Peter McColl explains why the dignity of decent pay is central to the Green vision of a fairer city economy.
Very occasionally I’m asked why Greens don’t just stick to “proper green issues” like climate change.
I suspect the queries are mostly from supporters of rival parties who are unsettled by the way Greens are challenging them on public ownership of key services, the positive merits of immigration or greater community control over where we live.
But it also misses the point – climate change and almost every other environmental crisis is a symptom of the way economics is “done” and an apparent indifference to yawning social inequality.
So there is no way back from the massive threat of climate change without some pretty significant rethinking of social and economic policy.
It’s why my Green colleagues on the city council have been championing a “city deal” which makes Edinburgh both greener and fairer. The economy Edinburgh aspires to have determines how fit the city will be for the challenges of the twenty-first century. So modernising the transport system, transforming the way we produce energy and end fuel poverty; revolutionising the local food industry – all of these are rich in the promise of thousands of jobs and a more resilient local economy in an uncertain world.
And it’s also why Greens are arguing for a real boost for low paid workers as part of that new green economy.
We’re campaigning for the current minimum wage level of £6.50 to be brought up to the “living wage” benchmark of £7.85 in the next year. And we want to see a minimum wage of £10 an hour by 2020. That is more money in the pockets of workers who perform some of the most socially essential jobs – caring for older people and children, for example; or keeping the city and its buildings clean.
It is also an opportunity to take savings from reducing in-work poverty and use them to directly assist smaller businesses and social enterprises to make the transition.
In other words, work should pay. Not by slashing lifeline benefits. But by asking employers to better share the proceeds of work, harvesting higher staff morale and lower staff turnover in the process.
Making work pay is both greener and fairer.
But more than that. It’s greener because it’s fairer. In a world where resources are finite, you can’t secure social justice by simply enlarging the cake in the hope that more crumbs will drop down to those at the bottom. The cake itself has to be sliced more evenly.
That is why decent pay matters to Greens.
This was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News on 20 April 2015