‘Return to growth’ headlines mask the reality of the grinding poverty experienced by many in our region, say South West Greens. They are proposing a three-point solution to low incomes and the cost of living: a living wage to replace the minimum wage, the abolition of zero hours contracts and the introduction of a Citizens’ Income.
The Green Party says that two recent independent studies reveal just how hollow economic growth figures are as an indicator of people’s wellbeing. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that the South West has suffered particularly badly over the past few years with a dramatic increase in the proportion of households on very low incomes . The Institute of Fiscal Studies reported that average living standards have fallen dramatically since the recession, with income failing to keep pace with the rate of inflation. They say household income in 2013 – 4 is more than 6% below its pre-recession peak, driven down by declines in real earnings, increases in the cost of living and cuts in benefits and tax credits over the last few years. They also suggest real earnings won’t return to their 2009 – 10 levels until at least 2018 and warn that further cuts to benefits and tax credits will put further downward pressure on incomes, particularly for low – income households.
The Green Party argues that three key policy initiatives would boost income and prevent people falling into the poverty trap. They say that the minimum wage should become a living wage, currently set at £7.65 in the South West, and that zero-hours contracts, with their unpredictable hours and earnings, should be abolished.
They are also calling for the implementation of the long held Green Party policy of a Citizens’ Income. This is an unconditional income payable to everyone and sufficient to cover basic needs. A Citizens’ Income would replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits and would not be subject to means testing. Greens argue that a Citizens’ Income would eliminate the unemployment and poverty traps, as well as acting as a safety net to enable people to choose their own types and patterns of work. A petition calling for a Europe-wide Citizens’ Income (or Unconditional Basic Income) has received over 280,000 signatures .
Dr Molly Scott Cato, Green Party speaker on finance and lead European candidate in the South West said:
“It has been clear that the phrase “we are all in this together” is nothing more than empty political rhetoric. If the Chancellor really wants to tackle poverty he should rise to the challenge set by the Greens and increase the minimum wage to a living wage. And he might also tell his embattled Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith that a Citizens Income would be far less of an administrative headache than Universal Credit. We all have a right to a share of the national wealth and paying a Citizens’ Income to every person in the country would end the divisive arguments about who deserves welfare payments.”
 HOUSEHOLDS BELOW A MINIMUM INCOME STANDARD: 2008/9 TO 2011/12 http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/household-income-standards-full_0.pdf
 The Squeeze on incomes, The Institute of Fiscal Studies http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/gb2014/gb2014_ch6.pdf
 Further details on Green Party tax and Citizens’ Income policies http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec#Direct
 European Citizens’ Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income http://basicincome2013.eu/en/index.html