Rewarding those in work, not penalising us

In My View….by Thomas Chauhan of South East Cornwall Labour Party

People in work are now more likely than ever to live in poverty. Since 2008, real terms wages across the country have seen a sharp decline. This, matched with cuts to benefits and the roll out of universal credit, has left many low-earners struggling to make ends meet.

Cornwall has some of the highest levels of poverty and deprivation in the country and within the EU; with low stagnant poverty wages, zero-hours contracts and seasonal work this is not likely to change. For many people in Cornwall, families and individuals, this will mean choosing between heating and eating during winter months – something that should be unimaginable in a rich country like ours.

I work for a very large retail company and my CEO loves to email us about all ‘the great work we’re doing’ and how they always ‘appreciate you’. This, to me, seems to be ‘all talk’. He receives more than £4 million a year for what he does, while workers in the stores do nine-hour shifts, lifting heavy boxes, filling aisles and all to a deadline, getting home exhausted – and they are expected to do it all over again every day of the week, for just over the minimum wage. Chronic health issues come with doing this job, yet we don’t even get sick pay. This is no form of living, it’s just surviving.

In the large supermarket chain I work for, our current wage rate has just risen to £8.42 and hour. This was needed but it simply doesn’t go far enough. Many of my colleagues have to work more than 60 hours a week just to cover most of their bills, but it still isn’t enough. With many on 10-15-hour contracts in store, people are reliant on overtime – and with no guarantee of that, many colleagues end up relying on food banks to feed themselves and their families.

The irony behind it all is that the supermarket they work for donates to the food bank, yet it is its own staff who are having to use it.

A Labour government has policies in place to change this, rewarding those in work, not penalising them. The first of these measures is a new £10 minimum wage for all workers by 2020, helping them break out of poverty and have a decent standard of living – something the company I work for can easily afford. Under Labour there will be a ban on zero hours contracts, making sure workers know where they stand and get the right to hours reflecting their real working week. There will also be a share scheme for workers of larger companies, entitling staff to free shares, encouraging them to work harder, so when the company they work for does well, they finally get the benefits too. These measures are only possible by electing a Labour government.

First published by The Cornish Times, 22/03/19

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