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Labour vow to bolster minimum wage
Labour leader Ed Miliband addresses shoppers in Brighton town centre on the eve of the Labour Party annual conference
Lucrative industries could be forced to pay staff more under plans to "strengthen" the minimum wage, set out by Labour as part of a policy package to ease a cost of living "crisis".
Ed Miliband promised action to help struggling families as he arrived in Brighton for his party's annual conference - including guaranteed 8am-6pm childcare for primary pupils. The Opposition is also pledging to reverse the Government's controversial cut in housing benefit - dubbed the "bedroom tax" by critics.
Mr Miliband - who has faced criticism from senior party figures for failing to take the fight to the Tories over the summer - took to the streets to deliver his message. He is seeking to seize the initiative as a drip-feed of claims from Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, Damian McBride, threatened to cast a shadow over the conference.
"Abolishing the bedroom tax. Strengthening the national minimum wage. Childcare there for parents who need it," he told voters in the centre of Brighton. "That's what I mean by tackling the cost of living crisis at this conference. That's what I mean by a government that fights for you."
In contrast, David Cameron's Government would stand up only for the "privileged few", he told them. "Living standards falling month after month after month. Gas and electric bills, train fares, petrol prices, the weekly food shop and a Prime Minister who refuses to act. Why does he refuse to act? He refuses to act because of who he stands for, he stands for just a privileged few at the top. This next election is going to come down to the oldest questions in politics: whose side are you on and who will you fight for?"
The minimum wage was worth £20 less a week after inflation than when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition came to power, he said. "That's just wrong. When we see that happening and when we think about one of the big banks, do we really think they can't afford to pay their cleaners a bit more?" he asked. "The Labour government will put it right, we will strengthen the national minimum wage, we will make work pay for the workers of Britain." He has appointed Alan Buckle, deputy chairman at accountants KPMG, to investigate how the role and powers of the Low Pay Commission could be extended to strengthen the minimum wage. Labour said that if the national minimum wage had risen in line with the cost of living it would be 45p an hour higher than the current level, which is due to rise next month from £6.19 to £6.31.
He will also investigate whether different sectors, such as finance, IT or construction, could afford to pay a higher rate to their staff. The party believes around one million workers would get a pay rise under their plans.
Mr Miliband said a Labour government would "legislate for a primary school guarantee that every school is an 8am to 6pm school". It "doesn't make sense in this century" that some schools still close in mid-afternoon when parents more often now both work, he told a pre-conference rally of Labour women. The party said the "guarantee" would not mean each school had to stay open, with institutions able to join forces to provide access at different times of the day. They said it would be paid for from existing schools budgets - which had already been boosted to meet childcare needs under the last Labour government. Under the coalition, the ring-fence ensuring that money was spent on extended hours had been removed, they said, meaning provision had slumped. Yvette Cooper, who is also shadow minister for women and equalities, said childcare should be "top of the list for the manifesto".
Shadow Treasury chief secretary Rachel Reeves indicated that only those earning £150,000-plus per year would be the target of Labour tax increases. People in the south east earning £60,000 a year might not feel "particularly rich", she said. Labour had "no plans or desire" to increase taxes for people in that income bracket, she told The Telegraph.
Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: "Conservatives back the minimum wage. But if Ed Miliband was really on the side of hardworking people then he would have supported our welfare changes to ensure work always pays and should have voted in favour of halving the amount of income tax someone working full-time on the minimum wage pays. Ed Miliband's policy is for more borrowing and more debt - the same old Labour policy that got us into a mess in the first place - and would mean higher taxes and higher bills for hardworking people."