Anker and Anker, Living Wages Around the World

Richard Anker and Martha Anker, Living Wages Around the World: Manual for measurement, Edward Elgar, 2017, 1 78643 147 9, pbk, xi + 379 pp, £29.95

It is all very well to argue for a ‘Living Wage’, but answering the question ‘At what level should it be set?’ can be rather more difficult. This book sets out to answer that question. But first it deals with an important terminological issue. A ‘Living Wage’ means a ‘decent wage’, and is defined as

remuneration received for a standard work week by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transport, clothing, and other essential needs including provision for unexpected events. (Global Living Wage Coalition, quoted on p.8)

The authors are clear that it does not mean ‘minimum wage’, and they criticise the UK Government for claiming the name ‘National Living Wage’ for a national minimum wage. (It is a pity that the UK’s Living Wage Campaign is not referenced, nor the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’s or Greater London Authority’s Living Wage Unit’s roles in calculating the UK’s Minimum Income Standards and Living Wage levels.)

The authors develop a method that is transparent, as cheap as possible to undertake, and normative (that is, based on normative standards for nutritious food, healthy housing, adequate health care, and education), and designed to deliver estimates for a Living Wage that are both time and space specific and internationally comparable. They also develop a method for estimating a country’s prevailing wages so that the gap between prevailing wages and the country’s Living Wage can be calculated.

The book is what it says it is: a manual. It describes in great detail how to estimate the cost of a basic but acceptable living standard (the majority of the book); how to base a Living Wage estimate on that living standard; how to estimate prevailing wages; and how to write and update a Living Wage report. The book is full of survey methods, instructions on secondary research, tables, and sample work sheets, along with justifications for the method’s general outline and its detail.

The first section of the book, on how to calculate an acceptable living standard, will be of particular interest to anyone researching Citizen’s Income levels for illustrative Citizen’s Income schemes. While it will rarely be either possible or desirable to peg working age adult Citizen’s Income levels directly to estimates of countries’ acceptable living standards, it will always be instructive to know the proportion of an acceptable living standard that a particular level of Citizen’s Income would constitute.

A further important significance of this book to anyone researching illustrative Citizen’s Income schemes is the example that the authors give of comprehensive and detailed research applied to multiple countries. To undertake similarly comprehensive and detailed research on illustrative Citizen’s Income schemes for a wide variety of different countries would do for the now global Citizen’s Income debate what these authors have managed to achieve for the global Living Wage campaign.

This book is a substantial achievement, and evidence of a research project with the potential to make a real difference to the world.