The reality of low pay in Cambridge

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Following recent revelations that over 1,000 employees of the University of Cambridge are earning below the living wage, one young worker got in touch to describe her experience of work in Cambridge. We publish her letter below.

Of the three jobs I have worked in Cambridge, all have paid under the living wage. The living wage for cities outside of London stands at an hourly rate of £7.65; in all of my jobs, the pay rate has varied between £5 and £6.31 per hour.

The Guardian recently ran an article that gave statistics showing that the number of young people living at home has risen in recent years; with many workers earning below the living wage this doesn’t prove surprising. In the case of Cambridge, room rents stand on average at approximately £500pcm, with one-bedroom flats and houses more than double that, forcing many low-paid workers to continue living at home with their parents. Whilst the prospect of moving out of the family home and becoming financially independent is the aim of many young workers, pay conditions make this unachievable.

Many people earning below the living wage are forced to work two jobs in order to cover the bills, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. Despite working two jobs, a friend of mine is forced to eat at his parents’ house because after rent he cannot afford to feed himself. Overtime is another way low-paid workers attempt to make ends meet. Minutes before sitting down to write this letter, I rang a colleague to let her know I could cover her late shift this weekend. It means working several tiring, busy late shifts in a row. It means missing the weekend and not having any time to see my friends. It means an irregular sleeping pattern. I don’t want to cover this shift; I have to. With pay conditions as they are, many workers have no choice but to work overtime.

250,000 workers in the U.K earn the living wage. Currently it’s considered a privilege to work in a job that pays the living wage, you’re ‘lucky’ if you do. A living wage isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. All workers have the right to earn a decent amount of money that frees them from the stresses of multiple jobs, hours of overtime, and living at home because of financial pressures. And yet this is a basic right that capitalism is clearly unable to afford.