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The battle lines have been drawn over the minimum wage – but will the battle ever be fought?

By Peter Hoskin
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One of the most intriguing political stories in today’s papers is tucked away on page 19 of the Guardian. Apparently, the Government is going to do more to “name and shame” those employers who do not pay the minimum wage. According to Jo Swinson, who announced the measure yesterday, “this gives a clear warning to rogue employers who ignore the rules that they will face reputational consequences as well as a fine if they don't pay the minimum wage.”

Why so intriguing? Because it goes against the grain of what other ministers have been saying, and doing, about the minimum wage. As I reported back in April, the Government has changed the remit of the Commission that sets the level of the wage, so that it does so “without damaging employment or the economy” – a directive that raises the possibility of future freezes or cuts. And, as I revealed in March last year, ideas such as regionalising the minimum wage, or even suspending it for young people, have been floating around Downing Street since 2010. None of this may be incompatible with tougher policing of companies, but there’s certainly a friction between the policies.

Indeed, the minimum wage could become another sore area between the Tories and the Lib Dems. It’s telling that Jo Swinson was the minister to announce yesterday’s policy, whereas it’s generally Tories who argue that the minimum wage could cost jobs. Another report in today’s papers – this one in the Financial Times – suggests that the Lib Dems are planning to focus on living costs during both their forthcoming party conference and the election campaign. One of the proposals they are mooting is a compulsory living wage for government workers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started pushing for a higher minimum wage, too.

Or perhaps the Tory leadership will try to avoid this battle – and for two particular reasons. For starters, it’s harder to get people concerned about the possible impact on jobs when the economy is growing and jobs are being created. And, for seconds, there is now also pressure from within the Tory party – e.g. David Skelton, writing in the Times (£) yesterday – for the minimum wage to be increased. All are conscious of what effect, presentational and electoral, a policy such as regionalising the minimum wage could have at a time of squeezed living.

In any case, it’s worth keeping an eye on all this. And remember, as soon as Ed Miliband starts sermonising on the matter: Labour may have introduced the minimum wage, but even Gordon Brown was open to debate about it.


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