Is it such a big deal to pay people enough to live on?
TWO KEY pledges from the manifesto of Keir Hardie, Labour's first MP in 1892, were the minimum wage and temperance.
It took a while but Tony Blair's government delivered the first. The second – prohibition of alcohol – is unlikely to see the light of day again.
In 1997, the idea of a national minimum wage was met with fierce opposition. The Tories said no, the Lib Dems wanted a regional minimum. Labour stuck to the principle of fairness.
It has been a huge success – good for the economy, it didn't cost jobs and even David Cameron says he supports it now.
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The next step is the living wage. Is it really such a big deal to pay people enough to live on?
I remember my gran who was widowed with four children and scraped by as a cleaner until well past retirement age. There are lots of people like her in Cornwall: they go without to bring up their children, they worry about switching on a heater and they don't have foreign holidays or the latest technology to help their children get ahead.
The living wage is £7.45 an hour, that's all.
If people don't have enough to live on, they fall into poverty and debt or need tax credits or have to leave work and claim benefits. Either way, it costs the taxpayer.
Cornwall Council can afford to pay senior officers between £100,000 and £190,000 a year, plus contributions to a generous pension.
Hundreds of our lowest paid staff, despite working hard, earn less than living costs and cannot afford to join the pension scheme that might keep them from being dependent on state benefits in retirement.
It is time the council took a lead in paying the living wage and promoting it to other employers so that no one in Cornwall has to work for less.
Employers who signed up found productivity increased and sickness cut. But most of all, it is the right thing to do.
Labour councils across the country are doing it and I've set up a petition at www.freepetition.co.uk/cornwall to put pressure on this council because low wages in Cornwall are a scandal.
What kind of society are we if we accept that some people have to be paid more than others earn in a decade or a lifetime and yet others can work hard and not earn enough even for their basic needs?
I'm with Nelson Mandela on this: "Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice."