Wage Wars

Wage Wars

Some days knowing which topic to write about can be a bit of a challenge. Now don't get me wrong, this is not as glamorous as writers block.  Oh no it's just that there are so many things to write about that sometimes it's a little difficult to select just one for that day, my head gets a bit noisy with topics.

So, the other morning was one of these times, and I had mentioned to my other half in passing that I wasn't sure what to write about today. He suggested I have a cup of tea. He firmly believes that a cup of tea fixes most things.

So, there I am in my kitchen drinking tea while listening to the radio. The topic was about low wages in the UK with a heavy focus on the perceived unfairness of the minimum wage. They didn't seem to be going anywhere with it, they were just generally inciting unhappiness.

As I am stood there in my kitchen shaking my head in the general direction of the radio, my ‘better’ half walks in and says, “What's up, still stuck?” I pivoted round glared at him and went off in a crazy lady rant that went a little bit like this…

“This radio show is what's up! Why can't they educate and inspire, not just tell people why they should be unhappy. If they are going to talk about the minimum wage, they should at least tell their listeners the differences between a minimum wage and a living wage. They should say that the national minimum wage only affects people aged between school leaving age and 23 years, whilst the national living wage affects those over 23, oh and also, that no, they are not the same damn thing.

Really, they should have informed people that the national minimum wage is set by national law, not circumstance and not cost of living. It is built in a way that expects subsidies to be required, and government support to be given to those who need it on a means tested basis.  It still assumes that between school leaving age and 23 you are at college, uni, or living at home free from the burdens of many living expenses. It does not account for the young people who are walking a different path, by choice or by circumstance. It might fail the girl who chose to start a family at 18, or the boy for which uni was never an option and living at home is a distant memory, those people are the ones who suffer the most from an outdated understanding of people's lives. But let's not forget, yes it has its faults but before we had a minimum wage, things were not so hot either.  Believe it or not, when the minimum wage came into force in 1999 it brought with it an instant 10% pay rise for over 12 million adults.

Once you turn 23 you get the national living wage, which came into force in 2016.  This is calculated differently. It is designed at its roots to enable any person working 40 hours per week with no additional income the ability to afford food, shelter, utilities, transport, healthcare and childcare.

This living wage may be pretty new to us, but did you know that one of the earliest documented arguments advocating for a living wage like this was actually from Aristotle. He knew that people were the life force behind industry and that they needed to feel valued and secure in their endeavours. He felt that the key to economy and industry was in ensuring fair pay which enables workers to live and provide for their families.

Now Aristotle did go a little further in that he believed the rate of pay should reflect a labourer's value, the value they bring to industry as a whole not just the employer they serve, I am not sure we have achieved that part of his dream. I mean we have for those at the other end of the pay scale who receive a salary they have negotiated, or been awarded based upon their qualifications, their skills or I don't know what else qualifies them for the big bucks…. perhaps who their parents are or what school they attended, maybe whether they summer in Monaco or winter in Aspen is the deciding factor?

But for the masses of people who are in receipt of the living wage, human value does not come into it just yet, but it is still early days. It's only two years since this came into force here in the UK and yes, there is room for improvement.

So, our current pay structures may be flawed and no, they are not even close to being good enough to ensure a happy, relaxed quality of life above the breadline with the guarantee of financial wiggle room for all families, but it is heading in the right direction…. Just ask those who were making ends meet before 2016.

"I realised as I came to the end of my rant that my husband was holding a pen and a piece of paper out like a protective talisman. I took it from him as he said “so, now you know what to write about”.  Damn that man. 

If history shows us anything it is that this argument is not going to be resolved anytime soon, things will change slowly, year on year. Let's not hold our breath for a sudden reform that means we will all be paid more than we need. Those who benefited from that pay rise when the minimum wage came in still don't see it as excess cash every month because we always live to our means, or a little bit beyond in many cases. This is not reserved to those at the lower end of the pay scale either, if you earn £1000 per month that is gone in a flash, but you better believe that £10,000 is just as easily spent.

So, what is the answer? What do we do while we wait for someone in power to read the rest of Aristotle's argument for value-based pay and realise it's a good idea?  Well, not listening to depressing radio shows is probably good advice but aside from that, getting it together, taking control and settling into your own financial groove is probably a good place to start.

Flying by the seat of your pants, living pay cheque to pay cheque is stressful, demotivating and just downright miserable, especially when Christmas rolls around or your car breaks down. Taking from one hand to save the other, shifting the burden and never quite resolving things just sucks. But there is a really simple piece of advice that was drilled into me when I was growing up. Only spend what's left after saving. 

Let's just let that marinade there for a minute. Yes, that's right save first then spend, sounds obvious right…. Wrong. You would not believe how many people say “I don't have any money left to save” that alone shows which way round we are used to thinking, but by putting your savings away before you spend anything, it's as though you never had it. If you can swipe £25 from your pay cheque and stash it away somewhere, ideally in a bank or in a sock, under a mattress, anywhere, it will mean that at the end of the year you could have a £300 safety net. 

If you are on a mission to get financially organised and in control then there are so many tips and tricks online, I love the envelope method which you can read about here but there are so many more ways to make your money go further than just budgeting and saving.  There are shopping basket switch outs, boot fair bargains and social media is swarming with buy sell swap sites that are great for making a bit of cash from your unwanted items but also finding just what you are looking for at bargain prices or even for free. 

So in summary let's take control of our finances, make a plan, stash something away, no matter how much it is and try to make the best of the situation. After all, having a job is better than no job, and some income is better than no income.