Belfast Telegraph

Fair day's pay for fair day's work

By Alison Millar

Our real welfare crisis is not caused by layabouts unwilling to do a fair day's work, but employers unwilling to pay a fair day's pay.

New analysis of official Government welfare figures shows, yet again, that Northern Ireland has the lowest wages in the UK - and that those low wages are costing the taxpayer 25% more than the UK average.

This supports the trade union movement's assertion that a living wage for workers is the best solution to low productivity and high welfare costs.

For many it is a real surprise to discover that most welfare spending goes not go to the unemployed, but to pensioners - 20 times as much, in fact, is spent on the State pension than Jobseeker's Allowance.

And that is before we factor in the cost of pension credits, winter fuel payments and carer's allowance.

Similarly, if we compare the UK welfare pie with the Northern Ireland pie, we notice a few important differences which do not receive enough attention.

The proportion spent on State pension is lower here.

This is because we have a higher proportion of young people. What we have much more of are benefits which ameliorate the effects of low pay.

There are other significant differences in welfare spending here and in Britain on tax credits, income support and housing benefit.

All of these are paid to the working poor as supplements to the facts of low pay.

This means that, adjusted for population, the Northern Ireland spend on tax credits per capita is £577 - 25% more than the British average of £463.

More working people here are paid less than £7 per hour than any other corner of the UK.

The taxpayer pays huge supplements not to the working poor, but to their bosses, who are simply too stingy to pay a decent wage.

The economy is lopsided and it needs to be rebalanced all right. But not by corporation tax cuts, privatisations and redundancies.

We should be looking to invest in housing and infrastructure - and it's imperative that we pay a fair day's wage for a fair day's work.

  • Alison Millar is Nipsa deputy general secretary and a member of the ICTU's executive council

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