Malcolm highlights the injustice of low pay
Debate on Living Wage Week Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I join John Park in paying tribute to the work that Kezia Dugdale has done on a range of issues and, for the purposes of this debate, her work on the living wage. She certainly took that up as one of her major campaigning activities when she was elected to Parliament and I recognise the enormous contribution that she has made. I join others in wishing her all the best and I hope that she is back, fully recovered, very soon.

Given that John Park has taken Kezia’s place in the debate, it is also appropriate to pay tribute to the work that he has done. I hope that members will hear more about that as his proposed bill progresses. The idea that he has put forward in the bill, about using procurement as a way of spreading the living wage into the private sector, is one that I support and which I believe is fully compatible with European law. I wish him all the best for his bill as it progresses through the Parliament.

For me, the debate on the living wage is reminiscent of the debates that we had in the House of Commons in the 1990s on the minimum wage. Without being too party political, it is fair to say that the Conservative Party in particular was totally opposed to that proposal from Labour on the grounds that it would lead to more unemployment. However, we know that that has not happened. I welcome the fact that there is now a broader coalition of forces supporting the idea of a living wage than there was in those days supporting the proposal of a minimum wage.

I was particularly struck by an editorial in The Scotsman yesterday, the headline for which was “A living wage is nothing to be afraid of”. If I were to recommend one piece of writing to someone who was not particularly on the left in politics, it would be that editorial. It shows passionate support for a policy that certainly would not have been supported by The Scotsman in the 1990s or even a bit more recently.

John Park gave some reasons for that coalition when he quoted the research from London about the benefits that the London living wage has brought for employers. I will not repeat the details, but the London living wage has reduced staff turnover and improved the morale of workers. Many employers in London and now elsewhere, including in Scotland, will testify to the benefits that the living wage brings them. That is an important part of persuading the wider population to support the policy.

For me, the cornerstone of the policy must be that it helps to combat low pay and poverty. It is a staggering fact that is often forgotten - the motion reminds us of it - that 60 per cent of children living in poverty live in a family in which at least one person is in work. Therefore, we cannot address the issues of child poverty and poverty more generally without doing something about low pay.

Apparently, only 12p of any pound of United Kingdom gross domestic product goes to the 50 per cent of people in this country who earn the lowest pay. That is considerably less than a few decades ago. We therefore have a problem with how much income is taken by low-paid people, which leads not only to poverty but to economic problems.

The other argument for a living wage is that it helps to improve demand in local economies, and perhaps the fundamental problem that our economy has faced over the past three or four years is the lack of demand in the economy. The more that the living wage spreads through the public and private sectors, the more it will help people living in poverty, the wider economy and employers.

There is a comprehensive story to be told about the benefits of the living wage and we can support it on a broad basis going forward. I thank Kezia Dugdale and John Park for the work that they have done, and I commend the Scottish living wage campaign and the trade unions Unison and Unite the Union, which have been particularly active in supporting the campaign.

November 7th 2012