Tory MP backs living wage campaign



The campaign for firms to pay workers a "living wage" has been joined by a Tory MP who urged right-wing colleagues to accept the case for fairer pay.

Guy Opperman - who describes himself as an "old socialist" - said the Government must take seriously the findings of a commission examining the idea being led by the Archbishop of York.

Downing Street backs the idea of firms paying a living wage - set significantly higher than the statutory national minimum wage.

But it has resisted Labour calls for firms that fail to do so being excluded from bidding for state contracts, arguing that such a restriction could be illegal.
London Mayor Boris Johnson is among prominent supporters of the living wage campaign and has urged Prime Minister David Cameron to apply it to Whitehall workers.

"David Cameron was right when he said that 'the living wage is an idea whose time has come'," Mr Opperman wrote in an article for the New Statesman magazine.

"The living wage started off as a belief and became a campaign. It is now time for us in Westminster to return to our constituencies and make the case for our individual businesses to pay the living wage."

The Archbishop of York John Sentamu condemned the low pay of millions of Britons as a "national scandal" as he opened a year-long commission on the feasibility of a living wage.

While political backing was welcome, he said, workers needed "pay not platitudes".

The rate is currently set at £7.45 an hour outside London and £8.55 in the capital, compared with the current minimum wage of £6.19 for adults and £4.98 for 18 to 20-year-olds.

Hexham MP Mr Opperman said the bottom end of the pay scale had been neglected amid high-profile controversies over excessive pay in the boardroom.

"How and why did we let it become acceptable for a full time job not to pay enough to live on?" he asked, pointing to tax credits as a £4 billion subsidy for low pay.

"The living wage isn't just a wonkish idea - it's the political world catching up with the reality for many Britons," the MP said.

He hit out at critics who suggested it would penalise businesses and hold back growth, saying they were the same arguments made against the minimum wage which was now widely accepted.

"It may just be the old socialist in me, but when did it become a hindrance rather than a duty for a business to look after its employees?

"If those on the right won't listen to the arguments of an old left winger like me then, at the very least, they should listen to the HR Director of Barclays, Dominic Johnson, who says 'it makes sense for business," he urged - adding that it would benefit the taxpayer as well.

"The IPPR and the Resolution Foundation have found that even if the employers that could easily afford to, the so called 'non low wage employers', paid the living wage then the savings to the Treasury per annum would be in the hundreds of millions.

"This would be the result of increased tax receipts, increased national insurance contributions and savings on benefits like tax credits.

"Even enthusiasts like me have to accept that there remains a lack of detailed analysis of the effects of a living wage on individual sectors.

"I will be working hard to ensure that the Government takes seriously the conclusions of the Living Wage Commission, chaired by the Archbishop of York.

"It is vital we are able to monitor the economic effects of the living wage and demonstrate the benefits, and the negatives, of paying a living wage."

© 2013 Press Association