The concept of a living wage is one that just makes good sense to me. A wage should be enough to live on, right? Because it’s a wage? Because what’s the point if it doesn’t? Because … because we have to work to support ourselves and our families and if the wage isn’t enough to live on surely it makes no sense?
(As I ask these questions, my expression gets progressively more and more confused. I assure you it’s very cute.)
But I realise I am not everyone, and so when a group of very knowledgeable people put together some estimates of what a “living wage” would really be (covered by Eddie here and Ben here), I go “sounds fair to me” and other people go, “But I could live on far less than that, these numbers are too high!!!”
What I’ve come to realise is that “living wage” means vastly different things to different people.
To some people, it means enough to tread water. Enough to fulfil basic caloric requirements and pay for rent on the smallest place you can find (probably in Kawerau, or Gore, because if you claim you can’t afford rent and you live in Auckland, where all the jobs are, you’re just being demanding), wearing underwear from a $2 shop and using minimal power because you don’t need a television if you’re really struggling.
Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t yet seen a comment saying “but you don’t need to go out even once a month if you really can’t afford to!!!” And I will thank you not to link me to it if you see it.
To me, there’s an unspoken “with dignity” that sits after “living”. It means more than the bare bones, more than scraping by, more than just making ends meet.
It means being able to save, so you have a safety net when things go wrong. It means not shifting from flat to flat when the landlord raises the rent, moving the kids from school to school, and certainly never having the temerity to aspire to home ownership. It means having treats – a day at the zoo, a movie, a bottle of wine, opportunities to bond and socialise and enjoy the company of your family and other people.
It means being able to hold your head up at the school gate because your kid can have a new pair of shoes (which aren’t shitty plastic that’s going to hurt their feet) to wear to school.
Sure, the kid could wear jandals, and nobody’s going to die without a glass of $10 sav, and takeaways are going to kill us all … but seriously. What complete sociopathic lack of empathy do you have if you can’t even allow that human beings deserve lives which include enjoyment and reassurance and dignity?
And if you really are a middle class bastard motivated purely by self-interest, you know what else letting people live with dignity means?
People not becoming totally disillusioned with our society. People not doing everything they’re told they have to do, only to feel like they’re never going to get ahead. People not turning into criminals, breaking into your home, stealing your shit, and burning your fucking house down because they have been browbeaten and shat on and starved and shuffled from low-paying temporary job to low-paying temporary job until they have fucking snapped and said “fuck it, why the fuck not go eat the rich?”
People don’t have bread and you’re sitting back saying “Let them NOT eat cake, cake’s a luxury item!” and you don’t expect this shit to bite you in the ass?
A living wage is a wage that lets people live with dignity. Is that so much to fucking ask?