From the Revd Paul Nicolson and Canon Nicholas Sagovsky
Sir, — A group of us met in Clare College, Cambridge, in the early 1990s, agonising about the impact of the poll tax on the poorest citizens.
It was hitting the income that they needed to pay for food, cook it, keep warm, buy clothes, use public transport, and for other necessities. We wondered what published research was informing government thinking about the minimum income needed for healthy living. Enquiries around Whitehall revealed the answer to be "None."
In 1997, the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust commissioned the minimum- income-standards research that informed the identification of the London Living Wage. Since then, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has also commissioned research that is based on what members of the public think is enough money to live on to maintain a socially acceptable quality of life. It has inspired the spread of robustly researched living wages round the UK.
Now the Chancellor has renamed the national minimum wage as an enforceable living wage — without the essential ingredient of any research into the actual weekly cost of meeting human needs.
That raises a vital point of principle. Does the state have a responsibility for ensuring that every citizen has the minimum income in work or unemployment to meet need and maintain a healthy life style? At an economic level, with education and Health Service free at the point of delivery, the taxpayer loses money when incomes are so low that cases of malnutrition and debt-related illness flood GPs’ surgeries.
At the moral level, does loving my neighbour include ensuring that my taxes support an income for all which is adequate for basic human needs? We know that when incomes are inadequate this has a terrible impact on maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy, on consequent low birth weight, and on children who grow up in poverty.
Nutritionists at the British Nutrition Foundation report: "Despite shortages the British population in a time of rationing ended the 1939/45 war fitter and healthier than ever." In that time of crisis, a national government ensured that everyone could buy enough healthy food.
Taxpayers Against Poverty
Whitelands Professorial Fellow
c/o 93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF