Over ten million people in Britain are now stuck in what is deemed to be precarious work: in the gig economy; on zero-hour contracts; and in temporary employment, under-employment, or bogus self-employment. As Steve Jones reports, a vast section of the UK workforce is now living on the poverty line.
Over ten million people in Britain are now stuck in what is deemed to be precarious work - that is anyone employed in the gig economy or on zero-hours contracts, temporary or under-employment and those on bogus self-employment.
According to data prepared by the GMB union, the situation for many workers is now far worse than had been expected. Anyone wondering why so many young people and low-paid workers turned against the Tories and their rotten system at the June election need look no further than this.
The GMB survey asked a thousand workers about their current situation and discovered that,
“61% had suffered stress or anxiety as a result of their current job, 61% said they have been to work while unwell for fear of not being paid, losing their job or missing out on future hours, 35% would struggle to cope with an unexpected bill for £500, such as a car needing repairs or washing machine needing to be replaced, 69% say their cost of living is rising faster than their earnings and 78% previously had permanent employment, highlighting the changing nature of the workplace.”
As GMB General Secretary Tim Roache put it in presenting the report:
This paints a shocking picture of the modern world of work.Up to ten million people go to work either not knowing what their hours are, if they’ll be able to pay the bills, or what their long-term prospects are.”
Citizens Advice had already warned just last year that around one-sixth of all those in work were now trapped in insecure employment and that many families were struggling to make ends meet as a result. The insurers Legal and General have carried out a poll which confirms that most workers have only one month’s worth of savings available should their income stop. A quarter of those polled said that they had no savings at all to call on if needed.
What we are seeing here is a picture of a vast section of the UK workforce now living day to day, often in desperate circumstances. The rising use of foodbanks even by those in some sort of job but unable to get by from week to week is just one indication of the growing crisis. The minimum wage levels are increasingly becoming the norm for many workers as bosses use it as a guideline to see how little they can get away with paying their workers. Large numbers are still not even getting that legal level.
One thing is clear: the bosses are pushing hard to squeeze every penny they can out of the working class to boost their profits. The latest figures showing the decline in the performance of the UK economy, even compared to the rest of Europe, will simply boost the desire of capitalism to look for new ways to cut corners hence the lure of such scams as zero-hours contracts and so on. It’s their crisis - but we have to pay for it!
Many of those now in precarious employment are not in unions or organised. Yet the recent fight of the Deliveroo bikers for example shows that if given a lead they can and will be militant in standing up for better pay and conditions. The power of the union movement is the only force that can break this cycle of poverty by taking the bosses on.
The battle must be based around demands to end zero-hour contracts; no to fake self-employment that leaves workers taking all the risks; no to under-employment that does not provide a living wage; yes to union recognition and organisation. This fight must above all be built around the call for a real living wage and a job for all, with decent working hours and conditions not the poverty pay which marks the working life in Tory Britain today.
Such a struggle inevitably must raise the key issue of who runs and owns society and the alternative to the current system. The dismal fate now being endured by ten million workers (and rising) shows that capitalism has failed and that socialism represents the only real way out of this nightmare.