party which rolls back the state.
A new benefit scheme which tops : up the wages of people on low incomes appears to contradict the Government’s opposition to the minimum wage. reports Stephen
The Government‘s proposals for an earnings top-up scheme intended to help workers on low incomes find jobs could create a ‘dependency culture‘ for employers. according to critics of the scheme. The proposed changes to the benefit system appear to contradict Conservative claims to be the free-market .
Professor Ruth Lister of Loughborougb University’s social policy department is puzzled by the new scheme. which is due to he piloted in central Scotland later this year. ‘The irony is that the Government has always expressed great concern about the taxpayer having to pay for people on benelit.‘ she says. ‘l-lowevcr. the danger with the earnings top-tip scheme is it is going to create a dependency culture for employers because their workers will be able to top up their wages.‘
Earning top-ups: targetted at low-paid workers
with the earnings top-up.‘
The scheme is an extension of Family Credit. which supplements the income of low-paid workers with fatnilies. Earnings Top-up will make the benefit available to all employees. The move has been met with suspicion in Scotland. as there are many who feel it offers a green light to employers to offer
The Scottish Low Pay Unit believes it is a tacit acknowledgement that some rates of pay are so low. people aren't prepared to take up job offers. ‘The problems with this are the potential cost. and the itnpact it will have on employers' behaviour.‘ said SLPU spokesman Pete Hunter. ‘We will see lower
‘Whenever wages are so low that the State has to pay, you are obviously in a situation where you are subsidising employers. It is a false economy.’
and lower pay rates on offer in job centres. Employers will know they can fill vacancies for less
Any pay rises will be clawed back from benelit. creating a disincentive to seek pay increases. he added. ‘An employee will lose at least 7() pence in the pound if their pay goes tip. It will be safer for them to rely on waiting for the State to increase the
Low pay plan will create ‘false eeonomy’
beneﬁt portion. This means the wages element will stagnate and the potential is there for the cost of the beneﬁt to grow exponentially.‘
A rninirntrtn wage would at least guarantee a minimum contribution from employers. he argues, but without it the scheme is ﬂawed.
This claim is supported by Lister. though she argues the policy does not actually contradict the Government's opposition to a minimum wage. ‘lt is not necessarily a contradiction. but there is a big problem in extending this kind of top-up without a minimum wage scheme.‘ she said. ‘The risk is it will become much more central to the 'age system and could help drive wages down.
Announcing the pilot areas last November. Social Security secretary Peter Lilley said it would give a boost to jobs and the local economies involved. Workers could receive up to £54 extra a week on top of earnings. according to Government estimates. ‘lt forms an important part of our back-to-work strategy and of a package of measures coming into operation in the next year.‘ said Lilley.
These measures include an increase in Family Credit payments. National Insurance ‘holidays‘ for employers who take on the long-term unemployed and the much-touted ‘back to work bonus‘. The pilot schemes are taking place across the UK. with Scottish guinea pig areas in Perthshire. Dumbartonshire and Stirling. The Government says they will analyse the impact on wage levels. and if there is any evidence that they are being driven down the scheme will be reconsidered.
Unison. Scotland‘s biggest trade union. insists that a minimum wage is a better solution. Scottish secretary Matt Smith said anything else would be subsidising employers: ‘Whenever wages are so low that the State has to pay, you are obviously in a situation where you are subsidising employers. It is a false
The union represents workers in local authorities. the health service and higher education among others. Some have been badly affected by privatisation which has tended to drive wages down, Smith claimed. ‘A very large percentage of our members are badly paid and a number are already in receipt of Family Credit,‘ he said. ‘We welcome the Labour Party‘s commitment to a minimum wage. We are continuing to put pressure on them over the amount, which we have always agreed should be in excess of £4 an hour.‘
rather a lot of publicity in the last few days — one will undoubtedly have warmed the cockles of the tourist industry‘s heart. while the other perhaps won‘t. Sales of stuffed tartan monsters are expected to soar on the back of the Ted Danson vehicle Loch Ness. but the merchandising
. possibilities for 'l'minsputtin‘r: are less
. apparent. Souvenir suppositories. anyone?
The ever—inventive Daily Record decided to take a team of amateur critics to the press screen of 'I’ruinwnning. including a woman from a community group in Morningside. which was bizarrely described as a ‘gentile‘ suburb of Edinburgh. While hardly a Jewish ghetto. there must be at least a handful of kosher kitchens maintained in this well-heeled part of town. Either this was a unusually coy Record exclusive. or the word they
were really after was ‘genteel‘.
Over in Glasgow. where things are rarely genteel. the city‘s high-profile art supremo Julian Spalding was in the news again after a leak of the juicy bits from the book he has written to coincide with the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art. In Art For People. Spalding attacks the new establishment of avant-garde art which he described as a ‘conspiracy against the public‘. He has already trailed his colours to the mast by corntnissioning Beryl Cook. a painter famous for depicting roly-poly women showing their knickers. to produce a new work for the gallery. Spalding likens the gallery's policy to the boy who pointed out that the emperor was wearing no clothes. ‘I believe there are a lot of people who are producing work just to please themselves — and because of that their work will not last.‘ he said.
While Glasgow prepares for the opening of the gallery in March. reports emerged of an unwelcome guest a.
.1133.» 'f ' .. yl Cook’s ‘Ihe Clyde’: fur coat, nae knickers another bunfrght; the 250th anniversary celebrations — ifthat‘s the right word to describe the humbling of the nation — at Culloden. And the alleged gatecrasher? According to The Hera/(l. Michael Forsytb has been applying pressure on
And finally . . . ‘Gheers’ for Nessie while Forsyth parties
Two films set in Scotland have received
the National Trust for Scotland to include him on the guest list for a 5000- str'ong gathering of the clans in lnverness. ‘We have very strict rules about party politicians on our property.‘ sniffed an NTS spokesman.
Forsyth might not be looking for a slice of the Brave/wart factor which boosted the SNP in the polls. but you can understand NTS‘s concern. Earlier the same week the papers were full of reports about the occurrence of the phrase ‘tartan tax‘ — widely regarded as a politically loaded term — in a speech drafted by Scottish Office civil servants who are not permitted to incorporate party politicking in ministerial speeches. ‘Are you going to apologise to the Scottish taxpayer for peddling propaganda at taxpayers‘ expense?‘ demanded Shadow Scottish Secretary George Robertson in the Commons.
Not necessary. Forsyth replied. But he does have invites for a rather good party. ifanyone‘s interested. (Eddie Gibb)
The List 9-22 Feb 1996 5