Families are bracing themselves for a cost of living storm in 2022. Bills are rising – fuel and energy bills fastest of all. Millions of working households have been hit by the cut to universal credit – and will be hit next year by the hike to national insurance.
As the Omicron variant sweeps through the country, over-worked and under-paid staff in the NHS and public services are put under intolerable strain. Industries like travel, hospitality and entertainment hit by government guidance need help targeted at protecting pay packets, not just business profits. And with self-isolation rates sky-high, too many families will be forced to survive on measly sick pay of just £96 per week - or no sick pay at all.
Our economy will only recover when working people can afford to spend in local shops and businesses. That’s the way to boost demand, grow the economy and protect jobs.
This Conservative government has had eleven years to get wages rising. And they have failed, over and over again.
We are still in the longest period of pay stagnation since the Napoleonic wars. Real wages for millions are less than they were before the bankers’ crisis in 2008.
And, unless ministers act now, the future looks bleak. Real wages are set to barely move between now and 2026. They will go up by a miserable £760 in total - about £150 a year.
So, in 2022, we need a long-term economic plan to get wages rising across the economy. If we could get real wage growth to mirror the average growth in the ten years before the global financial crash, real wages would grow by £500 per year - leaving workers £2500 per year better off by 2026.
If this Conservative government had achieved that over the past lost decade, workers would be around £8,000 better off today in real terms.
As always, the best way to get wages rising is to give workers the power to bargain for better pay from their employers.
Ministers should get round the table with unions and employers to hammer out sector-wide fair pay agreements – and every employer should be bound by them.
Take social care – where more than three in five are still paid less than £10 per hour. Let’s make every social care employer in the country sit down and negotiate fair wages with unions representing social care workers. And let’s make every employer in that sector pay the wage negotiated. That’s how we keep dedicated people working in social care – and reward them fairly.
Fair pay agreements work all over the world. And they could work here too. They are a sensible, modern solution to the problems of staff shortages, low skills, and low pay. And they will stop a race to the bottom on pay and conditions.
2022 is also the time for a new deal for working people. In 2022, let’s raise the minimum wage to at least £10 per hour immediately, ban the zero hours contracts that trap workers in poverty and insecurity, outlaw fire and rehire, and end outsourcing.
Key workers, who went beyond the call of duty, are exhausted and demoralised. If ministers can fast-track lucrative Covid contracts to their mates, they can afford to give hardworking key workers the real pay rise they have earned. Or we’ll see yet more dangerous staffing gaps open up in our precious public services.
The government can’t sit this wages crisis out. The pandemic showed us that our society keeps functioning because of the dedication of ordinary women and men, going to work day in day out.
After decades of real wage cuts and falling living standards, no one can seriously say working people don’t deserve a pay rise.
That’s my priority, and the priority of the whole union movement, in 2022. The prime minister should shape up and make it his priority too.
I wish you, your family and workmates happiness, good health and security in 2022 and always.
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