Is a ‘living wage’ such a mad idea?

Posted on February 12, 2013 by Micheál Collins

Over recent years I have been involved in publishing a number of research papers and reports on issues related to low income in Ireland (see a list here). Among these, work with the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice focused on establishing the cost of a minimum essential standard of living in Ireland and subsequently estimating the income required to experience this. Outside Ireland, most particularly in the UK, research around minimum living standards has spawned further research into the concept of a living wage. Such a wage is taken to be an hourly wage rate sufficient to ensure that an employee earns enough to have a decent standard of living.

I recently spoke on this topic at an ICTU conference entitled 'Making the case for Decent Work' - my presentation to the conference is here. In it I highlighted the growing evidence that a living wage is a feasible concept and one that has received growing support among employers and employees - both of whom gain substantially from its introduction.

As we think about where Ireland is going over the next few years and decades, some of our attention will have to focus on the growing income and earnings disparities that have emerged in recent years. While much of that focus tends to be on the top of these distributions, taxing higher earnings more and cutting excessive salaries (both points of view I have a lot of time for), we should also remember the potential to make adjustments towards the bottom of the earnings distribution. In that context, decent pay in the form of a living wage offers the potential to make notable impacts on the living standards of a large number of low income households.

During 2013 the NERI will return to this topic with a seminar on the living wage (due in April) and later in the year research papers on earnings and low incomes.

My presentation from the recent conference is here.

Recent publications on low incomes are listed here.

The NERI research paper on 'The Costs of Work' is here.

Papers and details of the Making the case for Decent Work conference are here.

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