Should the minimum wage be raised? George Osborne now thinks so, we report today in our cover story. The Chancellor’s Damascene journey has political and fiscal origins.
Starting with the money: for the first time, there are more people in working families who live below the poverty line (6.7 million) than there are from jobless households – low pay and part-time work having contributed to an unprecedented decline in living standards in Britain. Low wages can leave the taxpayer effectively subsidising the corporate world – the state coughing up crippling sums in welfare to the working poor. And our economics commentator Hamish McRae writes today that neither Mr Osborne nor his Labour counterparts have much choice about making deeper cuts to welfare after next year’s general election if they are to wipe out Britain’s structural deficit.
On to the Chancellor’s political motive. The Conservative Party was vehemently opposed to the introduction of the minimum wage in 1999, fearing it would cause job losses. That never transpired. Only one in six people on low pay thinks the Conservatives are “on the side of people like me”, polling suggests. Three-quarters of all voters, meanwhile, say the Conservatives remain “the party of the rich”. Tory MPs fear that they will struggle to win an outright majority, even if carried by favourable economic winds.
Ultimately, Mr Osborne should raise the minimum wage not for political gain, but because it is right to try to bring the benefits of growth to all parts of society.