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England: A Living Wage Should Be the Only Wage
The Yorker

February 9, 2012
View the Original Article

The concept of a earning a wage to adequately support yourself and your family, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and one not defined by the threat of poverty, is arguably an intrinsic want for every individual in Britain today. The Living Wage poses a solution to this, and has done since it was put to the House of Commons in 1925; why then, 87 years later, is the concept yet to become reality?

Progress in politics is undoubtedly often slow; indeed a minimum, let alone a Living Wage, would have seemed a utopian ideal in 1925. Progress, nonetheless, is necessary. And progress towards lessening wage disparities amidst the current media buzz of moralising capitalism is exactly what is needed throughout Britain.

“A fair day’s pay, for a fair day’s work” underlies the principle for supporting the Living Wage Campaign across Britain today. Calculated at £7.20 outside of London and £8.30 within the capital, the Living Wage allows for life for a two parent two child family to be an actual life, rather than a tepid existence of multiple part time jobs.

To deny “decent comfort”, the standards by which Labour MP James Maxton defined the Living Wage in 1925, would undoubtedly be a huge political error in today’s society; that the Living Wage is supported by both Labour and the Conservatives is therefore unsurprising. Whilst David Miliband spoke passionately to UYLC only last year about the significance the living wage can have, Boris Johnson has actively committed to paying all staff working with the GLA the Living Wage; it is not, however, any more than just a concept for many hundreds of families living in Britain today.

As David Miliband reiterated when he spoke at the University of York, the minimum wage is precisely a minimum wage – it allows those on minimum income to live just above the poverty line. This is not a life. This is not “decent comfort”. That the Living Wage both has the potential to eradicate poverty, reduce benefit claims, reduce staff turnover and increase their productivity illustrates the need for this concept to become more of a nationally consistent reality.

Where then is the missing link? Indeed, in the last few weeks even society seems to have dug their teeth into a Robin Hood culture – Chief Executive of RBS Stephen Hester refused his £1 million bonus - Sir Fred Goodwin faced the humiliation of being de-knighted – Society is changing, but is it really progressing?

We may feel morally righteous as a community that our common thoughts and pressures have led to these unprecedented victories over the banking world, but what now for the families still living on the edge of poverty, claiming benefits because they cannot sustain a decent life?

The idea is known, the politicians are committed, civil society up in arms over fat-cat bankers pay – what next? Are we too passive as a society? Is the ideology still too abstract and realistically inconceivable? Is it easy to feel bitterness towards the well-off, but hard to stand up and demand differently?

It is considered to be a natural phenomenon that society pauses to reflect on social democratic ideology during periods of economic hardship. What history has illustrated is that it takes more than just reflection to enact change. That the minimum wage conceived at the beginning of the twentieth century only became Labour policy in 1985 proves that political ideology is all well and good, increasing exception of said ideology also good, but actions of such monumental change are still few and far between.

That the minimum wage is considered to be one of the greatest political achievements of the past thirty years – that it is taken for granted that such a standardisation protects many from the harsh realities of capitalist exploitation is a very apparent concern. For all the bitterness held for those earning the most, there should be actions for those earning the least. Vindictive thoughts over bankers’ bonuses should not belittle campaigns over those living on the edge of poverty.

The fact that 87 years ago a forward thinking MP set forth the motions for a Living Wage campaign is impressive – that it has taken so long for a Living Wage to reach the political agenda is frustrating to say the least. Without Robin Hood we can only hope that the fighting words of political consensus become actions. It is clear, now more than ever, that a Living Wage should be the only wage.

UYLC is actively supporting the Living Wage Campaign as part of Labour Students - to find out more information about the Living Wage Campaign visit [labour students] (http://www.labourstudents.org.uk/livingwage) or join UYLC on facebook to find out about ways in which you can get involved in the Living Wage Campaign at the University of York.