Working poverty in London

MQT on 2014-09-17
Session date: 
September 17, 2014
Question By: 
Jenny Jones
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Do you expect more Londoners to be earning poverty wages in 2016 than were in 2008?


Answer for Working poverty in London

Answer for Working poverty in London

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Thank you, Baroness. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Sweetie. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Actually, the answer, much to my surprise, is no.  I thought that there would be an increase because there has been a massive increase in the number of people in employment, I thought that there would have been a commensurate increase in the number of people who were earning poverty wages. 

However, according to the stuff we have, despite the recession, the numbers earning at or below the National Minimum Wage in London have halved since 2008.  That is fantastic news.  Obviously, the number of people in employment is at an all-time high.  The number of people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) is at a 25-year low.  I am very pleased by that statistic. 

The proportion of employees living in London who are paid less than the poverty threshold wage that I think you are talking about has fallen, not much, but it has fallen.  I was very surprised by that.  It may be that that is partly associated with the expansion - though it is of relatively small numbers - of things like the London Living Wage and the steps we have taken to alleviate those who are really living on the breadline. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Can I pick you up on your figures, or rather what you called “the stuff we have”?  The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, which is published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and, which I think I trust, actually says that 144,000 more people earn less than the London Living Wage than when you became Mayor in 2008, with all the promises in your campaign of increasing the London Living Wage take-up by businesses.  There are 144,000 more people.  Those are the official figures in London.  You are on track.  When you leave, by my maths - which is probably OK - by 2016, there could be 720,000 more people if the trend continues. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It may be the difference between the London Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage because ‑‑ 

Jenny Jones AM:  Yes, but the London Living Wage is what we all agreed in all the election campaigns. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I agree. 

Jenny Jones AM:  We all agreed that the London Living Wage was something we should all aim for. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.  On that, last year alone, the number of firms paying the London Living Wage doubled.  It is really taking off now.  You are starting to see the whole of Canary Wharf.  I really pay tribute to the Canary Wharf Group.  It has just announced that that whole area is going to be a London Living Wage zone.

Jenny Jones AM:  I am absolutely delighted about that.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  There are companies lining up to join it.

Jenny Jones AM:  You have signed up 400 companies in London, have you not? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I believe it is 408. 

Jenny Jones AM:  All right.  Just let me check my figures here.  There are 5,878 more companies in London for you to get signed up, so 408 is brilliant but there are another 5,400 to go. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Jenny, I do not disagree with you for one minute.  I believe the Living Wage is a fantastic Conservative policy and I think we should ‑‑ 

Jenny Jones AM:  What are you doing about it? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is a wonderful thing and we should be supporting people who are in work and who do the right thing.  That is what the Living Wage does.  Companies who pay it benefit from it. 

Jenny Jones AM:  You have just over a year left.  What about having a real push on this?  I will help you as much as you want.  A real push ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  With you on our side, who can lose, Jenny?  It has increased by 1,100% since I have been Mayor and, just to get back to that key thing about those below poverty pay - the number below poverty pay has fallen from 390,000 when I was elected to 190,000.  That is from 9% to fewer than 4%. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Anything that is not the London Living Wage in London is poverty pay; let us face it.  If you are not earning £8.80 an hour, how can you live in London?  In fact, how can you live in London on the London Living Wage?  It is really tough. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I will tell you how.  We try to ‑‑ 

Jenny Jones AM:  Do not tell me you have tried it because I will not believe you. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We try to help by insisting that you have free travel for those over 60, for those in search of work, for young people in education and so on.  About 40% of people receive free or discounted travel on our system.  We try to make life as cheap as we possibly can.  Obviously, it is difficult with people demanding, quite rightly, extensions of the tram to Sutton.  We have to think about how to pay for these things. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Let us get to the point.  I support those measures that you are taking, but I just think you have not worked hard enough on getting the London Living Wage to be the norm in London.  If we are going to see another 750,000 people earning less than that by the time you leave office, that is a very poor record.  If you just gave a little push in the last year-and-a-bit, then you might make a big difference to what you are leaving behind.  Go on.  Just say, “Yes, all right”. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, yes.  Listen, I agree with your passionate support for the London Living Wage.  I really do.  I am glad about what you said about the number we have being terrific, but there is a long way to go.  You are completely right about that.  However, this is something where business leaders are really starting to see the light.  The way to encourage them is not to hold over the  threat of legislation and compulsion, but to show them that it benefits their bottom line just as much as it benefits their employees because ‑‑ 

Jenny Jones AM:  Get on and do it, then.  Just do it. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ it cuts their human resources (HR) costs and it ‑‑ 

Jenny Jones AM:  Thank you very much, Chair.  

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Really, we believe in this and we are backing it 1,000%, Jenny.