Malcolm urges the Scottish Government to take action on a Scottish Living Wage
Debate on the campaign for a Scottish Living Wage Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I congratulate Frank McAveety on securing this important debate. Even more crucially, I congratulate the Scottish living wage campaign in general, and in particular Eddie Follan, who has been associated with leading it. Three or four weeks ago, I met him and other campaigners at a local meeting in my constituency and was certainly made aware of my constituents' widespread support for the campaign. I am pleased to give it my personal support.

Although, as we all recognise, the introduction of a national minimum wage was one of the great achievements of the Labour Government in its early years, and represented a big step forward, we have to look with concern at recent poverty figures and the number of working people who remain in poverty. The fact is that the living wage campaign is driven primarily by social justice and the need to tackle poverty.

I know that outside if not inside the chamber the principal objection to the proposal will probably be that we are coming out of a recession and the economy is still weak. However, if we look back, we can clearly see that this recession has not been driven by the wage costs of the low paid. In fact, excessively unequal income distribution has contributed to the current financial instability and greatly increased the danger of economic breakdown.

Indeed, John Maynard Keynes favoured greater redistribution of income to increase what he called the propensity to consume. That has been part of the economic debate on the recession. Targeting wage or benefit increases at those who are the least well off is one of the main ways to stimulate the economy. I therefore argue that the campaign fits with the requirements in the general economic circumstances, rather than being contrary to them.

I referred to the minimum wage debates in the early years of the Labour Government, but I also remember the debates during the period of the previous Government, when the spectre was raised of greatly increased unemployment as a result of a national minimum wage. However, increased unemployment did not happen as a result of the national minimum wage. I do not believe that the policy that we are discussing would increase unemployment either.

Looking ahead, we should reflect on one of the other advantages of the proposals. This week, we have heard a lot from people of various political parties about moving from welfare into work. A living wage would make that a whole lot easier. I therefore hope that the proposals are attractive even to the Conservative party, given Iain Duncan Smith's comments this week

We should all acknowledge Glasgow City Council's achievement. It has been in the vanguard of the campaign and has shown how a living wage can be delivered, even in the current difficult economic circumstances. We should remind ourselves of Frank McAveety's point that more than three quarters of those in the public sector whose wages are below 7 an hour are women. The calls for a living wage are part of the general movement towards equal pay, to which I hope we are all committed.

After the budget statement this afternoon, we all know that the Government faces difficult financial choices. However, it can take action on this issue, and I suggest that it could start with the national health service.

From experience, I know that, because of agenda for change, the pay of most health service workers is above the living wage. However, for a small number, it is below it. A relatively small sum of money in the health budget would be required to address the problem. I hope that the Government will show its good faith and good intent by taking early action on that.

Motion S3M-4063, in the name of Frank McAveety, on supporting the living wage for Scotland.
That the Parliament welcomes the launch of the Scottish Living Wage Employer Awards being held in Dalmarnock;
regrets the fact that there are around 700,000 workers in Scotland, the majority of them women, earning less than the Scottish living wage of 7.00 per hour;
is aware that low pay can lock people into poverty and can be damaging for individuals, families, businesses, communities and the wider economy, and recognises the importance of encouraging employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors to ensure that all low-paid workers are paid no less than the Scottish living wage of 7.00 per hour.
September 17th 2009 (Column 19808-10)