I'm really proud to have played my part in setting up and helping organise and deliver this year's first ever Norwich Living Wage Week.
The aim of the campaign is to raise public awareness as well as encourage employers to pay a living wage (£7.85). That's a calculated minimum amount of pay to ensure a basic, decent standard of living.
But whilst I'm happy to work on this campaign I also know that ultimately, on its own, the living wage will not deliver the kind of economic justice we need in our country.
So far only around 1,000 UK companies have signed up to the Living Wage. As a fraction that works out at about one in 5,000 businesses who've committed. Here in Norwich that fraction is even smaller and it's quite simply not good enough.
Of all the world's advanced economies the UK is one of the most unequal. According to the Office of National Statistics the UK's top 1% now possess as much wealth as the poorest 55% - and it's accelerating.
Here in Norwich some 28% of Norwich families are categorised as 'deprived' and overall 31% of children are said to be 'living in poverty' although in some areas such as Bowthorpe and Mile Cross this number goes up to 50%.
The effects of this inequality are dire. Unequal societies suffer from less trust, more stress, more violence, more murder, higher prisoner populations and shorter average life expectancy. In general the more inequality we have the worse all our lives become. We need only look at the rise of UKIP and the politics of intolerance to see this as self-evident.
My own party, Labour, did much to reduce poverty, especially child poverty, halving the number of children in poverty between 1997 and 2010. Compare that to the Tories and Lib Dems who've managed in four years to erase those gains AND increase the number of children in poverty by a quarter of a million.
But whilst we should be proud of that achievement, less easy to reconcile was our failure to fundamentally change the economy to make it work better for all of us and not just a few.
That's why if elected I'll fight tirelessly to make the changes our city and country need. That means campaigning for reversing the draconian anti-trade union legislation Margaret Thatcher implemented in the 1980s, bringing our laws into line with the rest of Europe. We know there is a direct correlation between declining trade union membership and economic inequality. So let’s give people the rights they need to stand together for better pay and more secure jobs.
Let’s also begin to democratise our economy. At present the power of small wealthy groups and corporations dominate not just our economy but increasingly the decisions our politicians make. Through lobbying, the funding of political parties or throwing money at research skewered to their own interests, they are tightening their hold over all of us.
So let’s put more of the economy back into the hands of the people. Public ownership of water, energy, rail should be just the start. It's our taxes that pay for them, we work for them, use them, need them. So let’s also make sure we own them too and not allow a small elite of share holders, hungry only for short-term profit, to horde our collective wealth.
That’s why I'm supporting the call for a Public Service Users Bill - making public ownership the default for all public services.
So let’s see the living wage campaign as a useful means to an end and not an end in itself. Ultimately no one should work for less than they can actually exist on. It’s about very basic social and economic justice. Something in short supply and something we need to change.