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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 October 2009

Fight for a living wage

TO MARK ten years of the national minimum wage, the New Labour government has given it the lowest increase on record, taking the full adult rate to a miserly 5.80 an hour.

Bob Severn

This 1.2% rise from 5.73 an hour was introduced on 1 October 2009, along with an improvement from 4.77 to 4.83 for workers aged 18-21 and from 3.53 to 3.57 for those aged 16-17. The government has also promised that the full adult rate will count for 21 year olds from October 2010 - but will the next government keep that promise?

These measly increases were first announced in May, when consumer price index (CPI) inflation was 2.9%. The CPI seemed to be the government's preferred inflation measurement, until the Retail Price Index (RPI), which includes mortgage costs, dived below 0% as a result of the recession.

When the minimum wage was first introduced in April 1999 the adult rate was 3.60 an hour. While, since then, it has increased by 61% compared to inflation of around 30%, the current rate does not match the 6.88 an hour needed by a single adult working full-time according to the minimum income standard (MIS) published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in July 2008.

George Bain, chair of the Low Pay Commission (LPC), which recommends the annual increase to the government, said: "We believe that [our] recommendations are appropriate for this economic climate."

Big businesses, including their representatives in government, are using the recession as an excuse to keep down workers' pay while protecting profits.

New Labour brought in the minimum wage as part of its 'welfare to work' programme to 'make work pay'. This programme has resulted in continued attacks on benefits, 'making people work for very little pay'. Now the Tories have announced that they will make people who are claiming unemployment benefit for six months do work experience to continue receiving their benefit.

Trade Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber has stated that "the LPC must be much more generous when the economy recovers". The Socialist Party demands that trade union struggle is needed to establish a minimum wage of 8 an hour for all ages with no exemptions, as a step towards 10 an hour so that all workers can enjoy decent living standards.

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In The Socialist 7 October 2009:

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University accommodation scandal: Students must defend rights

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Portugal: Voters turn to the left

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