The Low Pay Economy

Tuesday 23rd August

Just watched an interesting programme, ostensibly trying to find Britain’s Hardest Worker.  At first sight a stupid idea, how can you possibly compare different jobs and skill-sets, but it brought home to me just what a rotten society we have.  While many people have ‘easy’ jobs, maybe working in smart offices, or for decent employers – there are others, and a growing number of others, who are on the National Minimum Wage (if they are lucky – there are many employers who do not even pay this).  And one of the unintended consequences of a good idea; ensuring that everyone receives a guaranteed minimum wage, ends up being, for oh so many, the Maximum Wage they will ever earn too.  And they are slipping down society’s ladder quickly, rents are rising far faster than inflation as house prices rise and only ‘buy to rent’ landlords can afford to buy, and thanks to ‘right to buy’ there are precious few Council houses left.

The possibly surprising fact though, is that the lower paid actually work far harder than their higher paid managers or bosses.  Everyone thinks they work hard; I certainly did at the end of my working life, but until you have had the dubious pleasure of doing so-called ‘unskilled labour’ on the Minimum Wage, you really have no idea what hard work is.  And the irony doesn’t end there.  Poor in work and you will undoubtedly be poor in your old-age; many people well into their late sixties and seventies even, have to work to supplement non-existent or very low pensions.

Government after government have exhorted the workforce to be flexible.  That is shorthand for accepting low pay, zero hour contracts, job insecurity, bullying at work and a miserable pay packet at the end of the week.  We are in a Global Market Place, the Capitalists tell us, and so we must compete to work for less and less, or the Chinese or Filipinos will take the jobs.  And many of these low-paid are indeed immigrants, often sleeping three or more to a room to save money.  The right-wing press blames these workers for depressing the wages of the English workers, but it is the fault of Employers who are setting more and more people on the Minimum Wage (which of course may be higher than the wages back in their own country).

We now have a huge low-pay economy, driven by profit and Global Corporations who incidentally have no problem with paying millions to CEOs and Senior Management but squeeze workers at the bottom, deducting pay for lunch and coffee breaks and who have no guarantee even of hours per week.  How have we come to this pass?  Ask the Politicians who have chased GDP and sucked up to Big Business, believing in the trickle down nonsense peddled by Free Market Preachers.  Will things change?  I doubt it.  More and more jobs are being mechanised, and the competition for jobs will simply increase and Governments will continue to try to squeeze people off Benefits and into ‘work’.  Welcome to modern Britain.