‘Living Wage supporter’ Boris Johnson still isn’t paying his trainees

Despite trainees being guaranteed an interview, not one of last year’s cohort made it on to the GLA’s own apprenticeship programme


The chancellor’s decision to introduce a ‘new’ minimum wage at £7.20 not only seriously undermined the Living Wage Foundation’s campaign on low pay, it did a great disservice to our capital’s young people.

Amid the chorus of voices expressing concern at the impact of the announcement was the unlikely voice of Boris Johnson warning that the rebranding of minimum wages risked causing confusion, with some employers mistaking the ‘new’ minimum wage for the Living Wage.

Aside from the copious and well chronicled reasons the announcement isn’t actually a living wage, another major failure is the chancellor’s apparent refusal to even consider whether £7.20 is actually enough to live on in different parts of the country.

In some areas it may come close. In London – not a chance.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) has said that without tax credits, the true London Living Wage would have to rise to £11.65 in 2014-15. Promoting £7.20 as a living wage stands to reverse much of the progress we have made in recent years in promoting an actual living wage, and would leave hundreds of thousands of low paid workers struggling to survive in our great city.

Despite Boris Johnson seemingly joining the rebellion against the new ‘Living Wage’ his own record is less than rosy, particularly where young people are concerned.

Nowhere is the mayor’s hypocrisy more clear than in his decision to run an unpaid traineeship scheme at City Hall for a second year, despite significant concerns raised about last year’s scheme.

The programme, which starts in the coming weeks, will see young Londoners undertake three months of administrative work, such as photocopying, filing and diary management. It’s a role with all the hallmarks of an entry level job – apart from the salary. Instead the ‘trainees’ will take home zero pay, just expenses.

There isn’t a massive amount everyone in politics agrees on but the idea you should pay staff is a pretty basic one.

Only last year the mayor stated that ‘all formal GLA work experience should pay the London Living Wage.’ Sadly though, this is yet another area where rhetoric and reality diverge.

When asked about the unpaid nature of the traineeship scheme he changed his mind, stating that for some unknown reason it ‘would not be appropriate’ to pay trainees.

In an attempt to defend himself Boris says his new position is justified on the basis that traineeships help participants ‘to become ready to access an apprenticeship programme or to obtain work’.

Of course, despite trainees being guaranteed an interview, not one of last year’s trainees made it on to the GLA’s own apprenticeship programme.

With the traineeships aimed at vulnerable young Londoners, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, the objective should be to support these young people in taking a first step onto the job ladder.

The objective should not be to exploit them by having them undertake tasks that would otherwise be carried out by a paid employee.

It is shameless hypocrisy on the mayor’s part to publicly support the Living Wage whilst forcing young people to work unpaid for three months at City Hall.

It’s a hard time all round for young people. Real term cuts to tax credits will see increasing numbers of children thrown into poverty.

Young people will have to jump through hoops to claim housing benefit, and in a city where rents continue to rocket and competition for employment is high, those who lose this support could find themselves forced out of the capital.

Never has it been more important to support our young people. That means that when they undertake work, they too should be paid a decent salary so that they can afford to live here.

One way to ensure this is to have a statutory ‘living wage’ for all workers, as many of us have been calling for. The chancellor’s tokenistic rise in the minimum wage is a poor substitute for the true statutory living wage that is needed to ensure all workers are paid a salary that they can actually live on.

I’d like to see our next mayor supporting a statutory living wage for all workers regardless of age. There are no two ways about it: if you’re in work you should be being paid a salary you can live on. It really is that simple.

Fiona Twycross is a Labour London Assembly member. Follow her on Twitter

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