Andrew RT Davies AM is the Welsh Conservative Leader and Assembly Member for South Wales Central.
One of the things I find most infuriating about politics is the tired old cliché that the Conservatives are the party of the privileged few. Indeed, I feel an immense sense of duty to dispel that myth – not least because it contributes to the sense of alienation that many hard working people feel about politics. Conservatives firmly back those who want to get on in life, roll up their sleeves and do a hard day’s work. We always have and we always will.
That’s why I want Wales to lead the charge on being the first living wage country in the UK.
The Conservatives are the true party of the blue collar worker, and since 2010 huge inroads have been made in improving conditions for hardworking families.
Many of the lowest paid workers in Wales have benefitted from the increases in the personal allowance, including 155,000 who have now been taken out of tax altogether. The living wage outside London is £7.85 an hour, just £1.35 an hour more than the minimum wage in Wales. Of all the research that has been done, the living wage has been shown to cut absenteeism, boost productivity and above all, encourage work. In Wales, it is estimated that it would impact around 30,000 people in the public sector.
But I don’t just want the public sector to be the only part of this idea – the private sector can take the lead too. During the coming months, I will be seeking discussions with my colleagues at the Treasury to establish ways in which it might be possible to use the tax system to incentivise private companies to become living wage employers.
At our recent party conference in Cardiff, I announced that, by the end of the next Welsh Assembly term, I want everybody in the public sector to be paid the living wage. It would cost around £18 million a year to implement, but would send out a signal that Wales rewards work.
A living wage affords people the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. It’s good for business, good for families, and good for society. In some parts of the country there are still families for whom work simply doesn’t pay, and that cannot be right. Thankfully the economic situation is improving thanks to the long term economic plan put in place by the Conservative-led government, but we still have to do more here in Wales.
After 16 years of successive Labour governments, Wales remains the poorest part of the UK with many people on low wages, trapping them in poverty. Welsh Conservatives will tackle the root causes of poverty and deprivation by ensuring no public sector worker earns less than £7.85 an hour as well as making it easier to set up a business and create jobs and prosperity.
This sends a clear message that a future Welsh Conservative Government will tackle unfair pay and set a clear example to all employers to value and invest in their staff. Let’s be clear: Welsh Conservatives are the party of aspiration, of the blue collar worker – of anyone who wants to get on in life. Welsh workers deserve a proper wage, and I’m determined to make that happen.