June 20, 2013 8.00 am This story is over 125 months old

Tackling poverty: Low pay is a serious problem in Lincoln

Children in poverty: In his first column, City Council Leader Ric Metcalfe unveils he is considering introducing the living wage for the lowest-paid staff.

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By City of Lincoln Council Leader

One in four children in Lincoln live in poverty. This shocking fact is one of the reasons the council is giving priority to tackling the issue on a number of fronts.

Whatever some people might try to argue that poverty is something to do with the failings of the poor themselves, poverty is about low-income.

Most people on low-income are in work. This is a result of the increase in the number of low skill, low paid jobs in Lincoln. It is about a long history of educational under-attainment and about the relatively smaller number of high skill high paid jobs.

Low pay is a serious problem in this city.

There is anecdotal evidence of even the National Minimum Wage not being paid, of large numbers of people on part-time hours, many in temporary insecure employment and many people who are underemployed and desperately searching for full-time work.

This is why the City Council is considering introducing the “Living Wage” for its lowest paid employees and will be encouraging other employers to do the same. It makes good business sense to do so.

A group of churches has just published an excellent report entitled “The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty”. It is a powerful document that deserves to be widely read, particularly against the background of a government intent on justifying its present callous policies being implemented as “Welfare Reform” by stigmatising and demonising poor people as though they are to blame for their predicament.

This is part of a wider Tory strategy to roll back the state by undermining confidence in the value of a state provided system of income maintenance. They try to argue that the £200 billion benefits bill is unaffordable and contributing to the public sector deficit, despite the fact that welfare spending as a proportion of national income has remained the same for the last 20 years.

Most of the benefits bill goes to pensioners, to people with serious long-term physical and mental illnesses, and to meet the rising costs of housing benefits because private sector rents have been rising rapidly as a result of the housing shortage

The picture painted for us daily by the right-wing press is that the benefits bill is mainly the result of people claiming unemployment benefit, when actually only 2.5% goes on Job Seekers Allowance, and most people on JSA are on it for less than year.

The mythical image, however, is created of one group of people permanently scrounging off the state supported by an increasingly resentful group of “hardworking tax payers”.

The fact is that those unemployed in the main will have been among those hard-working taxpayers before losing their employment and will become so again when they eventually manage to get back into the Labour Market.

We all get old; most of us will be too ill to go to work at some point in our lives or will acquire a long-term illness or disability through no fault of our own.

In a civilised society, it’s right that we should have an income maintenance system that is for everyone, everyone pays in, everyone is able to call on it when needed without the stigma that goes with claiming nowadays.

The NHS is hugely valued because everyone regards it as theirs, everyone recognises that they will need it at some point in their lives.

Why don’t we feel exactly the same about our social security system

The Council is doing everything it can to protect people from the worst effects of the current recession and the government’s assault on the poor, at least where we have the discretion to do so.

We have for example maintained Council Tax Benefit for people when the government sought to cut the money for this for working age claimants by 17%.

Unfortunately, we cannot offer the same protection to people caught by the so-called Bedroom Tax. This is just a stupid excuse by the government for cutting people’s Housing Benefit, leaving many very poor households up to £18 per week worse off.

At the heart of the Council’s longer term response, we intend to work with other partners to try to get growth going again in the city, to provide well paid employment which for many people will be the sure way out of poverty.

Councillor Ric Metcalfe is the Labour Leader of the City of Lincoln Council.