Blog Action Day: Britain Needs A Pay Rise to beat #inequality
It’s a timely message for unions in the UK, as we prepare to join forces in London, Glasgow and Belfast on Saturday to protest about the growing inequality in how people are paid in our society.
We’ve been through a recession in which the living standards of the majority have taken a battering. The government are keen to show that jobs are returning to the economy, but new jobs are increasingly being created on low pay and with no employment security, trapping millions of households in in-work poverty. For the first time there are now more working households living in poverty than those without work.
One in five takes home less than a Living Wage of £7.65 (£8.80 in London). Even the basic security of the minimum wage is being undermined by zero hours contracts that cut paid time to the bone, and by cuts to enforcement and prohibitive new fees for workers seeking to bring a case against an employer for flouting minimum pay law.
Nearly everyone is feeling the squeeze, with average wages down £50 a week in real terms since 2008. It’s the longest and most severe decline in real earnings since records began, more than 150 years ago.
This week has seen public sector workers taking industrial action, in protest at six years of pay freezes and caps. It takes a lot to drive many public servants to strike – It was the first industrial action in the more than a century history of the Royal College of Midwives – but the continual rises to the costs of housing, food and energy are pushing people over the edge.
But it’s not bad for everyone. Those at the top are busy cutting themselves free of the rest of the country. In 1998, the average FTSE100 CEO earned 45 times the average wage. Nowadays it’s 175 times the average.
Britain’s highest paid director, Simon Peckham of engineering company Melrose, took just forty nine minutes to earn as much as a worker on the Living Wage earns in a whole year.
This can’t continue. We need to make a fundamental choice about the kind of society we want to be in the coming years. It’s not beyond our abilities to forge a new and fair economy that provides the people of this country with good, skilled, secure jobs, and that safeguards our citizens with a decent welfare safety net.
Otherwise we’re sleepwalking into what Frances O’Grady described at TUC Congress this year as:
“A Downton Abbey-style society, in which the living standards of the vast majority are sacrificed to protect the high living of the well to do? Where the blame is heaped on the most vulnerable – migrants and claimants – while the powerful and the privileged sit pretty.”
This Saturday, trade unionists and supporters will be taking to the streets of London, Belfast and Glasgow, to say loud and clear that Britain Needs a Pay Rise to combat the damage being caused to our society by this growing inequality. I hope we’ll see you there too!