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23 November 2016

It’s not a living wage, and journalists shouldn’t call it one

The phrase "national living wage" is government PR, and journalists shouldn't use it.

By Stephen Bush

Although much of the Autumn Statement is shrouded in mystery, one announcement is already certain: an increase in the national minimum wage to £7.50 an hour by April 2017 – or, as the government’s press release and much of the press calls it, the “national living wage”.

There are many problems with the phrase “national living wage” in this context, not least because we already have one of those, set by the Living Wage Foundation, based on the cost of living. That wage is currently £8.45, 95p more than the new legal floor, which works out as £15.20 more a week for someone working 16 hours a week and £136.80 more a month for someone working full time. These represent significant quality-of-life differences and they shouldn’t be ignored.

Not that a rise in the minimum wage is a bad thing. That George Osborne believed these increases would somehow compensate for big cuts to tax credits was, and that Philip Hammond appears to believe that it can compensate for universal credit cuts is, however. The government is entitled to sell its policies with whatever language it wants. But just as I have no plans to refer to “lipsmacking thirst-quenching Pepsi” or pepper any references to laundry with assurances that “Daz washes whiter”, I – and other journalists – shouldn’t call the national minimum wage anything other than the national minimum wage.

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