Could you live decently on £14,400 a year?

Image caption Even those living above the poverty line are struggling with the cost of living

A salary of £14,400 is the minimum a single person needs for an acceptable standard of living, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

That includes not only basics like food and housing, but also the essentials needed to "participate fully in society", the charity says.

That means spending on mobile phones, internet access and socialising is included.

It puts earners above the official government poverty threshold and is also significantly higher than the amount you would expect to earn on the minimum wage (£5.80 an hour).

But is £14,400 really enough to meet our everyday needs?

"My annual salary is exactly £14,400," says Carl Leishman, a 28-year-old call centre worker from County Durham, "and I find it an incredible struggle."

After tax, Mr Leishman takes home just under £1,000 a month - barely enough, he says, to cover his costs.

"My rental costs are £400 per month, council tax is £120, household bills are £150, and food is £150," he says.

Cutting costs

"Now factor in that I haven't included the loan I have for my car, my car insurance, my car tax, fuel or socialising costs and you get the picture of exactly how far the £180 I supposedly have left each month will get me."

In the JRF research, owning a car was not viewed as essential, meaning that motoring costs were not included in its figures.

But Mr Leishman says that for many people, having access to car is not a luxury.

"Not running a car really isn't an option for me. Travelling to work by public transport would be more expensive and would turn a 12-hour shift into at least a 14-hour day," he says.

"But even without car costs, it would still be a struggle.

"I'm constantly looking at how to cut my costs. Moving back to live with my parents is something I'm having to seriously consider."

Mr Leishman is not alone. Government figures suggest that about 30% of workers in the UK are paid less than £14,820, subjecting them to similar financial pressures.

Austerity fears

The short-term prospects for the economy suggest that this picture will not improve any time soon, while the government's austerity measures will see the incomes of even the lowest-paid cut by at least 0.5%, according to June's emergency Budget forecast.

But despite the recession and the "age of austerity" still to come, the JRF research still shows that people retain their pre-recession expectations for their quality of life.

Image caption Home internet access is now seen as essential

"Members of the public involved in the research have not reduced what they consider necessities," the report points out.

"They still believe that, as a minimum, people need not just physical essentials... but also things that allow them to participate in society."

Spending on birthdays and Christmas are not seen as optional, while a week's holiday, even if in the UK, is the minimum expected.

That suggests the public might not be as happy about reducing their standard of living as the government might have hoped.

"I don't think the public are at all prepared for what is to come," admits David Furness of the Social Market Foundation, an independent think tank.

"The public still seems to think we can make the necessary cuts through improving the efficiency of our public services.

"But the reality is, the standard of public services will drop - and living standards could drop as a result, too."

"If we're going to rebalance the economy, we can expect some very big shocks."

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