by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass
1) A JOB NO LONGER GUARANTEES INDEPENDENCE, CHOICE OR A ROUTE OUT OF POVERTY (AND EMPLOYMENT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO GET PAID)
Cameron’s motto following election was his vow to ‘make work pay’ – let’s see how he has done so far!
“For the first time, there are more people in working families living below the poverty line (6.7 million) than in workless and retired families in poverty combined (6.3 million), according to the 2013 annual survey of poverty trends from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.”
“An extra 250,000 people joined the ranks of the low-paid last year, bringing the total to a new high of 5.2m, according to a report from the Resolution Foundation.
The number of low-paid workers has become a serious problem, said the report, with almost one in four being stuck on that rate for the last five years.
Matthew Whittaker, chief economist for the Resolution Foundation, said that while low pay was likely to be better than no pay at all, being stuck on a low wage “creates not only immediate financial pressures, but can permanently affect people’s career prospects.”
“In the past two years, 93% of new people claiming housing benefit have been working.” Apr 2013
“The Office of National Statistics confirmed this in response to a parliamentary question.”
Hmmm, maybe that helps explain why there are already more people ‘in employment’ in the UK than ever before….
The success rate in the first year for A4E , a private welfare-to-work provider, amounted to 3.5%, below the government’s minimum levels of 5.5%.The government said they expected “that providers will significantly exceed these minimum levels.”
“Effectively, the department was saying that if firms failed to hit these targets, they would actually be making the situation worse than it would have been if they had done nothing.
“So the government wanted to see 5.5 per cent of 18-24-year-olds claiming jobseekers’ allowance in sustained work after the first year. They got 3.4 per cent.
“DWP also wanted long-term jobs for 5.5 per cent of over-25s on jobseekers’ allowance. The actual result was 3.4 per cent.
“And they wanted the same percentage for new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – the payment for some sick and disabled people that replaced incapacity benefit. Only 1.5 per cent of people from this group found sustained work.
“This last figure is especially poor and that is important, because getting people off ESA could be one of the keys to beating long-term unemployment.”
Claimant cases cited being forced to apply for jobs they were not qualified for or could not get under threat of sanction. We were paying for a company to force unemployed people on poverty benefits to write meaningless applications under threat. Who is benefitting here?
The situation has not got any better in the years since with statistics released in 2014 revealing that the Work Programme had seen a 3% success rate for the 1.5million people referred. Additionally, 5 times as many people were sanctioned as found work. Again, a result that is worse than doing nothing at all. Yet, the entire work programme is projected to cost the public purse between £3 – 5bn in the five years from 2011.
The Office For National Statistics revealed that over half of big companies used around 1.4 million zero hour contracts in 2014. While in some cases these are agreeable terms, over the last few years, the desperation of employees has been exploited through the use of zero hour contracts, which are presented as the only option by employers, leaving workers without holiday pay, sick pay and no promise of hours. They have also been used as management tool by companies.
“What we see actually, is that these contracts are being used to disempower the employee. So we’ve seen evidence of really bad management practice where someone is on a zero hour contract, their boss says ‘I want you to work Saturday.’ They might say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I can’t get childcare’ for example, or ‘I would simply rather not’, and they are zeroed down, which is effectively where they’re pushed to very few or no hours in the medium or longer term. So that’s in effect, using these contracts as a management tool, when that’s not what they’re intended for and that’s a great imbalance of power between the employer and the employee.”
This open letter by Steve Thomson serves as a heartbreaking example of what this type of contract can do to employees when abused:
I have dined in your establishments many times but I write to inform you that I will never do so again and nor will any of my friends or family.
The reason for this is that my stepson has the misfortune to work in your Thomas Sheraton bar in Stockton and I am now aware of the basis upon which you operate and profit.
He is “employed” on a zero hours basis and earns barely enough to feed himself. Not long after joining your establishment he got into trouble with his rent due to the extremely low wages and was evicted from his home. I blame the basis of his employment with you for this. He now lives 2 miles away from your bar and is obliged to walk this distance to and from work as he does not earn enough to afford public transport. Yesterday my wife was obliged to buy him new shoes as he had worn holes in his existing ones. I think it is appalling that you do not provide your kitchen staff with appropriate footwear. If you feel that this communication is becoming a stream of negative comments then I urge you to read on as I have more to say. This 4 mile round trip trudge is sometimes made to attend a one hour shift. Unbelievable, a day’s work of just ONE HOUR. Furthermore, if he attends expecting a longer shift this is sometimes not the case as he is sent home if trade is slack. He, your employee takes all the risk, you the employer take none. You’ll note that I do not mention his name. This is for fear of reprisals. Before you scoff, let me tell you this: When he first joined you, after two months of working every single weekend he politely enquired if he might have a weekend off. He was given the weekend off but worked no other hours either. A genuine ZERO hours. This was clearly a reprisal and he has never asked for the weekend off again.
