What should living standards look like for people on benefits, minimum wage, and average earnings?

Fintan SmithPolitical Research Executive
August 02, 2023, 12:49 PM GMT+0

YouGov puts 35 different expenses to the public

Income inequality in the UK is at its highest level in ten years by some metrics, with reports of record numbers of households now depending on foodbanks. This raises the question of what Britons believe people should and should not be able to afford on different income levels in the UK.

To find out, YouGov put 35 expenses to the public and asked them to decide at what income level each should be attainable: for someone on out of work benefits, on minimum wage, on an average income, or only for the wealthiest in society.

What should everyone be able to afford, according to Britons?

Currently, unemployed people in the UK aged 24 and over are entitled to claim £77 per week in job seekers allowance.

Of the 35 expenses we asked about, most Britons believe that ten of them should be affordable to all, even those who are out of work and on benefits. Britons are most likely to believe that everyone should be able to afford their utility bills (76%), to eat a balanced diet (74%), and buy school uniforms for their children (73%).

In the context of increasing dependence on the internet to access services, education and support, a majority say a home internet connection should also be affordable (57%). Britons also believe seasonal celebrations (60%), a TV (55%), and being able to send their children on school trips (55%) should be attainable for all.

Britons are more divided on whether people on benefits should be able to afford a basic smartphone (45%) and to pursue a non-active hobby (39%), or whether this is more something that should be affordable at the minimum wage level (41% and 39% respectively).

What should those working on the minimum wage be able to afford?

There are nine categories of spending that Britons tend to think should be attainable at the minimum wage level specifically, with being able to run a car (56%) and go on holiday (53%) topping that list. This is followed by someone being able to commute to their place of work (50%) and going out to socialise (50%).

Previous YouGov research has found that three quarters of Britons who don’t yet own their home want to do so (76%). The public tends to believe that being able to buy a home should be affordable for those on the minimum wage (50%). Britons are split on whether people on the minimum wage or those earning an average salary should be able to afford to go on holiday abroad (43% vs 39%), a streaming subscription (42% vs 38%), a good smartphone (40% vs 38%), or to drink an amount that is in line with recommended drinking limits (39% vs 37%).

What should those on the average salary be able to afford?

On average, working Britons earn about £33,000 per year, or about £26,000 after tax. To those earning an average salary, the public tend to reserve another five expenses. Britons are most likely to believe that average earners should be able to afford more expensive toys for their children, such as gaming consoles (48%) and beauty treatments (43%). These are followed by going to the theatre a couple of times a year (39%), as well as private health (39%) and dental (37%) care. When it comes to designer clothing, however, Britons are divided on whether this should only it’s fine if only the very wealthiest can afford them (40%) or those earning the average salary (41%).

There are no expenses from our list that most people believe should only be affordable for the very wealthiest.

Opinion is split on who should be able to afford mental health help and pets

Around one in five Britons have sought help with their mental health, with a majority who sought it out (62%) saying it was difficult to get the help they need. The public are divided on who private mental health treatment should be affordable for. Just over a third (35%) believe that everyone, including those on out of work benefits, should be able to afford private mental health support. A quarter (25%) instead say people should be earning at least the minimum wage, with a further 28% believing it should be only affordable to those earning at least an average salary.

Britons are likewise heavily split when it comes to who should be able to own a pet. The most common answer, at 37%, is that pets should be affordable at the minimum wage – however, sizeable groups say that it should either be something even people on out of work benefits should be able to afford (28%), or rather that it is something that is only affordable at about the level of an average salary.

Labour voters are the most permissive on living standards

Taking an average across all 35 expenses, on average 37% of Britons believe that the expenses we asked about should be available to all. Most equitably minded are Labour voters, who have an average of 46%. This is in contrast to Conservative voters, of whom on average 29% believe the expenses we asked about should be available to all.

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