The fascinating thing here is the assumption The Guardian is making. Our situation is that we’ve a single mother working part time at the bottom of the employment chain. She is thus in poverty. Most certainly in relative poverty – less than 60% of median income suitably adjusted for household size. Yea, this even after she gains her tax credits, whatever housing and child benefit and all that.
“I’m a bit scatty with things like this,” Gemma admits when talking about her finances. It was not scattiness that meant she struggled to make ends meet when taking home £399.69 a month for working 18 hours a week as a cashier at Betfred. Even with tax credits and child benefit topping up her meagre wages, it was a constant struggle to pay for the essentials and Gemma fell behind on her bills. She was already receiving letters, phone calls, texts and emails threatening legal action over previous unpaid bills, as well as £400 of benefit overpayments that had to be repaid.
Her son’s birthday was an added pressure but, she says with a weak smile: “I always seem to pull it out of the bag somehow.” Having scraped through the month, she then put whatever she could afford – usually about £20 – towards her debts. Data released on Tuesday is expected to show that unemployment remains at its lowest level since the mid-1970s but that means little to the 4 million workers in the UK like Gemma, who are living in poverty. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, appeared to acknowledge the depth of this crisis last week, when he raised the possibility of increasing the minimum wage to 66% of median earnings.
A first thought would be that if someone is working only those 18 hours a week then that 66% of median wage minimum wage isn’t going to make much difference, is it? For our definition of poverty isn’t per hour worked. It’s 60% of median household weekly income.
But there’s that rather more important underlying assumption there as well. It’s being regarded as terrible that someone working part time is under the poverty line. That a single mother – and there’s no need to be that, the NHS is delighted to take care of any such problems in warm and caring wards right across the country – working part time is poor. This is an outrage which capitalism is responsible for, one that we must restructure society to prevent?
Umm, well, you know, inquiring minds might want to consider what the hell’s wrong with this idea? People who work less that half the time should have lower incomes than those who work full time. No?
If not, why not?
Answers on a postcard to the Labour Party.