All Work and Low Pay

This was Originally posted on Any Other Business

UNICEF’s most recent report, published this week, seeks an explanation for the stark differences between child well-being in the UK, Sweden and Spain. The fact remains that of the three countries it is Britain’s children who are the least happy. The report follows research by UNICEF in 2007 which shamed Britain’s record on the well-being of our children. In a survey of over 20 OECD countries, including several that are substantially poorer than Britain, we came bottom overall.

In an earlier blog post we explored some of the problems facing Britain’s poorest children. We found that, despite general perceptions linking poverty to unemployment, 59% of poor children grew up in households with at least one working parent.

Children in this country see less of their parents than their counterparts in Sweden and Spain. The reasons for this are varied but one which was highlighted by the report is low pay:

 “We observed that UK parents find it difficult to spend time with their families for lots of different reasons. One of these was low wages. Where parents are paid at, or close to the minimum wage they often must work long hours or take several jobs in order to make ends meet and this can impact on their ability to spend quality time with their children”

In Britain, more so than other European countries, parents now substitute time with their children for material goods. British parents from across income classes are, according to the report, ‘locked into a compulsive consumption cycle’ which sees them replacing time with their children with ‘status enhancing goods’. In secondary schools, particularly ones where the children of both rich and poor children study, the symbolism of these status enhancing goods is particularly relevant. Poor parents are forced to work long hours on low incomes to ensure that their children keep up with technological trends.

Our earlier work revealed a testimony from a cleaner in one of Britain’s high street shops that reinforces the sacrifices parents face to make ends meet:

 “[I]Leave the house when it’s dark and come back home when it’s dark. I hardly see my family and wonder where my life has gone.”

It comes as no surprise to us that one of the main recommendations made in the report is for the implementation of Living Wages in the UK. We know that Living Wages increase productivity and motivation in the workplace. We know that Living Wages help people live healthy lives. We now also know that, as UNICEF concluded in their report, Living Wages enable ‘parents to give their children the time and attention they have both said they need’.

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