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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Liberal Democrats fighting for social justice

Last night's conference rally focussed on the million extra private sector jobs the coalition government have already created and set out our ambition to create a million more. Speakers referred to the huge investment we have put into new apprenticeships, the £700 tax cut that has taken many low earners out of tax altogether and the huge investment in education targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils.

There is a lot more that needs to be done, which is why I am pleased to see that we are also pursuing an increase in the minimum wage. The Guardian reports that Vince Cable is to press for an increase in the minimum wage amid concerns that the economic recovery is failing to lift living standards for large parts of the workforce:

Cable is to ask the Low Pay Commission to restore its value, which he calculates has fallen in real terms by 10-12% since the crash of 2008.

In an interview with the Guardian on the eve of what is likely to be a difficult Liberal Democrat conference, he said: "We cannot go on for ever in a low pay and low productivity world in which all we can say to workers is 'you have got to take a wage cut to keep your job'."

The move, the subject of intense coalition discussion, is one of the first concrete signs of the government taking action on the living standards agenda likely to dominate the pre-election landscape as the economy starts to grow.

The measures to combat low pay will also involve steps to tackle the abuses of zero-hours contracts, Cable said. "We have got to enter into a different kind of workplace. For a very long time, five or six years, wages have been suppressed in low wage sectors. I am sending a signal that we are entering a very different environment."

Cable said employers could be cushioned from the possible impact on their profits by a reduction in the cost of their national insurance contributions. "That would be a far better option for tax cuts than the Tories' marriage tax allowance."

He also promised more aggressive protection of the estimated 2 million workers in the social care sector – 830,000 of whom carry out home visits – with estimates that up to 220,000 of all care workers may be paid less than the minimum wage.

He said it would be for the independent Low Pay Commission to set out the precise timetable and process to lift the value of the minimum wage, but he expected, with a new framework, the increases would occur over two to four years.

This is a welcome development and underlines once more the influence exercised by the Liberal Democrats within the coalition government.
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