Leaders: Minimum wage needs maximum enforcement

The number of people denied the minimum wage has doubled in a year. Picture: PAThe number of people denied the minimum wage has doubled in a year. Picture: PA
The number of people denied the minimum wage has doubled in a year. Picture: PA
LOW pay law is well intentioned but ways must be found to apply it everywhere

On 1 April some of the UK’s poorest workers received a boost to their pay packets as the minimum wage was increased to £7.20 for those over 25.

The increased rate is intended to combat poverty and inequality but despite laudable intentions, the issue still attracts controversy.

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The minimum wage can be seen as anti-competitive, for companies that have to be competitive in international markets, and concerns have been raised in some sectors that businesses will not be able to pay the higher rates.

A new report from the National Audit Office reveals today that many companies are still not on board, as £68 million was owed in arrears to 313,000 workers since the minimum wage started being enforced in 1999.

What is more, 58,000 workers still have money due in underpaid wages from 2015-16, more than double the number the year before.

These are likely to be some of the poorest people in the UK, those who the minimum wage was designed to help in the first place.

A young start-up business may struggle with the cost of the minimum wage, but the bottom line is paying staff is a cost that businesses cannot, and should not avoid.

People need money to live and they deserve to be adequately compensated for working.

At present if employers are not paying people sufficient money to live the state steps in with benefits, but the government is quite right in its wish to end this, as work should always pay.

The minimum wage can become a political football as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has shown in the United States by flip flopping between criticising the minimum wage to showing tentative support for allowing states to decide.

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The controversial tycoon previously warned that the set rate was making America a less attractive place for businesses, but on Sunday he expressed his sympathies for people living on $7.25 per hour.

There must be a coherent way of enforcing the minimum wage so businesses cannot avoid paying their workers a fair sum.

The National Audit Office report found many firms have come up with ways of getting around the increase in wages by reducing overtime and bonuses or cutting free lunch policies so they can claw back their cash.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has strengthened its sanctions by regularly “naming and shaming” companies that fail to pay up, but it does not go far enough in persuading firms to pay a decent wage.

This does not even cover the so-called “black economy” where people are paid under the table and are unlikely to be earning more than the minimum wage.

The care sector is one of the key areas hit by low pay, and experts have said that around one in ten carers are being paid below the minimum wage.

It comes down to a question of enforcement and the government must develop a mechanism so the minimum wage can be upheld across the board.

Grasping the nettle of regulation

Regulation of the internet is a knotty issue, but one that cannot be ignored.

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Legal experts have warned that UK government proposals to protect children from online pornography by bringing in age verification could backfire as these websites would simply move to countries with lighter regulation.

A public consultation was launched earlier this year on the plans, which were part of the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto.

However, the Law Society of Scotland said that the measures could in fact result in less protection for children, as it could push them towards less regulated, more extreme content abroad.

These are sensible points and should be used to inform the government’s actions, but it is clear that not acting is no longer an option. Sobering figures reveal that a fifth of young people under 18, as well as 13 per cent of those aged six to 14, claim to have viewed adult websites.

One of the reasons that legislating the internet is avoided is because it is so difficult to do, but the government cannot avoid something just because it is difficult.

But it is also not something that the UK can do on its own. Leaders need to work together across the world to find a global solution for a global problem.

In order to protect children, we cannot just look at the issue of regulating the internet from this country.

Britain has to use whatever powers it has to persuade other countries to act, to make sure the internet is at a standard that we require.

If we do not, then it will be our children that suffer.