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We're working flat out and we're still broke

Published date: 12 February 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


 

In recent years, poverty has been linked to the credit crunch and soaring unemployment.

But a new report suggests the problem is down to more than just an economic blip.

For the first time the majority of those in poverty are actually paid workers.

This week, the Living Wage Commission is calling on politicians to consider a substantial rise in minimum wages and on employers to adopt a ‘living wage’ – above the level they are legally required to provide.

Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and chairman of the Living Wage Commission, said: “A living wage is a basic, but socially acceptable income.

Importantly for those receiving it, and unlike the legal national minimum wage, it rises as living costs rise.

“A living wage allows those that receive it an income that is sufficient to live on.”

Working poverty is a real problem in Flintshire and Wrexham. A report released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in September showed that the North-East Wales region, incorporating the two county boroughs, had a higher proportion of poverty among working households than those out of work.

The Leader has been contacted by a number of people who say they struggle to get by, despite one or all adults in the household holding down a full-time job.

The so-called “cost of living crisis” has become a political football.

But food costs have increased by 44 per cent from 2005, while energy costs have doubled, and thousands of “working poor” have turned to food banks, like those in Mold and Deeside.

Meanwhile, despite a dip in value during the recession, house prices have nearly tripled since 1997.

This is one of the reasons why James Rowley, 36, of Flint, is finding the mortgage payments a burden.

He said: “Both my partner and I are working. We earn just above the minimum wage (but below the living wage) and after tax we bring home a bare minimum, though we both work a 39-hour week.

“We’ve got the mortgage to pay, gas, electric, council tax, water, fuel for the car and we have to save for car tax and insurance. After that there’s not much left over.

“If your boiler goes on the blink or your washing machine blows, that’s it.

“We had three appliances go one year. Paying for them and trying to live off the rest was damn near impossible.”

The Leader calculated that if the living wage was adopted by their employers, the Rowleys would be about £70 better off a week before tax – comparatively less than some respondents, because James earns a shift allowance.

James said: “I’d be happy if I got an extra £50-a-week to be honest. It would help a lot.

“My employers have always done their best to pay more than minimum wage, but minimum wage itself is so low when you look at the prices of everything.

“I’m saving up to get some wood to turn our lawn into a veg patch. I do some sea fishing, because it’s pretty much free as a hobby, and if the catch is big enough, I’ll take it home to eat it. It’s like going back to The Good Life.”

Helen Jones, 41, of Wrexham, lives with her husband, who brings home about £235 a week while she cares for their young children.

She said: “I’d love to work, but I can’t because of childcare costs. I used to be a carer, but I had to stop.

“After everything else we have about £20 to £30 left for food and transport.”

Sometimes the situation has got so bad that Helen has held back to make sure her kids can eat.

She said: “I’m lucky. I don’t eat that much anyway, but my daughter will cry if she’s still hungry, which is horrible.

“I grow my own vegetables, carrots, potatoes, red peppers and my own herbs. When I go shopping, I buy everything from the “whoops” section.

“You learn the best times to go and which shops discount the most.

“Nothing goes to waste.”

If the living wage was adopted, Helen’s family would be £50 better off before tax every week.

She said: “It would be a huge difference. We didn’t have a Christmas meal last year because there wasn’t enough left over to buy a turkey.

“I saved and saved and saved, thinking I didn’t want another winter without hot water and we had enough to buy oil for the heating, but no Christmas presents.

“Having something left over each week would be wonderful. We could put something aside for the future.”

Lynn Williams, 50, of Ruabon, works part-time while her partner works full-time at a factory, doing as much overtime as he can.

She said: “We do struggle. I have rheumatoid arthritis and it’s difficult to find full-time hours for jobs that I can do, as I can’t do heavy lifting.

“My partner works 38 to 60 hours or more a week and he’s exhausted by the end of it.

“Most of what we earn goes on bills and we’re paying back payday loans as well, because when something goes wrong, we can’t afford to pay for it without a loan.

“Sometimes I’ve just sat down and cried because there’s just nothing. I’ll take my little grandson out to the coast, because it’s a free day out, and he’ll ask for a treat and we can’t buy it. Try explaining that to a five-year-old.

“The person in the house before us had meters put in for electric and gas. That’s about £50 a week and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Many’s the time we haven’t been able to use the heating.”

All three Wrexham and Flintshire residents said they would support the living wage campaign, which people can learn about at livingwagecommission.org.uk.

Email rhian.waller@nwn.co.uk with your views.
 

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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