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Living Wage Employment: The Student Perspective

Louis Mertens
Louis Mertens

There are not enough employers in the UK who afford their employees the opportunity to live off of the Living Wage. It makes a considerable difference to how I live my life, and I would urge employers reading this to consider offering it to their own employees. When considering the impact that the Living Wage has on me, it should be noted that I am not just an employee, but a student. The current loan granted to me by Student Finance England covers my rent, and then leaves me with an additional £200 for the rest of the year. My maintenance loan does not cover my domestic bills, certainly not my grocery shopping. Yet, I am fortunate because not all students across the UK have the privilege of living in Cardiff, where the costs of living are significantly lower. In fact, 74% of students take out maintenance loans to support them during their studies and the average value of this loan is £414 a month for the period of teaching. This means that my situation is not unique and many students have to work throughout their degrees.

 

The Living Wage doesn’t only afford students a greater income, but more flexibility. You would be mistaken if you thought that I am an advocate for the Living Wage because it means I can line my pockets with more cash, rather I am an advocate for it because it fills my schedule with more time. When I worked in retail during my first year at university, I earned a wage that was above the minimum but nowhere near the living wage; I had to take more shifts to account for that. Because it was retail, shifts were in the day and they conflicted with my lectures and seminars. if I gave up shifts to attend lectures (which cost on average, £44 an hour) there was no guarantee I would be given additional shifts in that week. In truth, if you, as a part time worker, had the audacity to skip shifts, even if you had given prior warning and had been scheduled in regardless, you would likely be swiftly replaced. This is simply the culture in retail. Therefore, this is not something most students can afford to worry about, and so they will skip lectures and seminars in place of part time employment at a meagre wage. Because I was not paid the Living Wage, I had to skip more lectures and seminars and it cost my education dearly. By the end of my first year at university I scraped an average grade of 61% which is a barely a 2:1. Furthermore, to earn what I do now at Deryn on the Living Wage, in retail I would have had to work 16 hours - well above what the University recommends for students - whereas I now work an average of only 12 hours a week. Truth be told, in retail I was often put on many hours above what I had asked for and had little opportunity to negotiate. As a result I looked for every opportunity to find other employment.  Deryn have always been accommodating. I do not feel like I am treated as a part in a machine, but that I am an asset with something to offer, and the payment of the Living Wage re-affirms this to me.

 

I began working at Deryn at the end of my first year of university and by the end of my second year having earned more than enough to live off on just 12 hours a week, my grades had started to look up and I achieved 69% on average, which means I am on track for a first class degree. The Living Wage for me is not the difference between trivial changes in my lifestyle, it’s the difference between struggling with university and always feeling left behind, to being confident that I can go to my lectures and seminars feeling prepared. This has definitely had implications on my confidence and happiness as I have never felt so miserable as when I worked in retail. Being on the Living Wage and working at Deryn I feel that my work is recognised, and I respect my employer now because I feel they respect me.

For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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