Billy Bragg at Tolpuddle Festival in 2009.
Low pay from Tolpuddle 1834 to today
The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival is this year returning to its roots with low pay being the focus for the event. Just as 179 years ago wage cuts provoked the six farm workers into forming a union, the TUC in 2013 is campaigning for pay to be raised to lift the economy out of recession.
The Martyrs were sent to Australia for their troubles but, although things have moved on in the judicial world, low pay remains a real problem for workers. Far too many people earn too little to get by. Wages are stagnant, and the real value of UK pay packets has fallen by 7% since the 2008 crash.
Across the public sector and in much of the private sector pay is frozen or rising far more slowly than inflation. Average earnings today are no higher than they were in 2000 and it is set to take until 2017 for pay to return to its pre-crash level.
When wages fail to rise, it’s not just household budgets that are squeezed – businesses also feel the pain of reduced spending. Since 2008 Britain’s stagnating pay packets have cost the economy over £50 billion. Depressed wages equal depressed consumer demand, which leads to less investment and productivity falls – a spiral of economic decline. Lower wages also mean reduced tax receipts, leaving less revenue for vital services. Low wages are supplemented by benefits and tax credits. Taxpayers are subsidising employers who don’t pay a living wage.
So if you’re able to get down to Dorset next weekend, come join us in the campaign for fairer pay, and experience the mix of music, performance and politics that only ever happens at Tolpuddle.