I don’t like to bang on about my circumstances because, to be honest, I’m probably a lot better off than the vast majority of people out there on the minimum wage. That’s because I have savings. Yes, I’ve taken a nice big bite out of them these last couple of years but I’ve also lived a bit: traveled, indulged in some cultural pursuits – live performances that sort of thing – bought a car (major expense), done some courses.
But when I consider my income from those periods where I have worked on or near the MW pretty much full-time, my perception of money and indeed my place in society was completely different. This was pre-2012 when I didn’t have any savings to draw on. Life was tough – hand to mouth. Granted I was living in London and life there is more expensive without a doubt: rental, food and transportation major expenses. Generally I worked for around £7/hr, 30-40hrs/wk, in office catering and events. Working through an agency had the benefit of flexibility but transport costs were variable and quite high, as was time spent commuting (nothing unusual there though!).
Back in 2011 I moved out of London to Luton (via several intermediary towns) and landed up working in hotel catering for a similar wage but without the associated transport costs, free lodgings for several months in a decent suburban house, and it made a great deal of difference. When I did have to rent it was certainly cheaper than London was for a similar house-sharing/lodging arrangement. My disposable income increased noticeably but my quality of life was not always great considering the industry which was quite taxing especially during the summer months and Christmas time.
Now the thing is I never had a family: mouths to feed, clothing to provide and that sort of thing. How do other people in a similar position with families cope? Has their situation improved or deteriorated over the last five years (my timeframe in the UK)? After working for 7 months of this year in a part-time job for a negotiated £7/hr (25- 40 hrs p/wk) supplemented by agency work I have gone back to relying solely on the agency. I work in an industrial role for £6.65/hr which is less than the pay for a similar tier-one job I did 5 years ago! Does anyone else feel there’s an injustice here?
All the same, like I say, I am fortunate to have other sources of revenue and I have made a conscious choice not to work full-time so I have a work-life balance that keeps me sane and (relatively) healthy. To sum it up I feel that people who have to subsist on or near the MW miss out on things that people in median or higher income brackets take for granted. The live panel show How Rich Are You? on Channel 4 this week highlighted the growth in inequality in the UK today and reactions from some members of the audience strongly suggest that the government would do well to look at this issue more closely. I have a lot of time for Owen Jones who sees the need for MW increases in line with the likes of Australia, Luxembourg and several other European nations.
One argument against MW increases is that it reduces competitiveness. To that I would say, yes, there has to be trade-off between competitiveness and productivity. One cannot force businesses to become unsustainable because of labour costs but by the same token there is moral imperative on the part of the government to mandate business paying, at the very least, a living wage. Estimates of the LW vary between >£7->£10 off the top of my head. Considering a rate of inflation consistently between 3-5 % since I arrived in 2009 I really can’t see how this government has got away with such minimal increases to the MW, tracking well below the cost of living increases.
On a happier note I have been feeling a lot more positive about life of late and had an awesome evening with a good friend of mine from school days, Fraser, and my date (+friend) at a pub last night. We competed in a pub quiz, won two enormous Galaxy bars, and generally enjoyed ourselves. We might even have won the cash prize, a modest £30 or so, but it went down to the throw of a dice and one of our competitors was luckier than we were!