If bosses are worried about the impact of the living wage, how about paying for it themselves?

It would be a very small step towards restoring dignity to key members of our workforce

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The Independent Online

Listen out for a new sound over the coming months – the growing chorus of executives whining, all chanting the same mantra, complaining that George Osborne’s new living wage will be a disaster. They say it will result in higher prices, redundancies and older people being replaced by youngsters as the legislation introduced by the Chancellor applies only to those over 25.

From next April, the mandatory living wage has been set at £7.20 an hour, replacing the current minimum wage of £6.50 and rising to just over £9 an hour by 2020. The new rate is 50p an hour higher than the rate recommended by the Low Pay Commission and represents a huge gamble by Osborne, who hopes it will make work more appealing to benefit claimants and the unemployed.

Predictably, the heads of big businesses have been queuing up to monster the Chancellor. This week, the bosses of Whitbread and Costa Coffee joined those of Next and Manpower, claiming we’ll all be paying more for our lattes and lagers next year. The chief executive of struggling supermarket chain Morrisons said the increased wage bill could run to “tens of millions” of pounds. John Lewis and Carphone Warehouse reckon their staffing costs will increase. The head of the CBI, a lobby group for business leaders, says companies are threatening to reduce working hours and replace people with technology in response, and implying that low-paid workers such as care home assistants would be replaced by school leavers who are cheaper but will not have the necessary people skills.

Justin King, the former boss of Sainsbury’s, has described the living wage as “ludicrous” and says it will inevitably result in a smaller workforce. Nevertheless, the supermarket is raising wages by 4 per cent to £7.36 for 85 per cent of its employees. The Financial Times says there are only five ways for companies to afford the living wage: raise prices; move work abroad; employ more young people; replace workers with machines; or – and this is the option I haven’t heard one single boss offer – reduce corporate profits. The newspaper reckons the living wage means a £4bn rise in wages – but why can’t that come out of profits?

Is it too simplistic to expect that board members and senior executives give up 2 per cent of their wages, perks and pensions to fund the slave wages of the 20 per cent of the British workforce who will benefit from the new living wage? This 20 per cent are people who have chosen to go out to work for a disgusting pittance and not to take benefits.

You don’t have to be Einstein to see that work must be sufficiently financially rewarding for people to continue to toil in boring, repetitive, dirty and unrewarding jobs doing the stuff 80 per cent of us don’t want to do, and not sit on their arses claiming cash from the Government. Our complex system of tax credits and allowances ought to be scrapped and, instead, pay should be set at a rate which it is possible to live on without people having to fill in forms and claim for government support.

The living wage is a very small step towards restoring dignity to key members of our workforce. I am not at all impressed by the squeals of resentment emanating from boardrooms up and down the land.

By the way, the new EU Working Time Directive, which says that staff cannot work more than 48 hours a week, and which classifies the start of the working day (for those who are based from home) as the moment they leave their front door to when they return at night, is bound to have a big impact on staff costs.


No need to buy the charity record – just send money

As inevitably as night follows day, the modern response to any humanitarian crisis is a charity pop record. Yes, you may call me a cynic, but the news that Benedict Cumberbatch is introducing a record put together by writer Caitlin Moran and her husband, music writer Pete Paphides, is all too predictable.

The track, entitled “Help Is Coming”, went on sale yesterday as a limited edition of 1,000 records, and the money raised will go to Save the Children. Moran says the record was made because “everyone was desperate to help”. So, my big question is, why don’t they just send money?

Why does “help” in our modern age have to be sugar coated with a singalong, a wrist band, a badge or a slogan? If we want to support a cause, why not give money anonymously? Why do clever people like Caitlin and co feel confused about “how to help” in a crisis? The answer is simple: just give money. We don’t need another record to gather dust on our shelves.

The BBC is gearing up for another Children in Need, and is already releasing pictures of stars in costumes (Sophie Ellis-Bextor as Mary Poppins) rallying around for a good cause. In modern Britain, what’s so hard about simply giving, without all the bells and whistles and party antics?


This so-called 3M humour leaves a sour taste

Barrister Charlotte Proudman was disgusted when Alexander Carter-Silk emailed to say that her picture on the business networking site LinkedIn was “stunning”, and then he went on to compound his crude gaffe with “you definitely win the prize for the best picture I have ever seen… always interest [sic] to understant [sic] people’s skills and how we might work together”. Was this oaf hoping for something more than an exchange of emails, or were his remarks just another tragic example of 3M humour (male, middle aged and menopausal)?

Ms Proudman has been ridiculed, and labelled a “feminazi”, for complaining and seeking an apology – but I’m on her side. Can you imagine this scenario the other way round? Would a woman seeking useful contacts on a business website ever email a man and say “sexy snap”? Not if she wanted to be taken seriously. The fact is Ms Proudman’s photo is mega-dreary, the polar opposite of what normally gets rated as “stunning” in the world of Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and Madonna. Her mugshot shows a fully clothed woman with a severe haircut looking at the camera with not an inch of flesh on display. Her gaze is positive, but hardly winsome or seductive.


Coming to a beach near you: reservations required

In August, I drove to a beautiful beach at the southern tip of Puglia in Italy. Getting a lounger wasn’t easy: my hotel had to ring the beach bar early in the morning, and after a spot of jockeying, I secured a pair of loungers for €20. All the best ones had been booked at the start of the season by savvy locals. We Brits have never been very good at beach etiquette.

One summer in the Adriatic, I secured a pair of loungers in pole position on the front row for a week by simply wafting a €50 note in front in front of the beach attendant. In hotels, bagging a lounger by the pool is impossible unless you’re up at dawn with a towel to stake a claim. Now the Germans (inevitably) have come up with a solution. At one resort on the North Sea, it’s possible to book a lounger before you’ve even left home, online. You can even select the location, and get a discount for a second week. Never mind “feminazis” – the “towel nazi” is a species that ruin our summers, so please can advance lounger booking be extended around the Mediterranean?