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Boris Johnson Has Been Accused of “An Absolute Betrayal of Low-Paid Workers” By The TUC Boss

4 min read

Boris Johnson has been accused of an “absolute betrayal of low-paid workers” by TUC boss Frances O'Grady, after he refused to rule out cancelling a planned rise in the National Living Wage.

And she is calling for a rise in sick pay to £320 a week after new polling reveals almost half of workers would be plunged into financial hardship if they were forced to self-isolate for two weeks on the current statutory amount of £96 a week.

After reports Rishi Sunak may use the Budget to renege on the increases to the lowest paid, Ms O’Grady told PoliticsHome: “I think it would be an absolute betrayal of low paid workers, if they were the ones to take the hit. 

“And particularly as we know, many of those who are the lowest paid workers in Britain are often our key workers, recognised for the first time as the ones who kept the shops open for deliveries, looking after mums and dads, grannies and grandads at home. 

“Seven in 10 social care workers along less than the real living wage, some of them don't in our view even get the national minimum wage because they're not getting paid for travel between work and so on.”

She added: “So, I know it may only sound like pennies, but when you're on very few pounds, every penny counts. 

“And it would be I think, obscene frankly, not to get minimum wage workers the rise that they’re due.”

At yesterday’s PMQs Labour MP Jessica Morden asked about reports the “Chancellor may scrap the planned increase in the national living wage on the grounds that it may be considered unaffordable”, adding: “Can the Prime Minister rule that out once and for all?”

But in response Boris Johnson made no such assurance, instead saying: “This is a government who put their arms around the people of the country and help them through tough times.”

Ms O’Grady "There's a moral question; working families, local communities, should not be paying the price for this, but there's also an economic imperative. 

“The only way we're going to get out of this crisis is by working our way out safely.”

She said there needs to be “a decent sick pay safety net”, with the survey for the TUC showing for those earning below £15,000 the amount of people unable to survive for two weeks on statutory sick pay is 50%, and even for those earning up to £29,000 it is at 47%. 

The trade union body said the UK’s payments is one of the lowest rates in Europe, and nearly two million people miss out on receiving it because they do not meet the lower earnings limit.  

They are also calling for a more extensive support package for household finances for those affected by Covid-19, while Ms O’Grady is also calling for an extension to the furlough scheme - but said “let's call it something else” .

She explained: “But what is clear is that, whereas we may all have hoped back in the spring that we've been through the virus by the end of October, we're not going to be. 

“So there are jobs and firms in trouble, through no fault of their own, they do have a viable future, but they still need support, and I would agree that there are different challenges between, say aviation, arts and culture manufacturing. 

“And certainly, we'll be arguing for tailored support so let's go around the table and figure out different strategies for different industries.”

She said keeping the furlough scheme going “it is value for money for the country to keep those jobs going, to use the downtime for upskilling and retraining”, adding: “What is clear is we would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we end up losing good decent jobs because of worries about ‘can't do another U-turn’.

“We may have to live with this for one to two years. And that may mean with something like the arts and culture, we have to restructure the business model - so a lot more live streaming, a lot more outdoor events, different ways to keep that industry going. 

“So we need time for adjustment, and we need investment for adjustment, but the idea that we are not going to need arts and culture is clearly wrong.

“To throw away our manufacturing base would be a terrible mistake, and we should remember the lessons from the past - it is much more expensive to try and recreate good jobs down the line than it is to save the ones that we've got.”

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