The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), has polled a selected portion of the population and pronounced on what they consider to be the minimum acceptable wage for a reasonable standard of living; they’ve come up with just over £13,000 for a single person, £27k for couple with 2 kids, and £10k for a single pensioner. They also considered the material requirements for a reasonable standard of living, some of which follows.
The basics, published by the JRF, are
- According to what people said, in order to maintain a minimum, socially acceptable quality of life in 2008:
- a single working-age adult needs a budget of £158 per week;
- a pensioner couple needs £201;
- a couple with two children needs £370; and
- a lone parent with one child needs £210.
These amounts are after income tax, and do not include housing or childcare costs.
Most people relying on basic out-of-work benefits do not reach this standard. A single person on Income Support gets less than half. Out-of-work families with children typically get two thirds. However, pensioners receiving Pension Credit do reach the minimum income standard.
Why, though, are pensioners considered to need so much less money? It makes little sense. It may have done a century ago, when being old started at 50, and you were heading for a wooden overcoat by 65, but these days pensioners are among the most active members of society, and their notional income should reflect this (a sore point with me, as I’m 15 months away from being a pensioner myself!).
On the face of it, not too unreasonable, but it does contain nuggets of plain, old-fashioned, stupidity. Why, for example, does a person of 64 need £13k, yet the day he turns 65 he’s deemed to need only £10k – it’s quite absurd. A single mother is allowed a bottle of wine a week, and a couple of cans of beer – oh, and, this is bizarre, she can have a Kit-Kat once every 9 weeks, and a Twix every 3.5 weeks, plus £15 a week for social activities! In the 21st century, what the hell can you do with £15? It’s lunacy – lunch and a few pints in the pub costs more than that. And, as so often in this country, the disabled community has been totally ignored (though the JRF do accept that some households have higher than average costs).
An Internet connection is only essential if you have children of secondary school age. Bullshit! My computer is absolutely vital – without it I’d be almost completely isolated and unable to shop for essentials. I am, apparently, expected to trek off to the library and join a queue for their machines. But there’s a snag – I’m not allowed a car – that’s a luxury. Public transport, for me, is a no-go area, but even if it were not, it doesn’t run between 17.00 and 09.15, and doesn’t go to the library anyway (the bus, which stops right out side, doesn’t actually go anywhere I want to go. Taxis, perversely, are not luxuries, but a few taxi journeys to the library would cost more per week than I pay for my Net access – what sort of sense does that make?
Cars may be a luxury item, but for some of us, they’re an essential luxury. I can’t easily use taxis – my car was selected for its seat height and ease of access – and if I could I wouldn’t, because drivers routinely break the law by smoking in their cabs, talking on mobes and – the thing that pisses me off the most – they’re over-fond, at least where I live, of getting creative with the route and ramping up the fare, resulting, when I used to use taxis, in constant arguments. And without exception they expect a tip for doing nothing but their job. You doubt that? Try not tipping, and see how hard it becomes to get a cab. I knew one taxi driver well, and he said that any cabbie who couldn’t earn £100k a year wasn’t trying – so why should I tip the sods, unless they provide a service over and above the basics of driving a car from A to B – without going via Z!
You want more stupidity? Pensioners are allowed a can of stout a week! You couldn’t make this crap up. Why should a single mother have a bottle of wine and two cans, yet an old codger only one can of beer?
An adult is allowed £20 a year for trainers – can you get trainers you would willingly wear, or that wouldn’t self-destruct in a few months for that price? I seriously doubt it.
You can have a DVD player (but not a recorder), and a Freeview box, providing both are bargain-basement items – don’t you dare buy anything that might really be usefully functional! You can have a CD player, too, if you really must. Oh, joy!
If you’re disabled, though, as far as the JRF is concerned, you don’t exist, yet your cost of living, like mine, is likely to be higher than normal. You may not have the costs of commuting every day, but you’re likely to be at home much of the day, running up the lighting and heating bills, or using your “luxury” Internet connection to read newspapers that you can’t afford to buy, and maybe can’t get out for anyway. Or you may have to buy ready-meals or take-aways, with the odd pub meal, which costs far more than cooking from scratch. If a single, disabled person (or old and frail person, for that matter), eats 3 small ready-meals a day, meals that are actually eatable, as below, then you’re looking at a bill of around £50 per week – that’s 20% of the notional £13k for a single person, more like 40% of a disabled person’s income.
Intriguingly, although if you don’t have kids, an Internet connection is a luxury (what planet are these people on?), but a computer isn’t mentioned. Odd.
For a whole range of items, only the cheapest option is acceptable, but very often that does not represent the best value – something mid-range is normally far better value for money. Take ready-meals again; cheap ones are dog-food – you need to go up to the mid-range to get something that’s actually eatable (as opposed to edible – they’re not synonymous – a diet of soya protein and brown rice is edible, but you wouldn’t want to eat it!).
A minimum standard of living, says the JRF, involves a degree of socialisation and cultural life. Never being able to go out or buy yourself a chocolate bar is “unacceptable” in a rich country like ours. We demand the wherewithal to have a diet that is nutritious, a home that is warm and the choices to participate in wider society. There’s not much scope for socialisation in any of this!
And the scary thing is that this hasn’t been cobbled up by a bunch of ivory-tower JRF researchers – real people, quizzed by the JRF, came up with this nonsense, and I’m willing to wager, looking at the patronising nature of some of this stuff, that they were primarily white middle-class, and on higher than average incomes and who, I’m pretty damned sure, believe that all this should apply to other people!
Note: This is based on what’s been published in news items and in the press – which is all most people will see of it. You can access the full words and music here.