I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve been radicalised … by the Conservative Party. Allow me to explain.
There’s an increasingly right-wing faction gaining sway within the Conservative Party that believes that the Coalition is too left-wing and soft. It wants to take Thatcherism well beyond what Maggie did, and in a book shortly to be published called Britannia Unchained, the authors claim that the only way for Britain to compete in a global marketplace is to reduce the state to the bare bones and radically reduce employment rights, including abolishing the minimum wage. This group seem to have the ear of the odious George Osborne, and this week’s Tory conference included a lot of telling rhetoric about working harder and longer.
The basic ideas seem to be the following:
- Employees have “excessive protections”, and not being able to fire someone for not busting a gut continually is unreasonable and creating a nation of idlers.
- The claim is made that Britons work some of the lowest hours in the world, something I’ll examine later
- The minimum wage for under-21s (the lavish sum of between £3.68 and £4.98 per hour) should be abolished to get more young people into work
- The state should provide little more than a basic safety net
- ‘Raw capitalism’, unhindered by employment laws, a minimum wage and environmental responsibility is the only way forward.
Paul Mason, the BBC’s economic editor, sums up the proposals as:
‘The race to the bottom, to be like China, is on, and we’re all going to do it. So your wages will meet the Chinese somewhere, and so will your social conditions”
Given the sorts of noises coming from the Tory leadership, it seems that while the Coalition is too fragile to go anywhere near as far as Dominic Raab and others would like to go, some of this mindset is finding its way into the mainstream. I, for one, think that Cameron and company are already living in a bubble and implementing policies that will be massively detrimental to some of the most vulnerable people in society. This ‘revolution’ is plain frightening, and I can’t be the only one who sees a society with no job security, slavish hours and social breakdown as a disaster, not an aspiration.
Let’s examine both some of the proposals from the conference and the claims of Raab and co:
- Scraping housing benefit for under 25s is one of the stupidest things I’ve heard in years. The argument made is that many people are living at home well into their 30s while they struggle to get together the deposit for their own home, so why should others be supported in being independent by the state? Well, for starters, for many young people, moving back in with mum and dad is simply not an option: no room/overcrowding, abusive families, drug and alcohol issues (on both sides), poverty, no mum and dad. Moreover, even if one could go back to a safe and happy home, not everyone lives in an area with good job prospects, particularly in areas like the North East. I’d love to get on the housing ladder, but do not believe this should be at the expense of creating misery and making it harder for young people to study (especially those going back to college), escape abuse and be safe. Shelter argue that this policy will put young people in danger or trap them. It’s ideology-driven madness.
- Slashing benefits, and making them rise slower than inflation: I grew up on a deprived council estate with around 2/3 of people being without work when I was around fifteen. I did meet some who didn’t want to work and knew how to play the system. However, I also met a great deal more people who were unable to find a job despite filling out endless applications and were despairing, people trying to study or retrain but facing obstacles from the same benefit system that made it financially harmful to go into low-paid work (which means a better minimum wage, not greater poverty on benefits), and people whose life circumstances, such as disability, caring responsibilities, lack of decent childcare and so on made it impossible. To suggest that the majority of benefit claimants want to scrape by on next to nothing is absurd and simply untrue. Moreover, when there are no jobs around, what exactly are people supposed to do??? Existing on benefits should not be made even harder – for the vast majority, it’s not a choice and they are not scroungers!
- Disabled people should be ‘encouraged’ back to work: Ruth Anim’s story is just one example of flawed assessments for disability benefit by private firm ATOS. Around a third of those turned down for benefits as a result of said assessments have had the decision overturned on appeal, and tragically, many have died after being declared fit to work. If someone wants to work and can do so given the conditions they live with, that should be supported and encouraged. However, forcing vulnerable people onto the Work Programme to save money is cruel. Moreover, mental health issues are often poorly understood, and along with the impact of various physical problems, ATOS assessors are not qualified to make these judgments. All the government has succeeded in doing is increasing hate crime and causing a great deal of distress. Enough is enough!
- Employment rights can be traded for shares, and small firms should be subject to looser laws: In my not-so-humble opinion, trying to entice people into surrendering their rights, especially in relation to redundancy, is profoundly wrong. Increasing insecurity does not lead to greater productivity, but instead a dog-eat-dog environment in which teamwork suffers and stress-related illness increases. Ask anyone who has been in an organisation making selective compulsory redundancies. Moreover, as with exemptions to the European Working Time Directive, how long before signing away one’s rights becomes a condition of employment? Stress has already become the main reason for taking long-term sick leave. This will only cause more problems, and allow exploitive employers to demand unpaid overtime with impunity. What happened to work/life balance?
- Britons work some of the shortest hours in the world. Such a view ignores some key statistics. For starters, according to the latest English Business Survey, 23% of businesses fear their employees are overstretched, compared to 9% who feel they are under-utilised. That doesn’t suggest laziness. The heart of the matter, though, is the balance of full- and part-time work. According to the Office for National Statistics, “The fall in average hours worked in the UK can in part be explained by the increase in the proportion of the UK workforce employed in part-time jobs, from 24 per cent in 1992 to around 27 per cent in 2011”, and partly because of the shift from manufacturing towards the service sector. Additionally, “Full-time workers in the UK work longer hours than the EU average”. However, my dear Tories, there’s no need to let facts get in the way of policies that benefit the wealthy, is there?
To finish my rant, here’s a pretty picture to illustrate the above. Note that the Greeks work the longest hours in Europe – fat lot of good that did them!