Health and the minimum wage
Press release issued: 14 October 2005
Many people living on the national minimum wage in the UK currently earn around £20 less a week than they need to live healthily, argues an editorial in this week's BMJ by Christopher Deeming, a PhD student in the School of Policy Studies.
The minimum wage and working tax credits are important policies in the government's anti-poverty strategy. The minimum wage currently stands at £5.05 per hour for those aged 22 and older and £4.25 for those aged 18-21. People aged 25 or over and working at least 30 hours a week can also receive working tax credits after means testing.
Recent research by Professor J. N. Morris and colleagues has identified several basic needs for health and wellbeing and calculated a minimum income for healthy living. These calculations were based on the needs of a healthy single man aged 18-30 who has left the family home. They took into consideration the cost of food, physical activity, psychosocial activities, clothing and renting a home.
The minimum income for healthy living was calculated as £132.00 per week. However, the take home pay of the average young single man working 37.5 hours a week on the minimum wage was £120.00: a shortfall of £12.00 each week (April 1999 prices).
However, this budget is an underestimate of the real minimal costs for healthy living as it has some gaps and excludes any allowance for personal choice and development, contingencies or emergencies.
In his editorial, Christopher Deeming argues that, at today's prices, a single healthy man aged 18-21 working a 37.5 hour week on the lower rate of national minimum wage currently has £20.00 less a week, on average, than he needs to live healthily. Those aged 22-24 on the main rate may just about manage. A single man aged 25-30, if he gets working tax credits, should receive an income sufficient to maintain health-on average £11.00 above the basic amount.
Christopher Deeming said: "While the minimum wage has raised the earnings of the lowest paid workers, progress towards a minimum income for healthy living has been slow and patchy. The health community did not participate in decisions on setting minimum incomes and calculations to set the rates did not consider requirements for personal health.
"Of course the government has to consider economic implications when setting the national minimum wage. However, given that the government has recently committed to helping people to achieve healthier lifestyles, can politicians afford to ignore the evidence for a minimum income standard that would offer all those in low paid work a better opportunity for choosing health?"