A petition has been launched to support a campaign in Weymouth and Portland calling for urgent action to tackle ‘poverty wages’.

It comes after it was revealed that Weymouth and Portland has the lowest average weekly wage in the UK.

The petition calls for an end to zero hours contracts, local employers to pay the National Living Wage if they are not already doing so, equal pay for women, employers to meet obligations on sick pay and holiday pay and for trade union representation in local workplaces.

The petition was started by Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) which has been established to investigate the causes of poverty pay and to promote policies for change.

The group held its first public meeting at the weekend to address poverty in the area and discuss possible solutions.

The meeting’s speakers included GP and Weymouth councillor Dr Jon Orrell, health campaigner Ros Kayes and Nick Clarke from Middlesex University.

Cllr Orrell explained how poverty can make people ill.
He said: “Health problems can’t be solved by the health service. It is a big web and health is dependent on good housing, decent jobs and low crime. Unless we have those things, having pills will not make you healthy.”

Health campaigner Ros Kayes described the impact of low income on mental health, she explained how poor housing, and economic circumstance can lead to adults and children developing mood disorders. 

She also took the opportunity to refer to some shocking data from the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, which showed that in 2013, Weymouth and Portland had a greater number of people admitted to hospital with mental health issues than Bournemouth, despite having a considerably smaller population.

She added: “It can only be because of poverty.

“There is a real problem here. What is the solution locally? We can encourage the local economy to pay better wages. We could set Weymouth up as a fair wages town. We could consider getting the borough council to work with the BID to encourage better employers into the town. The problem will not go away.”

The meeting comes after campaigners lobbied South Dorset MP Richard Drax and members of the local Chamber of Commerce. The MP was guest speaker at a special lunch held at Weymouth College.

Mr Drax said he was doing his best to attract more businesses to the area and that there are some ‘exciting’ projects looming including HeliOps on Portland and opening of the new enterprise park at Winfrith, which he said will help create local jobs.

People at the WeyPAW meeting were apprehensive about whether this will help the situation in Weymouth and Portland.

A resident said it would be difficult for locals to travel to the enterprise park from Weymouth and Portland due to the area’s limited transport.

Another resident suggested that the town should receive a seasonal fund to help the situation.