There is a lot of discourse nowadays on social media about the cost of living, rent prices, and the minimum wage. A lot of the time, it involves millennials and zoomers expressing worries about their future. Many of them – myself included – have doubts about whether or not they’ll ever be able to afford a house, ever find a job where they’ll earn enough to be able to save up, and most lament how most of their wage goes entirely on rent. How have we ended up in this situation, and will it ever improve?
The National Minimum Wage is seeing an increase this April, going from £8.91 an hour to £9.50, but the cost of living is rising at a more rapid rate than wages. With the National Insurance increase also on its way, the minimum wage rise is akin to throwing a single cup of water onto a house that’s entirely engulfed in flames.
When the National Minimum Wage Act was passed under Tony Blair’s Labour government, on 1 April 1999, it made the minimum wage for anyone aged 22 or older £3.60 an hour. Since then, there have been amendments to the act, replacing the minimum wage for everyone aged 23 and older with the National Living Wage (which is essentially the same thing) and today, that sits at £8.91 an hour. That’s approximately a 148% increase.
The average price of a house in England when the National Minimum Wage Act was passed in April 1999 was £67,648. As of December 2021, the average price of a house in England has risen to a whopping £285,113. That’s around a 322% increase.
That means that over the last 23 years, the average property value in England has increased more than twice as quickly as the minimum wage. How is that sustainable? The short answer is that it isn’t. Unfortunately for England’s working class, it seems unlikely that we’ll see much done about it. Those in charge benefit from the horrendously flawed system, and, quite frankly, they live in an entirely different world to the majority of the population.
The basic annual salary for an MP is £81,932, which means that MPs earn more than the bottom 90% of the country. That doesn’t even take into account the expenses they can claim. Many of them are also landlords, and if we got into the absurd facts and figures surrounding the net worth of some cabinet members and the percentage that went to Eton and/or Oxbridge, we’d be here all day. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.)
It is impossible for a frightening percentage of our government to relate to or understand working people in the slightest. So, how we will ever make progress in a country ruled by privileged and disproportionately white, wealthy, privately educated men is a question that only has one answer: we won’t.
I often hear people say that it isn’t so bad, especially if you live outside London and/or don’t have children – houses aren’t that unaffordable in some places, and the cost of living is just fine so long as you don’t have kids. In a developed country, you should not have to choose between having children and living comfortably. We seem to forget that we should not have to make sacrifices like that.
There seems to be a sense of apathy and acceptance towards the cost of living that plagues the UK population, and I wonder if it’s because many people just don’t realise how much better we could have it – all we have to do is fight and make our voices heard. The French do it all the time. Why can’t we?