This book began one afternoon over ten years ago while I was barbecuing in my backyard. A visiting friend from Britain, a police officer, and I were discussing the relationship between poverty and crime. I had just begun working on the politics of the minimum wage in the United States and casually asked what the minimum wage was in Britain. He answered that the U.K. had no minimum wage; I silently thought that he must be mistaken, as surely no advanced industrial country did not have a minimum wage. I discovered, of course, though, that he was indeed right.
Soon after that, Labor coasted to its 1997 electoral victory, bringing with it the promise of Britain’s first national minimum wage. When I completed my American work, I began looking into the background and details of the policy. From the beginning, I was struck by both the parallels and the differences between the British experience and our own. Yet the most striking aspect of minimum wage policies in both countries, I came to believe, was how they had evolved from a central component of social policy to an all but free-standing issue. Although I provide an abundance of policy details and historical background in what follows, that theme forms the bedrock of the book.
I have had an enormous amount of help along the way in the research for and the writing of this book. On my first research trip to Britain, I had the good fortune to meet Bharti Patel, of the now defunct Low Pay Unit, and Victor Patterson, then an official at the Department of Trade and Industry. Both of them are extremely knowledgeable and gracious people who gave me a more than generous portion of their time. On my next trip, I met two of the people to whom the book is dedicated, Deborah Littman of UNISON and Neil Jameson of TELCO. Through Deborah, I made arrangements to interview Rodney Bickerstaffe, the father, it is fair to say, of the British minimum wage. To all these British friends, I owe a hearty thanks.
My friend Michael Hayes of Colgate University has been a continual source of inspiration as well as a sounding board for many of the ideas contained in the