Two weeks ago George Osborne set out his vision for Britain’s future. All the pundits agreed that it would be a ‘big’ budget, so when I went into the Commons chamber I knew I was in for a performance.
Osborne spoke in his usual smug style, with raucous cheers from the Tory MPs behind him, but what they were cheering for is beyond me.
You could fill this paper with what was wrong with the budget; housing, infrastructure, apprenticeships, university fees.
But it was on low wages that Osborne outdid himself.
The crescendo of his performance was the announcement of a National Living Wage; a top-up to the Minimum Wage from April next year that will raise wages to £7.20 an hour.
The so-called National Living Wage is not all that it seems.
For a start the real living wage (the amount you need to earn to meet the basic cost of living) across the UK is already £7.85, never mind £9.15 in London.
Only George Osborne could come up with a ‘living wage’ that isn’t enough to live on.
Then there’s the fact that under-25s won’t receive this imitation ‘living wage’ at all.
I don’t know why an hour worked by a 24-year-old is worth less than that worked by a 25 year, but the Government have tried to defend this by saying for young people “the priority is to secure work and gain experience”.
So instead of providing them with decent apprenticeships the Tories’ idea for getting them into work is to keep them cheap.
And all of this is before we come to the cuts to tax credits that have been brought in.
There are nearly 38,000 families in Sheffield who receive tax credits.
By topping up low wages they make work worthwhile.
Cutting them means taking away a lifeline, and the so-called National Living Wage doesn’t make up the shortfall.
For example, a single mum with two kids working 16 hours a week on Minimum Wage would gain just over £400 by moving to the Living Wage. But she would lose £860 from lost tax credits.
A couple with two children where both work full time on Minimum Wage will gain £1,560 from the ‘living wage’, but lose over £2,200 from tax credits cuts.
The end result is thousands of families on low incomes becoming worse off.
Behind the swagger, this budget is a real attack on the low-paid.
* Harry Harpham, Labour MP for Brightside and Hillsborough