Arguing in favour of a wage which is high enough to allow for a worker to maintain a normal standard of living should not be constructed as a political point. How one could reject the principle that all workers should be able to sustain themselves through their earnings is baffling. In the first place, it seems morally repugnant that there should be any sort of disparity between the legal minimum wage, and the figure at which an individual is able to secure a safe and decent standard of living.
Labour is right to encourage businesses to adopt the living wage, and to push for its universality as part of their current campaign manifesto; however, in suggesting that businesses ought to be encouraged through the use of tax breaks, the party has only cemented the fact that it is wholly out of touch. Businesses should not have to be plied with tax breaks and discounts for ‘boldly’ paying their workers a wage which is liveable. These concessions feed into the narrative that basic human decency is irrelevant unless coupled with a market oriented incentive.
It is a fundamental right that we ought to be able to live our lives to a reasonable standard of comfort, security, and happiness. Suggesting that this is a right for which we have to barter with businesses, rather than being enshrined in law, is a disgrace and a betrayal of the wider labour movement that the modern Labour party pretends to claim as pedigree.
There is even an argument that the living wage, though a progressive and logical step forward from current conditions, should only be considered the first step in a series of wider reforms.
A key force behind calls for a citizen’s income is the fact that many continue to undertake thousands of hours of unpaid but essential work each year, due to institutionalised and unequal distribution of, for instance, childcare and ‘homemaking.’ Surely there would not be such a gender correlated earnings gap if we actually compensated citizens for vital work which they are unfairly delegated? In a society where we recognise that paid maternity and paternity leave are essential, this is a logical progression.
Surely if we are discussing a living wage, that discussion should necessarily entail making sure that each and every worker is able to meet their basic needs, and amongst these needs is their right to sanitation, hygiene and their right not to be discriminated against for costs incurred by forces beyond their control.
Thus then, why not include a gender stratification to the living wage? If we cannot remove the VAT on sanitary products because of EU trade agreements on tax-free status, why not add x-pence onto a woman’s calculated hourly wage, to compensate for the fact that the average woman will spend close to £3000 in their lifetime on sanitary products.
The crux of the matter is that it is not for unfathomable and morally dubious market forces to arbitrate on what constitutes a basic standard of living; this is instead something which could be readily and empirically calculated. There is enough of a body of science to prove that in order to have a happy life, one needs access to, beyond the bare necessities of nutrition and housing, entertainment, recreation and thus a certain amount of disposable income.
We need to move away from the outmoded, Victorian idea that waged labour is a means to simply sustain life. Instead, our wages should allow us to live an enriching and comfortable life from the lowest paid worker to the chief executive.