Gina Davidson: Fair day’s pay is long overdue

Too many folk are having to count the pennies. Picture: PA
Too many folk are having to count the pennies. Picture: PA
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DO you live to work or do you work to live?

Perhaps right now you don’t work at all, no matter how much you want to, how hard you strive to find a job, to be one of David Cameron’s “hardworking” people.

But when you do, or if you are lucky enough to be in employment, can you say that you love what you do from nine to five? Or, like most, are you in the rat race to earn money so you can live, if not in the style of Jay Gatsby, at least a life where you can choose which supermarket to spend your wages in, buy a bottle of wine at the weekend, save for a holiday, for Christmas, or even a deposit on a house.

After all why work, why strive, if not to be able to enjoy some of the good things in life?

If you are lucky to be in a career where bonuses are shelled out for mediocrity and talk of a freeze just has you worried about where skiing conditions will be affected in Chamonix, then how wonderful not to even have to think about money. At least not to have to think about it in the same all-consuming way that those who are on benefits or who are paid the minimum wage do.

Money is supposed to be the root of all evil. Certainly too much or too little cash causes real harm. Which is why when we were all giddy with a New Labour government in the late 1990s, the idea of the introduction of a minimum wage appeared to be so revolutionary.

Finally, a government telling employers not to let wage levels drop below a certain line. How people cheered. How easily pleased we were.

For let’s face it, the minimum wage is poor. It was never even enough to lift those to whom it was paid out of social security. People on minimum wage still had to apply for working tax credits, child tax credits and a host of other benefits to enable them to feel that while they were working just to live, there was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. What the minimum wage did was prove that low wages are a cancer at the heart of our economy.

Even now, if you’re over 21 the minimum wage is just £6.31 an hour. Just over £6 an hour for a job which is likely of the most manual, physical type. A job which most people probably wouldn’t want to do. A job which is probably vital – such as cleaning in a hospital. Does that seem like a reasonable hourly rate for an adult? For someone who probably has a family to support? And while inflation is high, keeping prices higher than wages, it makes the minimum wage even poorer.

So now there’s the idea of a “living wage”. The very name couldn’t be any more proof that the minimum wage is not one on which you can really live. The Living Wage Foundation says that companies should pay at least £7.45 an hour. Of course those who believe only in market forces raise their hands in horror at the suggestion. It will cause businesses to go bust, put more people on the dole ... when in fact it will put more money in people’s pockets, enabling them to spend more, turning the wheels of commerce quicker and reducing the social security bill. It will raise people’s self-esteem, their productivity at work, and their loyalty to their employer.

Work is supposed to pay even if people are just working to live. So let’s pay proper wages.