Everyone should pay more - except me

When it comes to public spending, it's not surprising that everyone wants the burden of paying for it to fall on somebody else.

A fascinating little row has kicked off in the blogosphere between right wing commentator Guido Fawkes and freelance journalist, activist and feminist writer Laurie Penny.

Penny is advertising for a researcher to be paid £500 for "about 85 hours work". Fawkes accuses her of "flouting minimum wage legislation", on the basis that this comes to £5.88 an hour rather than the £5.93 an hour that constitutes the UK's minimum wage. Penny says that isn't so, which is why she put the word 'about' in. It all turns into a humdinger pretty quickly (check out the Twitter insults).

So what makes it fascinating, apart from as case study of how very nasty people are to each other on the internet? The fact that the exchange highlights the extent to which everyone wants the burden of paying for everything to fall on other people.

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Most people think they are taxed enough but other people should be taxed more. The middle classes think the 'rich' should pay more. The rich think that, as they are pretty much the only net tax payers left in the country, they should be left alone and benefits should be cut. They also think that if they are going to be investigated for tax evasion then so should every painter and decorator in the country. MPs think that benefit fraudsters should go to gaol, but white-collar fraudsters (them for example) should be allowed to carry on as before.

Penny says she is all for not just the minimum wage as it now stands, but for the 'living wage' (£7.85 an hour). But she doesn't think she is the one who should have to pay it. She is "not a huge corporation, but a 24-year old with a salary not much above minimum wage" herself. So she thinks she can't afford it.

But if that's true of her, what of all the others who can't afford it? There is the public sector - which is £1trn in debt. The taxpayer can't really afford for the public sector to pay anyone at all, let alone pay them £7 plus an hour. Then there is every cash-strapped start-up in the land, and every struggling small company. Ask their managers and they'll tell you they can't afford the living wage or the minimum wage either. In fact come to that they can't afford maternity leave, health and safety, or the costs of managing equality legislation either.

This of course is why so many of those on the right argue that so much of our legislation shouldn't apply to small companies or one-man bands. So there we have it - something on which, for once, representatives of both the left and the right appear to agree. Perhaps Fawkes and Penny should stop trading insults and join to get a petition together.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.