Eight years after former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gordon Brown promised to ‘Make Poverty History’ in the third world, it is firmly back on the agenda here in the UK.
With wages remaining stagnant with only a 0.3 per cent rise over the past 12 months, in recent weeks the coalition Government has moved to break the historic link between Job Seeker’s Allowance and inflation, capping the annual at one per cent rise until 2015.
The bill came under heavy criticism when it emerged six out of 10 people affected by the decision would actually be in work. It was widely cited as further proof of the country’s ‘endemic culture’ of low paid work and renewed calls for the introduction of ‘living wage’ of £7.45 per hour instead of the current minimum wage of £6.18.
The drive towards the living wage is an historic Yorkshire cause with the Liberal MP for Dewsbury, Mark Oldroyd, calling for it all the way back in 1894. It has gathered momentum over the past decade after the Living Wage Foundation was set up in London in 2001.
The organisation provides accreditation for hundreds of companies across the UK including companies and charities based in the region such as KPMG in Leeds. A joint report published by think tanks the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Resolution Foundation earlier this month said 31 per cent of people living in the Yorkshire and Humber region earn less than living wage, set at £7.45 per hour outside of London.
It concluded if the living wage was introduced across the UK it could save the treasury over £2bn a year and only increase the wage bill for large firms by one per cent.
Chris Goulden, head of poverty at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “People are earning money but don’t have enough to cover the growing cost of essentials and make ends meet. Low wages means the state has to step in and foot the bill through welfare.”
James Greenhalgh, 22, earns £6.19 per hour working at Leeds University’s union, said: “Because I’m a student the union is saying students shouldn’t get the living wage because they have a student loan but I don’t think it’s a good thing that you encourage a debt culture.”
Sadly, the implementation of a living wage has so far been patchy as long as it remains voluntary.