I have a secret to share with you: All parties make mistakes in politics – after all, collectively we’re all human. My party made a mistake in 1997 by opposing a Minimum Wage – We were wrong because it was the right thing to do and I’m glad we supported its retention.
As the party of aspiration and for ambitious working people, we should have given it our support. By contrast, Labour are in danger of becoming the Welfare Party.
I hope and believe that Conservatives will not make the same error now with regard to the Living Wage. If we want to get people off welfare and into work and we want to back people who do the right thing, supporting a Living Wage is surely a major prerequisite? Not only does it make sense in terms of fairness and social justice but it’s good politics. Yes the economy is healing but the recovery must lift up those on low wages too, especially as many working people are feeling the pinch with wage rises still being outstripped by inflation – a situation which has prevailed for the last 10 years.
I’m proud of the Government’s record since 2010, taking 2 million people out of tax altogether and cutting the tax bill by an average £600 since April for 24 million taxpayers - 42,000 in my constituency.
But the rise in the cost of living over the last few years, in areas like food, water and fuel bills, means that we have to do more for folk who prefer to work rather than languish on benefits. We have to do it in a way which doesn’t hurt small businesses. Multi nationals and big business generally have more “wool on their back” and can take care of themselves but small businesses need nurturing not more legislation.
So we need to look at the tax system again and focus on lower taxes for lower earners. Bring back the 10p tax rate and increasing tax allowances or abolishing tax altogether for those on Minimum Wage might be options to consider, helping to close the gap between the Minimum Wage and Living Wage.
It would be costly in the short term but the advantages in the long run to the economy of increasing spending and tax receipts and incentives to get off welfare as well as protect employment, would be worth it. The 4.6 million workers who earn below a Living Wage – thousands of whom live in Peterborough - would benefit by keeping more of their own money.
A Living Wage introduced by my party would be fair and good economics too - and it would demonstrate to working people that we’re on their side.