Ed Miliband and Catherine West at the Town Hall on Monday
Published: 9 November, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband visited Islington Town Hall on Monday to launch his party’s new policy pledge to support the living wage.
But he triggered a row with the Lib Dem opposition, who said the Town Hall should not be used to promote party politics.
Mr Miliband launched the new policy in Islington as it has blazed a trail for the Living Wage Campaign, which is run by the charity Citizens UK.
In 2010 it became the first authority in the country to pay the living wage – as opposed to the minimum wage – to its staff and insisting that contractors also pay the higher amount.
In London the living wage is calculated at £8.55 an hour compared to the minimum wage of £6.19 an hour.
Almost 800 Town Hall staff have seen their pay rise as a result and there are now 19 councils across the country, all Labour, which have adopted the living wage. Monday was also the start of Living Wage Week.
Mr Miliband began his visit by meeting Town Hall staff such as cleaners Giedre Uosyte and Leonora Narbutaite who have seen their lives improved by the pay increase.
But the Labour leader stopped short of saying he would legislate to force firms to pay the living wage.
He argued that the living wage was actually cheaper in the long run for private firms as it meant they retained staff for longer.
It was also better for the economy as ordinary people – who spend locally – had more money in their pockets.
His third argument was that it saved the government money as less would be spent on benefits and tax credits.
He argued that he wanted to help private companies pay the living wage by offering financial incentive from the saved money.
But asked by the Tribune whether it wasn’t a “fudge” to make these arguments and not just raise the minimum wage to a decent level, he argued that it was important to have a legal minimum but to always aim higher.
“Whatever the level of the minimum wage we’re always going to aim for more than that. The minimum wage shouldn’t be the end of our ambitions.”
He added: “There are almost five million people in Britain who aren’t earning the living wage; people who got up early this morning, spend hours getting to work, who are putting in all the effort they can, but who often don’t get paid enough to look after their families, to heat their homes, feed their kids, care for elderly relatives and plan for the future.
“Too many people in Britain are doing the right thing and doing their bit, helping to build the prosperity on which our country depends, but aren’t sharing fairly in the rewards.
“It’s not how it should be in Britain, it’s not how we will succeed as a country in the years ahead because we can’t go on with an economy that works for a few at the top and not for most people.
"We need to change it. I’m up for it. I’m going to do it if I’m elected at the next election.”
Mr Miliband was joined by council leader Catherine West, trade unionists and council chiefs from across the country, shadow communities and local government secretary Hilary Benn and shadow treasuries chief Rachel Reeves.
“It’s great to be here to show people what we can do in local government to make a difference to people’s everyday lives,” Cllr West said.
“I spoke to one person who was earning £25 a day before the living wage.
"At the end of this month they will be able to move out of home, and I’m sure his mum and dad will be holding a party. That’s the difference it can make.”
They also heard from businessman Richard O’Neill, managing director of commercial cleaners School Offices Services Limited, based in Finsbury Park. He pays his 200 staff the London Living Wage.
He said: “When people say why the living wage we say because it’s right.”
He added: “It helps the economy. It’s investing in the people who make our business work. We want to make London a much better place to live.”
Ms Uosyte, who was previously paid less than the living wage, said: “It was so difficult – I was working overtime all the time. It was so hard, really hard.”