I’ve just watched ‘To Walk Invisible’, Sally Wainwright’s dramatization about the Bronte sisters that was on the telly over Christmas. The title refers to the way the sisters feel that they need to conceal their identity as women in order to be taken seriously as writers and get published. It set me off on a chain of thought about how far we’ve come. Or haven’t come.
On the same day, the radio news had a story about the gender pay gap. A good news story, that for women in their 20s, the gap had narrowed to 5%. Hang on, this is a good news story? That today, still, women who are just starting out in the work place are already being paid 5% less than men. It gets worse. The pay gap for older women remains stubbornly wide.
What’s going on here? The later pay gap is usually attributed to women taking time out to look after babies and small children and not being able to recover their career progression afterwards. But women at the start of their working lives? Despite equal pay for equal work, we are still being paid less. Is this about the type of work that women choose to do, the hours they choose to work? Or is this more to do with the value we place on the jobs that women do? Workplaces dominated by women tend to be in care, hospitality and retail. Jobs we need but don’t value, if pay is a measure of value. The same could be said for the things that keep a lid on women’s earnings later in life. Raising the next generation is a vital job, but mostly it’s done for free, not valued. And never mind all the other stuff like housework and caring for elderly relatives, also mainly done by women.
The way in which pay reveals the topsy-turvy values of our world was further brought home because that day was also Fat Cat Wednesday. Never heard of it? It is the day when top UK bosses (median annual salary (£4m) have earned as much in the year so far as the average worker (salary £28,000) will earn in the whole year. Lunch time on Wednesday 4th January! You will be slaving away for the rest of the year to earn what some executive put away after two and a half days on the job. We cannot seriously believe that pay like this is a true reflection of what is valuable to society, or that executives deserve to be paid in two days the same as their members of staff take all year to earn.
Perhaps it is timely that Scotland is planning on trialling a citizen’s income. A small payment to every member of society, uncoupling it from paid work. Perhaps this recognizes the intrinsic value that Christian faith sees in everyone, being made in the image of God. Will it free people up to make more fulfilling choices about work, volunteering, family life and service to society? Will it mean people will always have something coming in that they can rely on, a better solution to meeting basic need than foodbanks? Or will giving people cash in hand make them lazy and feckless, meaning they will not bother looking for work and fritter the money away on fags and booze?
Actually, even though a citizen’s income would be paid to rich and poor alike, this last idea is clearly aimed at poor people. For some reason, there appears to be a marked distaste for giving money to poor people. If you haven’t seen it, the Daily Mail issued a stark warning about the dangers of giving money to poor people in Pakistan. Apparently it’s a gross misuse of our aid budget. For a comprehensive rebuttal of the Mail and clear evidence as to why it works, please have a read of this article by my colleague Joe Ware. But anyway, giving money to poor people is a far better idea than giving money to rich people. What do poor people do with money? They spend it, of course, on gas, electricity, food, clothes, entertainment. It all goes straight back into the economy, supporting local businesses, paying wages etc. What do rich people do with money? Well, it’s only rich people who make it disappear into offshore accounts and avoid paying taxes.
Things don’t have value simply because there is a monetary value attached. The things we value in life are not usually the things we buy, but rather family, friendship, faith, love. But what we do with our money is often driven by our values, and money can take hold of our heart. ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’, Jesus warns (Matthew 6:21). I think what I’ve seen in the news this week has a lot to say about what we value in this country, much of it rather uncomfortable to hear.