absentee, bank, benefit, bonus, company, cost of living, cynic, demoralise, economic, Economic and Social Research, economy, employee, employer, exploit, financial crisis, financial sector, George Osborne, government, growth, illness, in-work, living, Marcus Brigstocke, Mike Sivier, mikesivier, minimum, morale, National Institute, NIESR, politics, productivity, ruthless, sabot, sabotage, social security, staff, stress, The Now Show, turnover, Vox Political, wage, wages, welfare, work, zero hours contract
What a rare and pleasant thing we’ve enjoyed for the last few days – a Bank Holiday weekend with good weather! And isn’t it a shame that this means most of you will have been out, and therefore missed Marcus Brigstocke’s turn on The Now Show.
Here’s a guy who knows how to take the government apart; it seemed as though he’d been reading Vox Political for the last few months because he touched on some of our favourite subjects:
1. The economy
He led with the 0.8 per cent increase in economic growth, mocking the government’s celebratory tone with impressions of how ordinary people took the news, up and down the country (some of the accents were beyond belief).
“Well done, George Osborne,” said Marcus, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “You have proved your theory right, using the Grand Theft Auto model. You have successfully shown that the poor really are like video game prostitutes – if you kick them hard enough, eventually money will come flying out of them.”
Doesn’t this fit nicely with what this blog has been saying about the economy being dependent entirely on the movement of poor people’s money? Those with less spend all – or almost all – of their income and it is this money, being pushed around the system, that boosts profits and keeps Britain going.
He continued: “I know that the state of the economy matters but for the vast majority of people it is as mysterious and cryptic as the shipping forecast… What makes a difference to people is not zero-point-eight-per-cent growth; it’s actual wages and the cost of living.
“The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) showed this week that the average worker is £2,000 worse-off since the financial crisis hit,” another common theme here on VP, except in fact it’s £2K per year worse-off. Let’s do a quick shout-out to Jonathan Portes, NIESR’s director, whose Tweets are well worth a read: @jdportes
“I say, ‘hit’. That makes it sound like the crisis swerved towards us. The reality is, the average worker is £2,000 worse-off since the financial sector arrogantly, and with galactic, hubristic stupidity, drove the economy off a cliff, yelling, ‘Does this mean I still get my bonus?’ Of course you’ll still get your bonus. Otherwise you’d leave the country and [chuckling] nobody wants that.” [Laughter from the audience – we’re all in on that joke.]
“More people are in work now; good. But why do employers talk like they deserve a sainthood when they have people working for them? Your company does a thing; you need workers to facilitate the doing of that thing. The workers work, and the thing is done – am I missing something here? Do you feel you need a medal?”
2a. Zero-hours contracts
“One-point-four million British workers are having to scrape a living together from cynical, ruthless, exploitative employers using zero-hours contracts. Value your employees – they are not battery workers; they are people… One in five UK workers earns less than the Living Wage.”
At this point the narrative switches to a spoof advert: “At GreatBigFacelessBastardCorp we care so little about what we do, we pay our workers the minimum wage allowed under the law! That way we can pass on their listlessness and overwhelming sense of defeated apathy to you, the customer! GreatBigFacelessBastardCorp – crushing dreams so you don’t have to!”
This relates to an argument that Vox Political has been having with Tory-supporting businesspeople for years, going back to the earliest days of the blog. Back in January 2012, I wrote False economies that leave the business books unbalanced in which I stated:
It seems to me that many employees are finding life extremely difficult now, because the amount they are paid does not cover all their outgoings and they are having to work out what they can do without. The cost of living has risen more sharply than their pay, so they are out of pocket.
This creates stress, which can create illness, which could take them out of work and turn them into a liability to the economy – as they would then be claiming benefits.
That’s bad – not only for the country but also for their company, because demoralised employees produce poor work and the company’s turnover will decrease; having to bring in and train up new workers to replace those who are leaving through ill health is time-consuming and unproductive.
Therefore, in taking the money for themselves, rather than sharing it with employees, bosses are clearly harming their own companies and the economy.
In fact, it seems to me that this is a microcosm of the larger, national economy. In order to keep more money, bosses (and the government) pay less (in the government’s case, to pay off the national deficit). This means less work gets done, and is of poorer quality (in both cases). So orders fall off and firms have to make more cutbacks (or, revenue decreases so the government makes more cutbacks in order to keep up its debt payments).
[This seems to have been borne out by subsequent events. More people are employed than ever before, according to the government, yet GDP has improved by only a fraction of one per cent in the last quarter. By rights, it should be about 20 percentage points higher than the pre-crisis peak by now, according to some analysts.]
The message to bosses – and the government – is clear: Cutting back investment in people to keep money for yourselves will cripple your earning ability. Cutting even more to make up for what you lose will put you into a death spiral. You are trying to dig your way out of your own graves.
But there is an alternative.
A reasonable pay increase to employees would ensure they can pay their bills, and would also keep them happy.
Happy workers produce better results.
Better results keep businesses afloat and earn extra work for them.
That in turn creates more revenue, making it possible for bosses not only to increase their own pay but employ more people as well.
Wouldn’t that be better for everybody?
Well, wouldn’t it?
3. Welfare lies
“Young workers are amongst the hardest-hit by the downturn, with pay falling by 14 per cent between 2008 and 2013. Well done, everybody! We pay far more from the welfare budget supporting incomes for people in work than we do for those out of a job.
“The government keep on crowing about the number of people they have in work … most of them are not so much in work as near some work, if only they were allowed to do any.
“If you’re on the minimum wage, kept on a zero-hours contract between 7am and 7pm so you can’t work for anyone else but rack up a grand total of – ooh! – just enough hours so your employer doesn’t have to pay your National Insurance [another VP theme], you get no training, no employee benefits, no hope of any promotion and you hear ‘IDS’ banging on about how he’s ‘the saviour of benefits street’, well, if you can still afford a shoe then please throw it at the radio or through the telly or at his actual face.” This is a reference to sabotage, in which workers threw their crude shoes – or ‘sabots’ into machinery to stop it working, in protest against their working conditions and developments that were endangering their jobs.
“Low pay means higher staff turnover, high absenteeism, poor morale and lower productivity.” That’s exactly as I stated in the VP article from 2012.
4. In conclusion
“I don’t know when money started making money faster than people but… It’s not helping,” said Marcus, truthfully. “So instead of running about with your shirt over your head doing ‘airplane arms’, shouting ‘Nought-point-eight-per-cent’… do something to get the people who actually work to be rewarded, recognised and remunerated for what they do.
“It’s not rocket science and, frankly, if it is, I sincerely hope they’re not on minimum wage.”
When I heard that piece, I very nearly stood up to applaud. If you want to hear it yourself (and I’ve left out enough of it to make it worthwhile, I promise you), it’s available for download here, and starts around eight and a half minutes in.
Actually, it would be better if Marcus hasn’t been reading this blog, because then he would have drawn the same conclusions, from the same evidence, thereby reinforcing my own reasoning.
Now, let’s have your opinions, please. I’ll be very interested to hear from supporters of the current “pay-’em-the-bare-minimum” policy as they almost invariably say things like “We can’t pay them any more” – it’s never “They have good reasons that mean they can’t pay us more”.
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