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Communications Index | Press releases | Scotland inUNISON | Campaigns


Monday 15 Nov 2004


"Big Business scaremongering and self-interest continues to undermine the minimum wage's potential to eradicate poverty and get workers off benefits". This is the argument that Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON the UK's largest union, will be making today (15 November), when he presents the union's evidence for a £6.50 minimum wage to the Low Pay Commission (LPC).

Dave Prentis will say: "The time is right to take a calculated leap forward on the minimum wage. Since it was set at £3.60 an hour in 1999, the increases have been at a snail's pace - held back by the prophets of doom at the CBI and their cronies. The same old scaremongering that bleats that jobs will go - and the country is doomed to go through a winter of discontent.

"This blatant self-interest has seen the pay gap between directors at the top and workers at the bottom grow wider - surely it's that injustice that will lead to a winter of discontent.

"For example. it is a disgrace that over a third of all employees in Scotland earn less than the Low Pay Threshold of £7.58 per hour(figs from the Scottish Low Pay Unit), and a minimum wage of £6.50 isa reasonable step to a minimum wage that reflects the cost of living.

"Contrary to predictions the minimum wage has not cost jobs and after 5 years it's time to deliver what it promised - a positive impact on working peoples' lives. Why should workers have to rely on state hand-outs just to make ends meet and why should taxpayers be lumbered with subsidising poverty wage employers, while they rake in the profits?

"UNISON wants the minimum wage set at £6.50 an hour which is the minimum needed to give a living wage without dependence on in-work benefits. It would also reduce the gender pay gap by 4% at a stroke. It's a win win target."

Since 1999 the number of employees in the UK have risen by 6% or 1.4m. There have been increases in retail, hospitality and social care and there has been no noticeable decline in company profitability or investment. In addition public finances benefit through the extra revenue. UNISON's evidence to the LPC points out that low pay leads to reduced life expectancy.

* An unskilled manual worker can expect to live 7.4 years less than their male professional counterparts, while female manual workers have a life expectancy 5.7 years shorter than higher paid women. Poor children in the UK are poorer than those of any other developed country.

* More than half the children living in poverty in the UK have a parent who works. For more than a million parents working has not proved a passport out of poverty and the problem is even worse for ethnic minority children.

* 70% of Bangladeshi and Pakistani children in the UK live in poverty, two and a half times the rate of white children. The poverty rates among Bangladeshi and Pakistani children with a working parent are higher than among white children with no working parent. Low income for disabled workers also contributes to child poverty

* 1 in 3 children in poverty live in a household with at least one disabled adult. Roughly two thirds of minimum wage beneficiaries have been women and the introduction of the minimum wage closed the gender pay gap by 1% in 1999.

* In October 2004 however the gap was found to be wider (19.5%) than previously thought. White women with children earn 70% of income of white men with children. Without children the figure is 86%. In later life a woman's average retirement income is 53% that of men.

A number of recent reports point to the relationship between poverty and infant mortality; death in accidents and fire; truancy and low educational achievement; mental illness; inadequate housing; poor diet; greater contact with the police; and limited social mobility.

Low paid jobs are more likely to have limited access to training, job security, pensions or family friendly policies. Unequal societies, where the gap between the highest and the lowest income earners is greatest, suffer the lowest levels of social cohesion.

There is a mounting body of evidence that shows a substantial increase in the minimum wage is a win win situation.


For Further Information Please Contact: Anne Mitchell (UK Press Officer) on 0207 3830717 or 07887 945 307(m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0845 355 0845(w) 0771 558 3729(m)