Monday, December 24, 2012

Hemming opposes Birmingham Living Wage

Last Wednesday, Eric Pickles, David Cameron's commissar for local government, announced the settlements for councils across England, bringing about new, enforced cuts to council services. A number of Birmingham MPs were in the House to hear the announcement and both Richard Burden (Lab, Northfield), Steve McCabe (Lab, Hall Green) and Shabana Mahmood (Lab, Ladywood), raised key issues about the unfair treatment of our City - defending the people who elected them.

John Hemming, (Lib Dem, Yardley) was also there and he too went on the attack. Strangely, he decided to attack the lowest-paid workers in the council who have seen an increase in their pay thanks to the adoption of the Living Wage.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): When Labour took control of Birmingham earlier this year, the council immediately put up costs by what will be £10 million a year by increasing wages for some staff by as much as 70%. It is now aiming to charge the poor council tax at 24%. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should protect the poor and not put up costs in a time of financial problems? 
Mr Pickles: It was an outrage that Birmingham increased some wages by 73%— 
Steve McCabe: Who? name them. 
Mr Pickles: Birmingham. The council put 16-year-olds on the same wages as adults. It made a mistake and it was foolish to do so—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman should listen, because he is probably not used to dealing with poor people—[Interruption. ] No, no—a toff has an opportunity occasionally to meet the odd poor person. What was really bad about Birmingham involves the second part of the question from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) and how the council is seeking to get 23% council tax from poor people. As a committed socialist the hon. Gentleman should be on the phone now telling the leadership of Birmingham to look after the poor, not to tax them.
Let's see what other Liberal Democrats say. Simon Hughes
In my maiden speech to Parliament I quoted one of my predecessors, Dr Salter, saying "In a civilised society every worker has a right to a living wage. That is as true today as it was then.... it is hard to maintain the argument that the Living Wage is unaffordable"
Cllr Stephen Knight, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Richmond Council - Vince Cable's turf:
"It is unacceptable that any council employees should be paid poverty wages. Thankfully there are very few council staff paid at this very low rate... but most are women and part time staff who always seem to get the worst deal. It is time that the council started treating its employees with the dignity they deserve and pay them at least the London Living Wage rate."
And again, just a few days ago
"In 21st century Britain no company should be profiting from the exploitation of its staff through the paying of poverty wages – and no local authority or other public body should seek to balance its books in this way, let alone a government department."
Gordon Birtwistle MP for Burnley and former PPS to Danny Alexander, co-chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills said in November this year
"Liberal Democrats support the living wage and we commend those employers who have introduced it."
Not only is there a moral reason for paying people a proper, living wage, there is an economic reason - money paid to the poorest in our society overwhelmingly goes straight into the local economy. 

I'm proud that the first item of business on the first agenda of the new Labour administration was the plan to pay our lowest paid staff a decent wage. 

We face exceptionally tough times in Birmingham - a government settlement that does not take account of the needs of the city (a settlement that John Hemming supports, by dint of his continued support for the government). The government has also imposed an impossible task on our council by handing over the delivery of Council Tax Benefit to local authorities - but with a 10% cut in funding. They have asked every council to develop a scheme to distribute this amount, but insisted that eligible pensioners cannot lose their 100% discount. This Labour council is working hard to protect other groups, such as the disabled, but unless we can find over £10 million to fill the gap (bearing in mind that other government cuts will slice £110 million from our budget in 2013), we have to spread the load over the unemployed and the working poor as well. That decision is enforced on us by John's own government. 

John would make better use of his parliamentary time if he supported the people of Birmingham, rather than attacking the poor and serving Eric Pickles' ego. Perhaps he's been spending too much time with the Tories. 

Vote Lib Dem - get poverty wages. 

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