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‘Regional Pay’ will be Cameron’s Poll Tax moment

By Mick Antoniw

It is likely that Chancellor George Osborne will announce plans in the budget to introduce Regional Pay. This will mean workers in Wales will be paid less than their counterparts in parts of England for doing the same job.

Instructions have already been given to the NHS pay commission to pave the way for regional pay.
This forms part of a series of Tory policies which aim to introduce regional benefits and regional national minimum wage.

The changes are so fundamental and radical they could lead to major social unrest and contribute to the break up of the United Kingdom.

The Government has not thought out the social consequences of this policy. They may see it as a means to cut public spending but its consequences will run far deeper. It represents an attack and undermining of the United Kingdom’s social infrastructure. It will inevitably lead to the introduction of regional benefits and to regionalisation of the national minimum wage. This is inevitable if regional pay is introduced.

It will result in a downward spiral of wages and terms and conditions of employment. Already we see developments in Wales leading increasingly to a minimum wage economy with increasing reliance on parts of the economy on zero hour type contracts.

Since the Second World War there has been a UK hegemony which maintained a UK-wide social infrastructure based on UK-wide pay and terms and conditions as a consequence of national pay bargaining. This and the UK-wide benefits system and social legislation has ensured a consistent redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer areas of the United Kingdom. What the Tories and Lib Dems are doing is destroying this and unravelling the very social structure that has given purpose to the United Kingdom.

The impact of these policies will be disastrous on Wales and poorer parts of England. Once people fully understand what is happening and the impact of these policies begins to take effect on top of the public spending cuts, I believe we will see a growth of public and industrial protest and massive civil unrest. The Poll Tax riots will be nothing compared to the consequences of these policies. Industrial Action and Civil Disobedience is a potent combination.

Another consequence will be the increased constitutional fragmentation of the UK.

I don’t wish to scaremonger, but these policies frighten me. They are a direct assault on our social fabric and will lead to the institutionalisation of regional poverty. These policies exceed the fulfilment of Margaret Thatcher’s dream of a competitive UK economy based on low wages and minimal terms and conditions. Even she wasn’t prepared to consider policies which could lead to the break up of Britain.

Mick Antoniw is Labour Assembly Member for Pontypridd

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