Sajid Javid has just announced that the national minimum wage will rise to £10.50 by 2024. This is another big hike. It is currently £8.21 and was just £5.93 as recently as 2010. It will end up going to everyone over 21, not 25 as currently.
The politics of this announcement are clear. The Tories want to position themselves as the people’s party, the party of the worker and delivering a big pay rise for the low paid is one way of doing that. It is also a way of promising to put more money in people’s pockets that doesn’t, directly, cost the government anything.
This should help the Tories in their bid to win over traditional Labour voters in Leave voting seats in the Midlands and the North East. As one of those close to the PM put to me recently about the party’s move away from fiscal conservatism; they know they are asking a lot in trying to get traditional Labour backers to change their vote and so they want to make it as easy as possible for them. One of the lessons that the Tories have learnt from 2017 is that if you are going after seats that have been Labour for decades, you can’t do that with a typical Tory economic message.
One of the things that have emboldened the Tories to do this, and it is worth remembering that this policy was pushed hard by Matt Hancock in his leadership bid, is that the recent big rises in the minimum wage haven’t hit the employment rate which is currently the highest on record. The government also thinks, as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said at a Spectator fringe this lunchtime, that raising the price of labour will encourage companies to invest in automation which will boost productivity. But the idea of having the wages of one in four workers set by central government is concerning.