What I learned in my chugging days

The public disapproves of charity bosses earning high salaries, because the market value of labour has become completely detached from its social value


When it comes to justifying your earnings, I suspect the charity sector – currently under fire for paying executive salaries exceeding £100,000 a year – has more experience than most. Back in my chugging days (aka "charity mugging", aka "street fundraising"), there was a section of the training specifically devoted to developing clever comebacks for one particularly deadly question: "Are you getting paid to do this?"

Indeed, we were. About £9 an hour, or £17,500 a year. Clearly this isn't enough to get the chief exec of the British Red Cross out of bed in the morning (he's reportedly on £184,000), but in 2004 it was still considered inappropriately generous by some. It was also nearly twice what I'd previously made waitressing. I soon worked out why.

They weren't paying me for my altruistic spirit, or my deep understanding of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa (I had neither). They weren't even paying me to stand in the rain for hours trying to get the attention of hostile shoppers. You earn your chugging wage by overcoming a cultural aversion to asking strangers for money, cheerfully absorbing industrial quantities of disdain and then coming back for more. It worked out at roughly £4.32 per "fuck off".

Why do some kinds of labour earn a higher salary than others? Charity executives defended their pay packets last week with an appeal to the economics of supply and demand. There aren't many with the requisite experience, skills and motivation to successfully manage a global organisation the size of Oxfam or Save the Children, so those that can, command a higher wage. Yet, as the Charity Commission has pointed out, despite comparable levels of responsibility to their private sector equivalents, in deference to the public mood, their salaries are still much lower. Clearly, the mystery of fair remuneration isn't resolved by simple economics.

Should you be paid according to how hard you work? How boring your job is? The risks to your personal safety involved? And how far do salaries depend on gender? Or whether we graduated from a university in Mumbai or a former poly in Manchester? Should the ultimate deciding factor always be how much wealth we generate, regardless of where that wealth ends up?

If the public disapproves of charity bosses earning high salaries and chuggers earning anything at all, it's not only because we worry donations to starving children are instead funding someone else's kitchen extension. It's also because the market value of labour is completely detached from its social value. Where there is a connection, it's usually an inverse one. A good deed is only a good deed if it is done without hope of financial reward. The illogical extension of this is an expectation that work like caring for the old and sick, educating children and tackling the consequences of poverty be done for comparatively low pay or no pay at all.

In my fair-pay utopia there would be pension packages for service industry professionals that take into account muscle strain from years of fake smiling. There would also be a David Brent Weighting to incentivise workers who have to put up with a particularly loathsome manager. One like Terry Dunn, who signed off an email about staff redundancies at Wigan council with an account of his upcoming holiday.

However, in lieu of a master formula that encompasses all such variables across all industries, we could settle instead for transparency on pay ratios. Monitoring the difference between the lowest paid and the highest paid in any organisation is a much more meaningful way to root out unfair pay practices than publicising salary figures without context.

According to the High Pay Centre, in the decade since I hung up my chugging tabard for good, the pay of a chief executive in a UK FTSE 100 company has risen from about 40 times the average worker salary to 185 times. How could the labour of any individual, however competent, be 185 times more valuable than the labour of another?

Presumably there is an answer to that question, it's just that it's a bit above my pay grade.

Daft move, punks

In the arse-licky world of celebrity booking, it's not the done thing to call artists out on their bad manners. You just leave the rider at dressing room door and mumble something obsequious as you back away. So when the French synthpop duo Daft Punk ditched an appearance on The Colbert Report at the last minute, to hang out with their fancy friends at the MTV Video Music Awards, they may reasonably have expected to be protected by this code of silence. What they didn't count on was a snubbed host with a secret weapon.

Liberated by his fuddy-duddy conservative persona, Stephen Colbert is under no obligation to suck up to the cool kids. In place of Daft Punk's performance, he issued the band, MTV and their shared parent company Viacom with a very public dressing down, before embarking on what's best described as a dad-dance odyssey to Daft Punk's hit "Get Lucky".

Remember kids, all the number one records, supermodel girlfriends and Gallic sang-froid in the world count for nothing if you forget the true essence of cutting edge cool: always turn up for your appointments on time.

How to win post-racial friends

Some of my very dearest friends are revolting racist bigots, so you can be assured I speak without prejudice when I say that boasting of a relationship with an ethnic minority doesn't automatically render you incapable of racism. Last week, the Ukip MEP Godfrey "Bongo Bongo Land" Bloom gave us an exquisitely obtuse spin on this nonsense defence when he presented his two Kashmiri staff as conclusive evidence that he couldn't possibly be racist.

Well that's all right for Godfrey, then. But what of those nine out of 10 Britons who, as revealed by a survey this week, don't have a best friend from a different ethnic background? If this is you, don't panic. For a start, a doubling in the number of mixed race people suggests that integration is happening, even if it isn't apparent according to this narrow measurement. You could also always try not dismissing entire continents of people with a lazy colonial stereotype. This is not the ultimate post-racial panacea, but it is a step in the right direction.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Builders have been taking on apprentices and even turning to sources such as army veterans for workers  

The march of the apprentices

Chris Blackhurst
Mukesh Singh, who appears in the film, was sentenced to death for his part in the 2012 rape  

The depressing similarity between the Delhi rapist Mukesh Singh and Oxford's Police

Sophia Cannon
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot