I’m feeling excited (and only a little reluctant) because in just one month's time, I’m going to make the phenomenal transition from underproductive 24 year old to super productive 25 year old. I’ve been waiting to have my shit together for a long time and all I can do is assume that on September 14th (feel free to send me a card), I will undergo a teen-movie-like transformation from scatty-brained writer to super efficient worker. How do I know this will happen? Because I will finally be old (and wise) enough to be worthy of the £7.83 minimum wage - back in April 2016, when the new laws on the UK minimum wage came into place, super-wise cabinet minister Matthew Hancock patiently explained to the minimum-wage-working masses that anyone that hadn’t hit that quarter-century age mark was not deserving of the new wage because they are simply 'less productive' than a 25 year old.
Once upon a time, in the nigh-forgotten years of Miliband, there was a push from the left to introduce a fair and equal living wage. This would equate to the amount of money a person would need to live a baseline lifestyle, with just enough money to buy the everyday essentials that they need. Eventually a National Living Wage did materialize, but by then it had turned into the bastardized brainchild of George Osbourne and quietly fizzled into existence at around £1 lower than the Living Wage Foundation’s estimate of what it should be. And even that amount was only good enough for productive 25 year olds - anyone below that age would earn significantly less.
New research by the Child Poverty Action Group has emerged this week, explaining that a single-parent working full time on the Living Wage is still £74 short of the income needed for a ‘basic, no-frills lifestyle’ a week. And a couple with two children is £49 short. But what if they’re younger than 25 and earning even less than that?
I’ve been lucky enough to work minimum wage jobs for no better reasons than to fund my spending habits as a teenager, to give me extra money while at university and to help fund my life-hobby (a.k.a. being a writer). I haven’t been a 20-year-old single mum working a minimum wage job for £5.90 an hour. And somehow I’m not sure that if I were, I’d be offered consolation by the fact that an out-of-touch politician feels I’m less hard-working because of my year of birth. And I certainly wouldn’t be elated by the fact that at the end of an hour slaving away on a shop floor, in a restaurant or behind a bar, I could almost afford to buy some budget brand nappies and a pack of yoghurts.
So what do we do about it? The Living Wage Foundation defines an acceptable pay per hour as starting at £8.75 outside of London and £10.20 within the capital. According to them, this would give someone enough money to enjoy a basic lifestyle covering food, accommodation and other essentials. It’s a good place to start, but even this is pretty limited and only works under the umbrella of a welfare state to provide for people that aren’t able to work full-time and those that lose their jobs. Another idea that is being championed at the moment is the concept of a Universal Basic Income. It would give every single person in the country a small amount of money to live on, in a bid to eradicate poverty and inequality.
Whatever the solution, it’s about time we stopped ignoring the ridiculousness of the UK minimum wage. It's mad that at 17, you are old enough to die for your country at war, yet simultanously an hour of your labour is only worth £4.20 at a minimum wage job, or as little as £3.70 at an apprenticeship. But hey, perhaps I’ll understand it all a little better when I’m blowing out those candles in a few weeks time.