Boris Johnson's government accused of rowing back on living wage pledge for low-paid workers

Millions of low earners were promised a boost of £4,000 a year through a hike in their hourly pay

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 December 2019 16:36 GMT
The Queen sets out Government’s priorities including Brexit, NHS, knife crime and immigration

Boris Johnson's government has been accused of watering down its manifesto commitment to increase the national living wage to more than £10 an hour in a blow to low-paid workers.

Millions of low earners were promised a boost of £4,000 a year through a hike in their hourly pay announced by Sajid Javid at the Conservative conference in September and contained in the party's manifesto.

The chancellor claimed the rise would make the UK the first major economy to "end low pay altogether", as he vowed to increase the hourly pay rate from £8.21 per hour to £10.50 per hour over the next five years.

However the fine print on the policy, contained in the Queen's Speech on Thursday, shows the ambitious promise will only take place "provided economic conditions allow".

It said: "The chancellor has pledged that the National Living Wage will increase, reaching two-thirds of median earnings within five years (projected to be around £10.50-an-hour in 2024), provided economic conditions allow."

The hike was intended to raise the minimum wage over the next five years from 60 per cent to 66 per cent of the median wage, and the age threshold will be cut from 25 to 21, the chancellor said.

At current trends this would boost the hourly minimum rate from £8.21 to £10.50 by 2024, compared to the £9.55 it could be expected to reach over the same period under current rates.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, seized on the words as an attempt to row back from the commitment.

He told The Independent: “It’s appalling that the commitment made by the chancellor during the election on the living wage has survived less than a week.”

Trade union leaders also expressed scepticism about the prime minister's promises for working people, after rights and protections were hived off from the Brexit legislation into a separate employment bill.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: "Working people will want to check the small print before trusting this government’s promises.

“Ministers should be taking action to outlaw hated zero-hours contracts, which trap working families in poverty. And they should get wages rising by empowering workers to negotiate fair pay.

“We know that many in the cabinet are desperate to drive down labour standards. That’s why the government has launched another attack on the democratic right to strike to make it harder for working people to stand up for their rights.”

The pared-back Queen's Speech on Thursday contained some 40 pieces of legislation, including radical plans to overhaul the UK's constitution and justice system.

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