Express & Star comment: Big sense of deja vu on low pay
The Midlands region should be the powerhouse at the heart of the United Kingdom.
Why then are people in our area having to put up with relatively mean levels of pay, which for many are leaving them not earning enough to meet their basic needs?
A new set of statistics suggests huge numbers of our workers are chronically undervalued, if you assess value being reflected by how much they are being paid for what they do.
Of course, when it comes to people being described as poor, or low paid, it all depends where you want to set the bar, and at the moment there seem to be a number of different bars being set.
The Resolution Foundation has said that the proportion of low paid workers in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since 1980, with the introduction of the living wage being a significant factor in that.
Look though at the picture in terms of areas, which are worse off than others, and figures from the Office for National Statistics highlight the places with an army of have-nots.
In the West Midlands, a quarter of the workforce is earning less than the “real living wage”, a figure slightly higher than the official living wage and which is calculated to show the minimum amount that workers need to cover their everyday living costs.
Break the figures down further regionally and we get a sense of deja vu. Yes, you guessed it, Telford & Wrekin is one of the worst low pay blackspots in the West Midlands.
That will bring back an unpleasant wave of nostalgia for those who recall the early 1980s when Telford was the region’s low pay capital. In Staffordshire, 27.4 per cent of jobs earn less than the real living wage – around 84,000 workers.
These figures will reinforce a sense of grievance and the feeling this is an area of the nation in which ordinary people are being left behind. All jobs are not the same. The labour market is diverse, and for many people part-time work is the most flexible option.
A natural response to the statistics would be to demand a better deal on pay for the region’s workers. But there are some sectors, such as the care sector, which are not flush with cash and if the only way employers can afford pay rises is to cut staff levels, that represents a malign trade off.