Tuesday, 24 June 2014

But what exactly IS 'Poverty', Archbishop?

I've moved away from football and instead I'm going to talk about a profoundly important social issue. This of course means that 90% of the people who've been reading my blog recently will go elsewhere for their entertainment, but if I'm to stay true to my aims that this blog should be about what I want to talk about, then that's a price I'm just going to have to pay.

Today there's been an article on the news about how it is, according to Dr John Sentamu (he's the Archbishop of York, by the way) a national scandal that there are millions of people 'working and still living in poverty' because employers are not paying what is termed 'a living wage'.
Living Wage Article on BBC
For those of you who are unaware of what 'a living wage' is, it is (according to the official Living Wage website), 'calculated according to the basic cost of living'. In the UK this is £7.65 an hour, or £8.80 if you live in London. This compares to the minimum wage which is currently £6.31 an hour.

You see, it's the use of the word 'poverty'. What exactly do we mean by this word?
Well, the problem with the word poverty is that it's a relative term - people can be in poverty in relation to their local peers here in the UK because they haven't had a holiday for a year or can't afford an X-Box One or can only afford fish twice a week, but in comparison to people in another country (choose any sub-Saharan hell-hole stricken by famine for the last decade) then the fact they've got food and shelter and clothes and some comforts to enjoy, means they're probably not all that badly off after all, and they certainly aren't in 'poverty'.
Which is where the idea of equating 'poverty' (which Dr Sentamu has done) with being below the basic standard of living (or minimum income standard) is a dangerous thing to do.
Calculate your minimum income standard
Now I had a go at determining what my minimum income standard should be, posing as a couple with no children (because it won't calculate if you say you have others over 18 living at home, which is weird); it says the income we need for a 'basic standard of living' is £26,211. Included in that are:

  • £16.65 per week for alcohol (yes, per week!!)
  • £19.94 per week for clothing
  • £22.27 per week for personal goods and services (whatever they are) and
  • £74.73 per week for 'social and cultural activities'!!
And this is the problem. To say that a couple is 'in poverty' because they can't afford to spend £16.65 each week on booze and £74.73 on cultural activities is, in all honesty, an insult to those people who really do struggle to make ends meet, who really don't have enough money to live on and heat their homes and eat healthily.
So until people start differentiating between 'poverty' and 'a lower standard of living' (and yes, I'm talking to you Archbishop!) then we're always going to skew the debate on how much people who are working should earn, which, by the way, should ALWAYS be significantly more than anyone who isn't…but that's fodder for a future blog, methinks.