It is feared that millions of workers will miss out on a planned rise in the national minimum wage – because of carnage caused to the economy by Covid-19.
There has been speculation that Chancellor Rishi Sunak might not introduce the rise from £8.72 to £9.21 per hour in April, as a result of damage done by the pandemic.
The Chancellor had planned for the National Living Wage – the minimum wage for over-25s – to be increased to the equivalent of two-thirds of the country’s median earnings by 2024, MirrorOnline reports.
The pledge to increase the rate also featured heavily in the Tory manifesto at the last election, but Downing Street refused to guarantee when the next rise would take place.
Number 10 said the government still planned to introduce the change – but hinted it may not come when originally planned.
The official spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “At the Spring Budget, the Government reinforced its commitment to an ambitious target for the national living wage to reach two thirds of median earnings by 2024 – provided that economic conditions allow.
“In terms of the latest set of recommendations from the Low Pay Commission for 2021, we haven’t seen those yet and I don’t think we are due to receive them until the autumn.”
Labour’s Wes Streeting stressed those who had worked to keep the country running during the pandemic needed to be rewarded.
He said: “When Covid-19 hit, some of the country’s lowest paid workers had just gone through the longest wage squeeze in two centuries. They should be rewarded for working round the clock to keep people safe, not made to pay the price for the recovery.
“The Low Pay Commission must listen carefully to trade unions, child poverty campaigners and low-paid workers themselves about what level the minimum wage should be.
“And the Chancellor can help by pulling back from the cliff edge he’s set for businesses by withdrawing wage support in one fell swoop at the end of October.“
According to newspaper reports, members of the Low Pay Commission are said to believe that companies would not be able to afford an increase to £9.21 in April.
The commission has warned that the pandemic “clearly represents a very challenging set of circumstances for workers and employers alike, and will require us to review whether an emergency brake is required.”
But any delay or broken promise on pay could hit the Conservatives hard – especially in the so-called ‘red wall’ seats they won from Labour.
A report by the Levelling Up Taskforce, a group of 40 new Conservative MPs, concluded that people living in seats won by the party in last year’s general election earn on average five per cent less than those in areas held by the Labour opposition.
Mr Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak have been warned by MPs representing the red wall seats that their voters may not be able to shoulder any extra financial burden.