Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Make work pay

Labour will restore the dignity of earning a day’s wage

As a constituency member of parliament in Leeds, I see the impact of low pay on the families and communities I serve – the huge stress and the strain on people who put in the hours at work, but still struggle to make ends meet. And as shadow secretary of state for work and pensions I see the damaging effects of low pay on the living standards of millions of working families and the huge costs for our social security system when working people are forced to rely on in-work benefits to pay their rent.

Under the Tories, wages have been squeezed for the majority, the number of people on low pay has reached record levels and the in-work benefits bill has soared. Working people are, on average, £1,600 a year worse off in real terms, and the number of people paid less than a living wage has soared by 44 per cent. At the same time there has been a staggering 60 per cent increase in working people claiming housing benefit, resulting in a £1.8bn overspend on housing benefit since 2010.

The Tories have no plan to turn this around. Only Labour has a better plan to make work pay and control social security spending. That is why Ed Miliband has set a 10-year goal of halving the number of workers on low pay by 2025. But progress cannot be delivered by government acting alone. Making work pay must be a shared mission for national and local government, employers and employees, trade unions and campaigners, consumers and shareholders, working together towards a common goal.

So as well as setting an ambitious national target to increase the national minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020, a Labour government will strengthen the partnership-based model of the Low Pay Commission and expand its remit, while giving local authorities a bigger role in investigation and enforcement.

Labour’s ‘Make Work Pay’ contracts will see more workers paid a living wage with tax rebates given to employers who sign up to pay a living wage. And we will learn from brilliant Labour councils like Brent who are offering business rate discounts to firms who pay a living wage. And we will increase transparency and accountability by requiring listed companies to report on whether or not they pay a living  wage.

I have been inspired again and again by the hardworking women and men who have told me of the dignity they drew from earning a decent day’s wage. And the confidence that came with being part of a successful campaign for fair pay. Incredible people like Fran Massey, the catering worker from Manchester who joined me on the platform at Labour party conference 2012 and spoke movingly about how a living wage helped her children to pursue their passion for basketball.

Tackling low pay is central to Labour’s vision of One Nation, where everyone has a voice, where everyone sees higher living standards. And where working people see a fairer share of the prosperity they help to create.


Rachel Reeves MP is shadow secretary of state for work and pensions


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Rachel Reeves MP

is member of parliament for Leeds West and former shadow secretary of state for work and pensions


  • Not a word here about the role of the Trade Unions in pushing up up pay levels yet that is what they do! How about repealing Thatcherite restrictions on their activities and creating works councils as is done in Europe ? Although laudable this is also couched in terms of what Labour will do for people not what it will do with them.

  • Totally uninspiring.

    “an ambitious national target to increase the national minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020”

    Insulting. I don’t much like this MP.

  • ‘labour not the party for people on benefits’.like the disabled ms reeves? ‘control social security spending’.10% increase in salary for an mp,and labour are talking about £8 by would be that economist who has worked in the bank of england.did’nt you have an intern?
    do you realise what distress you have caused by your remark? where are the cuts coming?postal votes are on their details of votes for labour.

  • Well looking at low-pay why does Rachel Reeves not also speak loudly about those unwaged and hard working on JSA and other welfare benefits seeking to improve their family lives hopes and dreams. We are seeing a divide of those that are seen as the deserving poor and undeserving poor. We need to increase benefits for those that are in total exclusion and invisible, not cut them or freeze them with harsh unfair policies.

    Do you know Rachel what is it to go hungry in this country and have to rely on food banks then starve. To have to wash your clothes all your clothes by hand in a small sink with washing-up liquid. to have no TV, no phone etc in this 21st century UK?

    We also as a nation also need to note that today it seems that real poverty in politics is pushed to the margins. We are seeing social cleansing taking place via local authorities housing caps and a complete failure of the Broad Rental Market areas Policy and local housing allowance for those private in rental sectors. Again, this idea of forcing people into any job offer is not correct. The treatment of those the unwaged since Thatcher is so harsh that those in poverty and unwaged feel as if they are now criminals. Forced to sign unjust and unbalanced JSA agreements, forced to sign up and join work program agencies and constantly monitored. For what. Just because 90% have been made unwaged by employers. Labour need to not uphold the Tory lines and be radical.

    I was a speaker at the first ever national poverty hearing just before Labour won the election 1996. I noted that even the leaders could not even be seen to be with us as we spoke about the solutions, hopes and dreams of those that are not separate but are part of society. We need all those in low pay and unwaged on JSA up rated to a decent standard. And it can be achieved with political will. for example: It is Interesting to note according to a report by James Henry, former economist, that in 2010 over $21 trillion unreported financial wealth hides in individual tax havens. 2012 about $32 trillion, these numbers are conservative. If taxed at 30% this would generate an income of tax revenue of about $190-$280 billion. Twice the amount of OECD countries spend on all overseas development. But also resolves the UK economic problems.

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