At this time of year, as we look back on the old and look forward to the new, there can be a tendency to indulge in nostalgic longing for the past, a longing inspired by selective memory which remembers only the good things. It is easy to forget that in the same era as the early Victorian Christmas scenes we see depicted on our Christmas cards, children were being sent up filthy chimneys.
We have come a long way since then, and throughout most of the 20th century, we saw progress towards greater equality of income, improved employment rights, and better housing, healthcare and standards of living for the majority of people. But we should not take any of this for granted, and, in recent years, we have seen the wage gap widening, with excessive rewards for those at the very top, at the same time as many employees have been affected by an increase in temporary work, agency work, part-time work and zero hours contracts which leave people not knowing from one week to the next, how many hours’ work they will have, and whether they will be able to pay their bills.
If we want a decent future for our young people – the overwhelming majority of whom, contrary to media images, want to get on with gaining appropriate qualifications, getting a job and becoming economically independent, then we need to make sure that wages for low and average earners keep pace with increases in the cost of living, and that hard-earned employment rights are not eroded.