The Point
Last updated: 02 August 2019.

...red sky thinking for an open and diverse left

Visit our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter

 

Recent Articles

In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

Investigating the Value Form

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

Debunking The Tory 'Hard Work' Myth.

Regular Point contributor Robert Dewar deconstructs the Tory myth that 'hard work' is the way the working and non-working poor escape poverty. A myth that will now surely increase in stridency under Boris Johnson and his far right Tory Government.

 

 


IN BRITAIN, WORK OFTEN FAILS TO LIFT YOU OUT OF POVERTY


Of the late, unlamented head of the Department of Work and Pensions (which also sets policy for and administers social security benefits), Iain Duncan Smith, (that great Tory Persecutor-in-Chief), it was common practice in the Tory press to cry plaintively to his critics "You don't understand Iain Duncan Smith's moral mission!" In point of fact, his critics had quickly grasped the fact that I. D. Smith, like any Pharisee throughout history, liked to clothe his mistreatment of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable in the language of faux morality.

Between March 2017 to the end of April 2018 the Trussell Trust's food bank network observed a 13% increase in use over the previous year. (1) An increasing number of those who turn to food banks in order to eat are workers in work. (2) Tory commentators like to claim that the very existence of food banks "spurs demand", and that this accounts for their growth in numbers.

Rubbish.

Poverty, widening poverty, explains their growth in numbers.
The widening poverty that is an inescapable element of the triumphalist high capitalism the Tories promote; of an economic system that has terminated the last vestiges of "trickle down", and substituted in its place, "siphon up" :- where all wealth is ultimately siphoned up towards the already wealthy.

The Office for National Statistics said the richest fifth of the UK's population saw their incomes rise by 4.7% in 2018, while the average income of the poorest fifth shrunk by 1.6%. (3) More than a fifth of the UK population lives on incomes below the poverty line, after housing costs are taken into account. There is a sixfold difference between the income of the top 20% of households and those of the bottom 20%. (4) Nearly one in three children in Britain lives in poverty. (5)


Once jobs that do not pay a living, such as part time and temporary work, and zero hours contract work, are included, the number of people struggling to find genuine work (work that earns the worker a living) sees a huge rise over the official job-seekers' figures.


Between the years 2000 – 2017, the number of workers in Britain with zero hours work (hourly-paid work that does not guarantee a minimum number of hours) rose from 200 000 to 900 000. (6)


36% of workers in zero hours work are aged 16 – 24 years. Of workers older than 24 years, only just over 10% are working in zero hours jobs. (7)

Only 18.7% of people in zero hours work in Britain are in full time education. (8)
Therefore it cannot be argued that the figure for the number of workers in zero hours work represents primarily students and college-goers. 81.3% of zero hours workers are not in full time education. The growing number of zero hours jobs as a percentage of all jobs available particularly affects young people.

 

They are there because they can get no other work.

 

(The number of UK workers on zero hour contracts has more than tripled since 2012, accounting for almost a quarter of overall employment growth.) (9)

 

A poll by the TUC in December 2017 found that two thirds (66%) of British zero hours workers would prefer a job with a guaranteed number of hours to be worked. Only 25% of zero hours workers say they prefer being in zero hour contracts.
The main reason people in Britain are in zero hours work is because it is the only sort of work available for them, not because (as Tory employment propaganda would have it) they "like" working zero hour contracts.

 

In Britain only 12% of zero hours workers get sick pay.
Only 7% would get redundancy pay.
43% of zero hours workers get no holiday pay.
47% of zero hours workers say they do not get written terms and conditions.
51% of zero hours workers have had shifts cancelled at less than 24 hours notice.
73% of zero hours workers have been offered shifts at less than 24 hours notice.
59% of zero hours workers want to work more hours. (10)

 

As the number of workers on zero hours contracts rises, so the number of workers earning less than a living wage also rises. An increasing number of youngsters realise that the odds against them even landing a genuine full time job that merely pays a living, are slim.

The Tories, either trashing or ignoring the message of critics such as Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (and in less targeted and possibly more general terms, Pope Francis also, with his relentless criticism of contemporary super-capitalism), continue to address themselves to the so-called "aspirational class". The harsh truth is that an increasing number of people in Britain no longer "aspire" to anything but mere survival in the face of a corporatist system whose entire aim is to enrich the already wealthy by separating the many from the prospect of any notable material progress.

Under this system, the "free market" is all. The Tories hate the EU not for any love of country, but because they hope that such few regulations as still apply to an extremely de-regulated free market system will be gotten rid of once Britain quits the EU.

Under this system, everything - absolutely everything - including the National Health Service, every last public service, the last remaining assets held by the Commonweal, the unemployed (with corporations such as Maximus exploiting DWP contracts to "train" unemployed benefits claimants), the gambling addicts, and those in work who simply cannot make ends meet (this explains the huge growth in numbers of loan shark outfits, aka pay day lenders, advertising on TV since the Tories seized power in May 2010 with the help of the Liberal-Democrats. The pay day lending business was worth a little over £100 million in 2004; it was worth about £2.5 billion in 2013. Following new regulations, it shrunk after 2013 to £220 million in 2017. Even with the new regulations, that is more than twice its worth of 2004). (11)
Every last area of life in contemporary Britain, must be subjected to the free market, and made to turn a profit for the few.

Under the highly unregulated, and extremely predatory, free market economic system that the Tories promote, an increasing number of people are coming to realise that their own children will not know what it was like to grow up in a well-heated family home that was owned by their parents. The chances of a young adult on a middle income owning a home in the UK have more than halved in the last twenty years. Two decades ago, home ownership among 25 – 34 year olds earning between £22 200 - £30 600 a year stood at 65%. In 2016 it had fallen to just 27%. (12)

Paralleling the growth in numbers of zero hour contracts in Britain, there has been a marked decline in the proportion of young people who own their own home.

In 1981 just over 60% of 25 - 34 year olds owned their own home in Britain. In 2013/14 that figure had fallen to only just over 35%. (13)
Home rentals across the age range have risen in Britain. In 1980 2.5 million homes in Britain were rented from private landlords.
By 2014 over 5 million homes were being rented from private landlords. (14)

 

Youngsters however (the age group that struggles most in corporate Britain to find work that pays a living wage) are particularly affected.
The proportion of those aged 25 – 34 who lived in the private rented sector increased from 24% in 2005/6 to 46% in 2014/15. (15)

Private landlords are happy to exploit other age groups too. There are increasing numbers of older people in private tenancies. (16)

 

An increasing number of workers realise that they will not retire with a private pension - and they understand too that by the time they reach what is currently the official retirement age, the retirement age for them will still be many years away. (17)

The British state pension is the lowest of any OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. The British state pension, together with other benefits, is, as an average percentage of what the retiree had previously been earning, only 29%. This compares with an average of 63% in other OECD countries. (18)

"Aspirational"?

Simple survival is the theme of this era of Tory high capitalism.

But the Tory government currently in power in the UK (particularly in terms of the policies they set for social security eligibility and benefits) still make their pitch as if this were the age of never ending material advancement, an era of social mobility; as if these were still the decades of economic trickle-down. That time of plenty is past, as an artificially induced era of austerity is mercilessly imposed upon the country - except for those lucky enough to be born to wealthy families; those who sail through life cushioned from harsh material reality by trust funds; those who stand one day to inherit sizable estates from their parents.

Deservedly, the Tory party shows no signs of gaining the backing of the majority of voters in my own country (Scotland), for all that the Tories are crowing that they are now the official opposition in Scotland, having overtaken Labour. (That this is so, says more about the devastation of trust in Scottish Labour, than it does for any swing to the Tories in Scotland).

 

 

 

NOTES

1)  https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/

2)  https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-45956546

3)  https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47370739

4 - 5)  https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2018/sep/05/qa-how-unequal-is-britain-and-are-the-poor-getting-poorer

6 - 8)  https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/articles/contractsthatdonotguaranteeaminimumnumberofhours/april2018#what-are-the-characteristics-of-people-employed-on-zero-hours-contracts

9)  https://www.thehrdirector.com/business-news/employment/zero-hour-contracts-triple/

10)  https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/two-thirds-zero-hours-workers-want-jobs-guaranteed-hours-tuc-polling-reveals

11)  https://techround.co.uk/finance/payday-loans-industry-now-worth-220-million-2017/

12)  https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/feb/16/homeownership-among-young-adults-collapsed-institute-fiscal-studies

13 - 14)  https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/housing/articles/ukperspectives2016housingandhomeownershipintheuk/2016-05-25

15)  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/627686/Private_rented_sector_report_2015-16.pdf

16)  https://blog.shelter.org.uk/2018/07/grey-renting-the-rising-tide-of-older-private-tenants/

17)  https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/pensions/article-1679780/New-state-pension-age-retire.html

18)  https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/dec/05/oecd-uk-has-lowest-state-pension-of-any-developed-country

rabbiedeoir.com

 

 

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books