The Trade Union Congress (TUC) published a report on the slow recovery of workers’ wages in the UK ahead of a related march that took place on Sunday.
Demonstrators at the TUC-organised march in London called for a higher minimum wage of £10 an hour, a ban on zero-hours contracts and greater funding for the NHS, education, and other public services.
The central London march attracted thousands of demonstrators carrying banners and drums, from a variety of different sectors – nurses, teachers, civil servants, and workers from private companies such as McDonalds. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said that the less-than-1% pay rise (below inflation levels) for civil servants was cause for a ballot on strike action.
Overall, TUC statistics suggest that the UK’s average wages have lagged behind inflation every year since 2008, and predict that they would not return to pre-financial crisis levels until at least 2025, according to statistics provided by the Bank of England. Furthermore, the average worker is expected to have lost up to £18,500 by that year, with average real wages worth £24 less per week.
Paul Nowak, TUC deputy general secretary, stated that over a million children in the UK were growing up in families living ‘below the breadline’, saying: “I don’t think it’s right that people who go out and work are struggling to put food on the table.”
TUC spokespeople also worried that workers were increasingly being forced to turn to loans, whether from companies or individuals, that could not be guaranteed to be safe. Nowak continued, saying that the decline of wages compared to inflation rates was the biggest relative wage loss in two hundred years. The TUC’s report described the decline as “the longest pay squeeze since Napoleon marched across Europe”, and found that the longest previous slump was the twenty four years between 1798 and 1822. Even the slumps experienced during the Great Depression and the aftermath of the Second World War were recovered recovered from significantly more quickly – in ten and seven years respectively.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking on workers’ rights to the crowd, said: “We will give workers more power by strengthening their rights and freedoms to organise together to improve their lives. [government cuts] protect tax havens and cut the spending for public services.”
Analysts blamed low nationwide productivity for the slow wage growth rather than the government’s austerity policies. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “the amount we produce for each hour we work is basically the same as it was in 2008. If we’re not producing any more, we’re not in the end going to be able to earn any more.” The Treasury said that its policies had boosted pay for the worst-off. A spokesperson said: “Our National Living Wage has boosted pay for the lowest earners by over £2,000 already, we are cutting taxes to help people keep more of what they earn, and we are making sure people have the skills they need to secure high-quality, well-paid jobs by investing in technical education and boosting apprenticeships.”