The main role of your MP is to vote on Bills and motions in the House of Commons, and I have of course been doing that. On Wednesday night we voted twice to try to strengthen the protections for the environment and for workers’ rights when we leave the EU. We got the Government majority down to 12, but although several Conservatives knew that we were right, and said so openly in the House, almost all of them sheepishly trooped through the Government lobby when it came to the vote.
My other main role is to work with individual residents and with groups in Ipswich in order to represent your interests and achieve the best results for our Town. Last week, in addition to my parliamentary duties in Westminster, I visited Hawthorn Drive Surgery, 2 secondary schools, representatives of the nurses and of 38 Degrees and disabled rights campaigners, spoke at the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, attended an Ipswich Task Force meeting with the County and Borough councils and business leaders, and the Suffolk & Essex Rail Conference, and of course the Festival of Remembrance on Saturday 11th and the Remembrance Sunday Service at the Ipswich Cenotaph.
But in addition to these 2 main roles, I also meet up with a lot of groups to discuss their campaigns and what we can do to improve people’s lives. On Wednesday I met the Programme Manager from the Living Wage Foundation to discuss wages in Ipswich. We all want to see as many people as possible earning their own way in the world. In Ipswich there are just 1,445 people unemployed and claiming benefits – that’s 2.5% of the working-age population. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the overall number of people getting benefits, because so many people are on wages that are lower than the amount they need. 1 in 5 working people are not paid enough to live on, and the rest of us are subsidising their employers through the benefits system.
Wages improved enormously when Labour introduced the Minimum Wage back in 1999, in the teeth of Conservative opposition. In April 2016 the Conservative government changed its name to “The National Living Wage”. But the government’s ‘national living wage’ is not based on what employees and their families need to live. Real Living Wage rates are higher because they are independently-calculated based on what people need to get by. For individual working people in Ipswich the new Real Living Wage rate for next year, announced last week, is £8.75 per hour, whereas the minimum wage is £7.50 per hour, and just £7.05 if you are under 25.
The Living Wage Foundation encourages all employers to ensure their employees earn a wage that meets the costs of living, not just the government minimum. Over 3,500 UK businesses believe their staff deserve a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, and pay the real Living Wage. Over 150,000 employees have received a pay rise as a result of the Living Wage campaign. And that saves taxpayers’ money that would otherwise be subsidising their wage rates through benefits.
Employers gaining accreditation with the Foundation include Aviva, ITV, IKEA, and Heathrow Airport. Picking out 4 in Ipswich, we have Anglian Water, Christian Youth Ministries, Ipswich Borough Council, and Lattice Lodge Guest House. So we can see that big businesses, small businesses, public bodies and charities can all become Living Wage employers. They know that their staff are being properly recognised for their work. Almost all employers who start paying the Living Wage see their productivity improve. Properly paid staff have a better relationship with their managers, feel more like a part of the team, and produce better work. And because they are properly paid they usually don’t have to rely on benefits either.
Being paid a Living Wage can mean being able to save a little at the end of the month, or not having to worry about how to pay for the children’s birthday celebrations. It means not having to skip meals in order to afford clothes. It means more time spent with families, not having to work as much overtime to make ends meet. It means dignity and a sense of self-worth.
Over the coming years I will be championing the Living Wage in Ipswich. I believe that all employers – big and small – can benefit in the long term from committing to become Living Wage employers. And I know that the whole economy of Ipswich will benefit too.