Dear Mr Howell,

I am writing to you at a time when it has never been more apparent that our society is misaligned. Many of the people in low paid work have been revealed as being what many of us already knew them to be; Key Workers. While CEOs of corporations and hedge fund managers stay safely distanced from this terrible virus, we see people from our communities putting their own health at risk by doing jobs that our communities actually need. People who work in our NHS, in our care homes, in our shops, delivery drivers, bin collectors, postal workers, I would also like to mention cleaners, who are often overlooked, even during this crisis.

As a teacher I have seen changes in our education system over the past ten years that have narrowed the choices of our young people and placed too little emphasis on the importance of becoming, what we now refer to as, key workers. In fact, children, who may have gone on to be key workers, have been made to feel like failures in life if they have been unsuccessful in their now very narrow academic based curriculum. I hope that the efforts of the people who have showed themselves to be so necessary in our lives will no longer be derided and disrespected. Our education system needs to not only reward academia but to also respect those who go on to be a vital part of our lives.

I was, therefore, very disappointed to hear that you voted for a bill that judges people who earn less than £25,600 per year as being “unskilled”. While I am sure you will try to pass off voting for this bill as being in favour of a points based immigration system, may I remind you that the UK already has a points based immigration system and has done so since 2008. What this bill does is show contempt for all of the workers that our society needs, who are underpaid. The threshold is only marginally below the median wage for County Durham and a great deal higher than what somebody might hope to earn who is on the ironically named National Living Wage. Here is a selection of Key Worker jobs and the median salary for their profession.

Ambulance Staff (excluding paramedics) -£24,445

Bakers – £19,373

Bank and Post Office Clerks – £22,892

Butchers £22,009

Care workers – £19,104

Caretakers – £21,733

Chefs – £22,905

Cleaners £17,380

Cooks – £16,853

Education support assistants £16,217

Farm workers -£22,590

Hospital Porters -£20,752

Nursery Nurses and Assistants – £16,987

Shelf fillers – £18,335

Teaching Assistants – £17,091

Van Drivers £22, 959

This is just a small selection of the jobs that you voted to class as low skilled. As well as the British born workers in these roles a large number of these workers will not have been born in this country, but work hard for our communities. To reclassify all of these workers as unskilled is a slap in the face for each and every person who will now feel unwelcome or undervalued as a consequence of this thinly veiled jingoism and classism. In each of these jobs there are a variety of skills that each worker possesses that are, in fact, vital.

Meanwhile we have seen billionaires make use of the furlough scheme using public money to protect their fortunes. One argument given for the justification of the huge discrepancies between what our key workers earn and the huge wealth of billionaires is that these employers are robust enough to face a crisis and still pay their employees. This has been shown in many cases to be false with many, including JCB owner Lord Bamford, furloughing the ‘vast majority’ of his 6,500 staff, despite his family wealth standing at £4billion and donating £10 million to Tories. I am sad to see some of these beneficiaries of government hand outs now making staff redundant in spite of the support they have received.

I invite you to answer the following questions:

What plans are in place to address the massive inequalities in our society that see key workers underpaid to such an extent that they are now classed , by your Government’s immigration bill, as “unskilled”?

Do you feel that all people on wages less than £25,600 are unskilled? If not, why did you vote to make them so?

Which of the jobs listed do you consider to be low skilled?

What plans do the government have to help the people move into high skilled and, therefore, high paid work?

Who will fill the “low skilled” roles vacated by those hard workers who happen not to have been born in the UK?

What training plan is there to ensure that there are enough key workers, already in the UK, capable of performing these “low skilled” jobs?

When you clap for NHS workers, do you clap for all of the workers, regardless of where they were born? If so, why do you think it is appropriate to define them as unskilled and make them feel unwelcome in this country?

The salary cap means that low paid jobs will be reserved for British born workers. Will this disadvantage British born people and ensure they remain in low paid work if there is a worker shortage?

I write to you in the hope that you have simply overlooked the fact that so many of your constituents and key workers are now considered, by your own definition, to be unskilled, and voted for the bill without having thought through the ramifications. I look forward to a detailed response and reassurance for those workers, both UK born and those who have decided to make their life here, that you regret following the Party whip and insulting so many key workers from our community.

Having worked as a cleaner, delivery driver, warehouse worker, facilities staff member and labourer I understand how hard people in these jobs work and the value they bring to our communities. Do you?

Paul Daly

Sedgefield CLP Chair and Key Worker