I have a question for the Leader but I first want to welcome reports yesterday that the Minister, Deputy Burton, succeeded in resisting cuts of €440 million to welfare spending. I congratulate her on this.
The cuts were successfully resisted because her Department's research showed they would disproportionately affect those on lower incomes. This is a good way to do business. The Minister is pursuing a vision for reform. Although she has made some decisions I disagreed with and voted against, I acknowledge the tough job she faces.
I call for a debate on an issue which the Minister, Deputy Burton, was first to place on our agenda, namely, the idea of introducing a living wage in this country. She put forward this proposal based on the formerly experimental and now mainstream operation of that mechanism, on a voluntary basis, in the United Kingdom. It has been a very successful initiative, with 80% of employers expressing the view that it has enhanced the quality of their employees' work. In addition, absenteeism is down 25% and staff turnover has declined. A living wage is a benchmark based on clear and plausible evidence for an adequate living standard and is a response to income inequality. Unlike a national minimum wage, a living wage is an evidence-based rate of pay. I participated in a seminar last week led by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice where economists and social policy experts got together to begin considering how a living wage for Ireland might be calculated. It is an idea that is very worthy of pursuit, especially as the economy begins to pick up. It could be an instrument for ensuring people on lower pay have an adequate standard of living when other boats start to rise. It might even function as a helpful redistributive mechanism which would operate within the context of business as well as in the public sphere. The time is right to invite the Minister to the House for a debate on the concept of a living wage and how we might contribute to its formulation as a practical possibility in this country.