by Colin Fox, SSP national co-spokesperson • One million people in Scotland live in poverty today according to Government figures and most of them are working. It used to be the case that work was the route out of poverty. Not anymore.
That circumstance is unlikely to do much to improve the latest life expectancy figures announced last week which show a fall in Scotland for the first time in 35 years.
And in more shocking new figures just released by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs some 200,000 people across Britain did not receive the statutory minimum wage to which they were entitled last year.
The figures show 600 employers broke the law and did not even pay their staff the statutory minimum rate of £7.83 per hour (for over 25s).
Employers in social care, retail, commercial warehousing, hospitality, security, hairdressing and the gig economy were found to be the worst offenders. Collectively these 600 firms (among them Primark, Sports Direct and Motherwell Football Club) were ordered to pay £15.6m in reimbursements to their staff and penalties.
HMRC Director General of Customer Compliance Penny Ciniewicz said, “The number of workers underpaid was double that in 2016/17 and represents the highest number since the National Minimum wage came into force.”
Of the 260 firms who did not pay their staff the statutory minimum none were unionised. That shows the benefit of being in a trade union.
The National Living wage is underpinned by statute and is supposed to cover all workers aged 25 years of age and above. The National Minimum wage for those aged 21-24 is £7.38/hour. For 18-20 year old’s £5.90. Under 18s, £4.20 and for apprentices it is £3.70/hour.
The Government admits that you need to earn £10/hour before you can pay your rent, feed your kids, afford gas and electricity bills, travel to work costs etc.
Anyone denied the legal minimum should call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100 or submit a query in confidence through the HMRC online complaints form. Failing that you can also contact the Scottish Socialist Party on 07810 205747 for help.
The HMRC figure of 200,000 workers being paid less than the minimum wage is considered an underestimate by some. Research by the TUC for example suggests there are 250,000 people not being paid the statutory minimum.
And the Office of National Statistics goes further insisting more than 362,000 workers do not receive the rate to which they are entitled. The Scottish Socialist Party has been campaigning tirelessly on this issue for four years now.
I send the signed petitions we collect on Edinburgh’s Princes Street to Theresa May and the Tory Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst.
I wrote to them recently enclosing the latest batch of SSP petitions for a £10/hour saying, “With working people facing the longest prolonged fall in their wages since records began there is no bigger issue in British politics.
“Millions of people across the UK find themselves in dead end, insecure jobs on zero-hour contacts and poverty wages. It is not possible to raise a family in Edinburgh on £7.83. So, what is your Government going to do about it?”
Kelly Tolhurst replied on 11 September saying, “The Government intends to raise the National Living Wage to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020. And new rates will be recommended by the Low Pay Commission in October.”
Whilst that increase may be welcome, it is not going to be enough. I am also taking up the grievances of two groups of workers who approached me at the Scottish Socialist Party campaign stall on Princes Street seeking help.
The first group of middle-aged women do not receive the £7.83/hour they are entitled to even though they work full time for a company sub-contracted to the Ministry of Defence in Scotland. HMRC has ruled that they are entitled to back money after several years of underpayments.
The second set of workers are employed by restaurant group TGI Friday and although they get more than the statutory minimum age they get paid nothing at all for the extra hours they frequently are forced to work beyond their contracted 10.30pm finish.
No one has done more to highlight the widespread use of poverty wage contracts than the Scottish Socialist Party.
And SSP members will be out again on Saturday’s independence march in Edinburgh petitioning for a £10/hour living wage with no one left behind.
After all, what is independence for if not about eradicating poverty in our new nation?
There is much more the SNP administration at Holyrood could be doing to stamp out the scourge of poverty pay here and now like insisting no one employed by them in the public sector in Scotland—NHS, local government and civil service—earns less than £10/hour?
Setting that kind of example would see a huge majority of working-class voters flock to the independence cause ahead of a second referendum, would it not?