been campaigning for our University to pay all its staff a genuine living wage. Many Durham University staff are on exploitative zero-hour contracts and earn well below the living wage. So far, the University has been dismissive of our criticism. Meanwhile, tuition fees are rising to their highest ever level – £9,250/year,[9]and this year Durham’s Vice Chancellor will be paid £287,000.[10] This gross inequality is both unfair and quite frankly unsustainable, and we will continue to make this argument to the University.

The principle that someone working 9-5, Monday to Friday, should earn enough to live on, is not a complicated one. Until we have a Labour government brave and just enough to implement it, it falls on all of us to encourage employers to pay a genuine living wage, and play their part in building an economy that works for the many, not the few.

Joe Dharampal-Hornby
Co-Chair of Durham Labour Students


How can Labour Clubs get involved?

  1. Send this letter written by NUS Vice-President Society & Citizenship and Labour Students NUS Group Leader, Robbie Young to your Vice Chancellor
  2. Support the ‘A Living Wage for Every Age’ Campaign day on 11th October
    1. Run a stall on campus collecting signatures to be added to the letter above
    2. Follow @LivingWageUK to keep up to date
    3. Tweet your support for the campaign
  3. Pass a motion through your Students’ Union calling for them to lobby your University to pay a real living wage to all its staff

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