Fifteen years ago today the Minimum Wage act was passed by Tony Blair’s Labour government.
People who were in parliament at the time will remember all night sittings of the House of Commons as the Tories fought this and other legislation tooth and nail.
At the time I was starting a degree at Birmingham University, and I used to work over the summer in Telford where I grew up. There was very little in the way of office admin type work in Telford, so I used to end up in factories or warehouses, sometimes in the warehouse where my dad worked.
My first wage whilst at sixth form, at the age of sixteen was £2.50 an hour. Every year I went back to work in Telford for the summer I got paid more money, as a direct result of the minimum wage being introduced and it’s subsequent rises.
The extra money wasn’t critical for me, it was spending money for whilst at university. But there were plenty of men and women working on the same agency terms as me and trying to support families (the agencies didn’t use age differentials fortunately for me). People working on those terms would have seen their wages close to double over the space of three or four years.
I think because the battle for minimum wage was over so quickly following the Labour victory in 97 that we take it for granted. Perhaps by the standards of London and the South East the rate was low enough that it didn’t make a great difference for a great many people.
We forget that it was something Labour’s first manifesto that no Labour Prime Minister prior to Tony Blair could deliver, and a truly radical step at the time. (The Tories were bitterly opposed, and so actually were the Lib Dems at first) In many parts of the country it raised living standards for a good number of people, and the bogus claims on the right about it causing unemployment were proven to be false.
Today, fifteen years later, I see people claiming that there’s no difference between a Labour government and a Conservative government. From where I stand, that looks like a lazy conceit from people who never did a low-paid job in the 90s.