The only way he can survive on such grindingly low wages is by getting benefits top ups. In order to do this he must provide pay slips which you do not provide. He is obliged to download them and print them himself and given that he will never be able to afford a computer and printer so long as he works for you, he must go to the library. I put it to you that it takes him more effort to work for you for a pittance than it does me to fulfill a full time job.
Clearly your business model requires that the public purse subsidise your employee’s wages. This to my mind makes your firm and others like you one of the benefit scroungers we hear so much about these days.
Removal of employment rights
And to add to all that, Cameron has taken it upon himself to remove employment rights during his term. There’s been his introduction of a tribunal fee for employees who want to take their employer to court, apparently to encourage settlements out of court. Yet, this only harms the already powerless employee, and it “has severely limited access to justice for workers, according to research from the Universities of Bristol and Strathclyde.”
Some declared Cameron’s actions as a ‘war’ on workplace rights as he backed proposals to make it easier to sack staff without explanation with a “fire at will” policy (NICE!), as well as changes to redundancy notice periods to a third of what they were, and cap compensations for unfair dismissals.
So Cameron has made the jobs market one stricken with misery, in work poverty, bad conditions and low employee rights (and sometimes no pay at all!) and now he wants as many of us to take part in it as possible. Great!
2) IF AUTOMATION IS NOT TAKING AWAY JOBS, YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT
“Checkouts are being replaced up and down the country, removing jobs from people who, in our current system, are then punished for not having a job. The takeover of technology is going to become more commonplace, and we need to move with it. Technological advances can, will and should free us from the tedious and mundane.
Yes, people’s attitudes to work may change, but the UK needs more flexibility as we are currently seeing one section of society work so much they are driven to poor health, and another section who cannot find work and are driven to poverty. John Ashton, a leading UK scientist commented on this last year:
“When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue. We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs”, Ashton said.”
Further, the New Economics Foundation say that we could all work a 21 hour work week and sustain ourselves to the standards we have now, with extra time for ourselves:
“A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”
“Germans work on average around 1413 hours a year – one of the lowest rates in the OECD, and much lower than the average 1776 in other EU countries. This averages out at just under 30 hours a week.
Despite this, Germans are still more productive per head, per hour compared to the UK who work much longer hours (an average of 43 per week).
Germans also have an average of 40 days holiday a year including bank holidays. This is much higher than the European average of 27, and accounts for an extra 2.5 weeks worth of time off.”
Anyone hear Cameron mention any of this? Working less, with more holidays? No? weird. Anyone would think he wants us to submit to an economy of low pay, bad working conditions, poverty and restricted employment rights just to keep us busy!
The UK also has the highest rates of work related illnesses in the EU. This is only getting worse in environments of low pay and falling working conditions.
We should be talking about initiatives like the Universal Basic Income, which guarantees all of us some basic subsistence to live. And it is very feasible:
“Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, backs the idea of the Universal Basic Income and has noted that around £7000 a year could be allocated to every UK citizen through the removal of the over-complicated benefits system and staff. The Citizens Income Trust estimate that £10,000 for everyone could be achieved through these measures and adjustments elsewhere.”
Some may decry the UBI as radical policy, but seeing 1 million people use a food bank when we have enough food, seeing homelessness rising when we have enough homes, and witnessing a wealth gap of such disparity that by next year the 1% could have more than the 99%, is surely far more so. Read our article on the Universal Basic Income to find out more.
3) THE PROBLEM IS NOT JOBS, IT’S WEALTH DISTRIBUTION AND INCOME
There are more people working than ever, but growing numbers of them are in poverty. The problem is pay, but Cameron’s jobs promises always seem to be divorced from mention of this.
Further, Cameron has actively taken part in a shift of money and power away from the poor to the rich. He and his government make choices everyday that say putting people into poverty, into hunger, into destitution is worth it, but cuts to corporate welfare are not even talking points:
“Benefits are what we grudgingly hand the poor; the rich are awarded tax breaks. Cut through the euphemisms and the Treasury accounting, however, and you’re left with two forms of welfare. Except that the hundreds given to people sleeping on the street has been deemed unaffordable. Those millions for $150bn Disney, on the other hand, that’s apparently money well spent –whoever coined the phrase “taking the Mickey” must have worked for HM Revenue.”
Cameron and Osborne went to the EU to defend bankers bonuses for the bankers. Iain Duncan Smith went to court to protect the identities of workfare providers.
Cameron’s ‘full employment’ will be nothing less than ‘full exploitation’. At a time when all of us could be working less and having more freedom, Cameron is promising us a world of full employment, in the jobs market he has helped design for our misery. He has worked to grant more power to the powerful, from the powerless. Another term will see this trend continue.