Editorial: The minimum wage must be enforced

With the central battle won, discussions now focus on the level at which the minimum wage should be set; witness the ructions over this year’s sub-inflationary rise

Share

For all the fulminations of the unthinking political right, it is increasingly difficult to argue credibly against the minimum wage.

Evidence from the decade-plus since its introduction by Tony Blair has put paid to the dire warnings of widespread job losses. And David Cameron publicly adopted the policy – often hailed as one of the most successful of any government in recent years – when he took over the leadership of the Conservative Party.

With the central battle won, discussions now focus on the level at which the minimum wage should be set; witness the recent ructions over this year’s sub-inflationary 1.9 per cent rise, a nod to the trying economic conditions. Meanwhile, the campaign for a higher “living wage” – sufficient to support a basic family life – is also gaining support across the spectrum. Alongside the principle that a full-time worker should earn enough to live, proponents also point out myriad other benefits. Staff stick around longer and are more productive, they say; and the state pays out less in tax credits, saving public money and ending the absurdity that sees taxpayers subsidising stingy or inefficient employers.

The debate on the matter of low pay is, rightly, far from over. There is another, altogether more immediate issue, however – and that is the extent to which some unscrupulous employers are dodging the existing rules.

The list of “scams” makes depressing reading. Some companies classify paid employees as volunteers, thus exempting them from the minimum wage; some charge for uniforms, say, or meals, eating into already low wages; some pay piece rates, or even simply lie about the hours worked. Such deceptions are not only shameful; they are illegal. They are also alarmingly widespread, particularly in, for example, the hospitality industry (where an arbitrary amount of tips can be counted as salary), and the social care sector (where carers are sometimes not paid for the travelling time between clients’ homes).

As things stand, then, Britain’s national minimum wage is rather an empty promise. Vince Cable is making the right noises at least. The Business Secretary says the Government is working on “tough new measures”. But he will need to do more than talk. Employee organisations have been warning of crooked operators sidestepping the law for almost as long as the minimum wage legislation has been in place. The Government has also launched previous crackdowns – not least the plan to “name and shame” offenders announced with great fanfare in 2010. Thanks to scant resources and minimal interest from ministers, though, little has been achieved and rampant exploitation at the low end of the income scale continues.

The situation is not only a moral blot on our wealthy and supposedly civilised society. With benefits now being squeezed, the Government is under more obligation than ever to ensure that laws protecting desperate and vulnerable workers are enforced. In fact, such enforcement must surely be a corollary of the much-vaunted effort to “make work pay”.

There are also any number of harmful practical consequences to consider. Not only do illegally low wages skew the labour market. They raise alarming quality implications, too – particularly in social care. Indeed, only this week, the relevant minister cautioned that “the next big scandal” will be in the care sector. With the appalling example of Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust still so fresh, such warnings cannot be easily ignored.

An effective campaign to name and shame offenders would be a start. But it must be accompanied by a hike in the fine levied on guilty parties and a concerted effort to bring prosecutions. The national minimum wage was a real step forward. But it is worth nothing unless it is enforced.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor