The announcement this week that the minimum wage would rise 25 cents to $13 an hour did not cause lowly paid workers to take to the streets in delight.

Quite the contrary.

The Council of Trade Unions said the Government had failed to comprehend the plight of low-income families and the Green Party called the rise miserly. Which it is.

But even the most apathetic of New Zealanders cannot have failed to realise this country is in a parlous state. Many small and medium-sized businesses are hanging in there by the skin of their teeth and raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour would send them over the edge.

It's true our minimum wage is a whole lot lower than Australia's but it's on a par with Britain's. And contrary to what some people would have us believe, lowly paid workers would not be better off on the dole.

One young skateboarding McDonald's worker was interviewed by a TV reporter and he said that living on the minimum wage was tough - and bemoaned the fact he only got $100 more than the dole. "I'd be better off on the dole," he said. Well, no, he wouldn't. One hundred dollars less than what you're getting now would make you worse off, not better. I hope he was flipping burgers, not working the tills.

The Prime Minister has pointed out that if you work a 40-hour week on the minimum wage, you'll get $440 after tax - far more than the $200 you'd be getting on the benefit. Of course, finding a job is a bit tricky at the moment, given the state of the economy, and once you start assessing the cost of being in a job, the minimum wage doesn't look so flash. Expenses like transport, child care, a work wardrobe and the tools of the trade all start to eat into wages, meaning that in some cases there probably are people who would be better off, in a purely financial sense, on a benefit.

Although I have always believed working and taking responsibility for yourself and your family is vitally important for your self-esteem, it's harder these days to feel a pride in working lowly paid jobs.

In the 70s, when I was growing up, there weren't the extremes between the highly paid and the lowly paid. Everybody had jobs and they were respected for the work they did, whether they were the principal of the school or the caretaker - or they were the governor of the Reserve Bank or the tea lady.

These days, it's almost like a personal failing to be working for the minimum wage. Everybody is supposed to be hell-bent on bettering themselves.

But people who take pride in their work, whatever it is, deserve to be respected and the best way of showing respect would be with a fair day's pay. How we achieve that is the real challenge for any government.