The privilege of Twelve Thousand Pounds

Twelve Thousand Pounds.

That’s the wage that came in to debate this week and, honestly, it got me a little annoyed.

Whilst preparing for an upcoming journalism exam in public affairs (which sounds quite fancy but is in no way exotic or exciting) we were discussing how some local councillors could earn twelve thousand a year.

“Wow, they must really love what they do to be willing to do it for that kind of money.”

I scoffed at the comment made from the back of the room. I have not made that amount of money in a good number of years.

Maternity allowance, part-time call centre work and student loans do not pay that kind of money.

If I suddenly found a job bringing that kind of wage into the household we’d be going on mini breaks every weekend and I’d get some french doors into the garden.

But in all honesty I think that would be about it. We’ve found a comfortable level in life and we’re happy with our none extravagant lifestyle. We have as much of a balance as we could hope for (because true ‘balance’ is a myth) between spending time together, doing things we love, versus earning to enough for us to enjoy that time.

However, that is not the case for everybody. We are incredibly lucky.

“That money is barely a full-time minimum wage job,” I replied.

It wasn’t until I left the room and started to think that I really started to get cross about the first comment.

There are lots of people in my life who spend more time away than at home, away from their kids, partners, hobbies, just so they can earn that amount to make ends meet. Some of them are university educated and some have skills most of us could only dream of and are experts in their field.

Some of them love what they do and money isn’t the point and would happily smile at anyone who ever said ‘don’t you want to achieve more?’ They’ve achieved what makes them happy – something that is rare when society always tells us we should want more. Some of them hate it but will never give up.

We all come from a relatively working class community. We’re slap bang in the centre of industry which has continued to decline (coal, pottery) but has never lost heart. Our close communities have dragged themselves along with call centres, warehouses and passionate art projects.

They know the value of a hard days work for a crap days pay. I’ve hauled coal bags around at a far younger age than health and safety would allow you to now.

We know the value of things because the prospect of decline has stared us in the face.

So for a comment about how you must truly love something to be willing to suffer the ‘shame’ or perhaps ‘inconvenience’ of earning ‘just twelve thousand’ really… annoyed me.

I’m not saying that anybody is wrong for wanting to earn more than twelve thousand, or more than minimum wage, or to achieve any other amount.

But some people don’t have the choice in whether they get to like what they get paid to do. Being willing to accept twelve thousand does not mean they’re ‘suffering for their art’. They might be barely getting by doing something they hate. It might seem like a million pounds to them and a sign to everything they’ve struggled to obtain.

Happiness and comfort in whatever level you want is life also cannot be obtained by looking at the price tag.

For some, the privilege they have been handed in life is nothing more than a starting point.

For others, the same level is everything they’ve had to claw and sweat for. It’s the glass ceiling that they have already smashed because nobody has done it before them.

I come from that latter stock of people and I am damn proud of it. They have heart and appreciate every penny and every ounce of sweat.

If you’re privileged enough to never be in that position (which I’d never say never for any of us) then please remember others.

I feel bad for the original comment-maker. They may never be able to truly appreciate the life you can live with twelve thousand.

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