Last week we saw all the pomp and ceremony of the state opening of Parliament – well to be precise you may have watched on your television screens as the fairytale coach drew up to parliament, whilst we MPs were inside and all we could do was to try to peer over the shoulders of those in front of us to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty as she read out the Government’s programme for the coming parliamentary session.
Whilst there were certainly elements in the Queen’s speech to welcome, some measures seem to be very half-hearted attempts at trying to tackle some of the serious problems that we face, particularly the cost of living crisis, which is the most acute for those on the lowest incomes.
So no sign of a freeze on energy bills and reform of the market to deliver a better deal for consumers, as we have been calling for. Now I certainly welcome stiffer penalties for employers who do not pay the minimum wage, but that is only any good if it is properly enforced, something which some of us have been urging government to do for some time.
And I am very pleased to see the real-terms rise in the minimum wage this year, but that does not make up for the three previous years when the minimum wage did not keep up with the cost of living. What is needed is a proper structure to link the minimum wage to average earnings, which is why we are proposing to raise it gradually to 60% of median average earnings. Without that sort of link, it is all too easy for its value to be eroded.