Frances Ryan writes The Guardian's "Hardworking Britain" column and we've long been amused at the examples being offered to us. It is always, of course, that pay isn't high enough, that people are working fingers to bone and just not, still, having enough to get by upon. Our problem being that numbers just never quite seem to add up.
One example that we explored with her was this:
Mike is frantic about finding money to pay for his multiple medications, but it’s buying presents for his daughters’ landmark birthdays – 13 and 18 this year – that’s playing on his mind.
We reminded her that the NHS charges a maximum fee for all prescriptions over a year. An entire £104 in fact. Her response was that Mike didn't have £104. We never did get a response to our pointing out that the NHS is absolutely delighted to finance this over 10 months.
It is, quite obviously, possible that someone doesn't have £10.40 a month. We think it's unlikely though if someone is far enough up Maslow's Pyramid to be worrying about birthday presents.
Which brings us to today's offering:
Julia has a system to survive. Every month, she maxes out her overdraft: £1,000 in the red to pay for utility bills, council tax, mortgage, and food for herself and her daughter. Then the 49-year-old’s salary puts her back in the black – and she does it all over again.
This is the definition of precarious living: a life where, in Julia’s words, “everyday needs pile up”. The overdraft isn’t enough to keep her head above water. In the past nine months, she’s fallen into £5,000 worth of credit card debt. As we talk, Julia writes it all out – listing basic family costs, item by item: replacing broken furniture (“It was falling apart,” she says); buying her daughter shoes and a uniform for secondary school, and a bike to get there; hiring a plumber to unblock the toilet.
She can’t remember the last time she went out with friends or bought something as a treat. “I have holes in my clothes,” she says.
This is of a teacher earning £34,000 a year. We agree that this is not a fortune. Well, actually, no, we don't. By global standards Julia is in the top 0.5%. Yes, this is adjusting for price differences across geography, we're using PPP here.
As we say, the numbers just never do quite add up. Precarious just isn't the right word, nor is poverty, to describe someone in that top 0.5%.
Seriously, whining about the living standards of one of the richest people to ever have existed on the planet just doesn't strike us as being valid poverty porn. Obviously, things are different at The Guardian.