A £9 minimum wage isn’t hard to achieve – the government must stand its ground

It's in everyone's interest to keep wages rising


The government’s target of a nine pound minimum wage by 2020 is under threat. If Theresa May seriously wants to hold the centre ground, she must stick to the target.

When Greg Clark became business secretary in July, he immediately came under pressure to water down and delay the increases to the national living wage.

This came from the usual business figures who have always resented the national living wage. Their latest attack is a report today from an insolvency practitioner suggesting that more businesses are struggling.

The TUC doesn’t often defend government policy, but in this case we are calling on the PM and the Chancellor to hold their nerve and deliver what was promised by their immediate predecessors.

Ditching the nine pound target would add to uncertainty around pay and policy, at a time when the political signals ought to read ‘business as usual’.

Luckily, it’s not difficult to reach the target by 2020.

Not only does the UK have a record number of people in employment – as the government continually reminds us – but, the number of people employed in low-paid industries has risen faster in the past year than jobs growth elsewhere. This suggests that businesses have been well able to cope with the current rate of £7.20.

It also seems likely that UK businesses could afford a further increase. The latest figures (from before the referendum) show corporate profitability running at record levels. Large firms can certainly afford to pay more, which could offer a boost in consumer demand for smaller firms too.

But business lobbying is not the only threat. As pay growth forecasts have been revised down following the vote to leave the EU, the way the 2020 target is calculated might mean a much lower figure than initially thought, according to a new analysis published by the Resolution Foundation.

They predict a national living wage as low as £8.60 by 2020, 40p lower than George Osbourne’s nine pound promise.

It is in everybody’s interest to have wages increasing as strongly as can be sustained. Working people need money to live, and businesses need customers with money in their pockets. Already, the Treasury has predicted domestic demand for 2017 will be down 2.1 per cent. A lower minimum wage won’t help this.

Working people can’t be expected to pay the price for Brexit. People didn’t vote for lower wages.

Keeping the economy going will be one of the biggest challenge for the new government. Theresa May also indicated that she wants to capture the centre ground. A strong national living wage is a decent way to do both.

Paul Sellers is TUC Policy Officer dealing with working time and the minimum wage

See also: If Brexit was a victory for working people, why is the National Living Wage being revised down?

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3 Responses to “A £9 minimum wage isn’t hard to achieve – the government must stand its ground”

  1. NHSGP

    It’s a great idea. Get companies to pay their workers more.

    Then the state can cut paying them welfare and tax credits making them poorer.

    They can then pay more tax, making them poorer.

    The costs of their goods goes up, making them poorer.

    The companies may decide to automate, making them redundant.

    The companies could go bust, make them unemployed

    The companies might decide its cheaper off shore, making them unemployed.


    Or you could stop taxing them, meaning they take home more pay.

    Which do you pick? Hmmmm…

  2. Richard MacKinnon

    Successful economies dont understand how a government of a indebted economy can impose a minimum wage. Their incomprehension is legitimate. Successful economies such as India and China see an imposed minimum wage as anti competitive and rightly so. A minimum wage is a key indicator of a failed economy.

  3. Paul Sellers

    Many employers tend to pay the least that they can afford, leaving the state to subsidise low wage workers. US economists Card and Kreuger called this power for some employers to set wages unilaterally “neo-monopsony power”. Those on the minimum wage already pay no income tax, so getting employers to do their duty and pay more is the only way forward.

    Far from being the mark of failure, many countries consider a minimum wage to be a useful protection. Note that India’s minimum wage was increased in 2015. China has a system of regional minimum wages, and Germany introduced a minimum wage in 2015. In my view, the US would be a better place if the Republicans had not blocked Obama’s attempts to increase the federal minimum wage. Fingers crossed that Clinton will become president and be able to get an increase through.

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