Wednesday, 23 March 2016

You're not paid enough (probably)

In this country (and many others), it is widely accepted that we should all work longer hours than we're paid to. I'm not sure where it came from, maybe it's always been around but I know that employers now more than ever take advantage of their workers' commitment or, in some cases, fear.

Most people in full-time employment are contracted to work between 35 and 40 hours but most people I know do more work than that in one way or another and I've done it myself in the past. For example: a friend of mine says he works 50 hours a week. Let's say he's paid for 40: that's 25% extra free he's giving his employers. If another three of his colleagues do the same, that's a whole free member of staff their employers aren't paying for. A whole person not being employed. Extrapolate that out across the working population and that's........a shitload of jobs that should be created but for people working longer hours than they should.

Why do we* do it? Are we so grateful to our employers for using us to make themselves more money? Do we feel a sense of duty to burn ourselves out for the good of the corporation? Or has the idea of the hard-working, striving, successful person become so ingrained in our society that we would feel like we don't deserve a job if we only worked the hours we were paid for?

And then there's 'acting up'. How many of us do work above our paygrade? And how many of us feel that 20 years ago and even 10 years ago (in my case, even 5 years ago), our jobs would have been valued at a higher salary? These days the salary gap between the bottom and the top and even the middle and the top is absurd. The people at the top reward themselves for making everyone below them work harder for less.

Another concern was highlighted by a conversation I had with a junior colleague just this week: she felt that more senior staff could be expected to work more hours. I disagreed: the higher salary is a reward for experience and an acknowledgement of the higher level of responsibility you have. It's not a bonus for doing more hours - yet I know that most people do make that assumption too and I have myself in the past.

We are all in a difficult position. For every worker there is someone unemployed or in a more junior position waiting for their chance. But the fact is that there would be less unemployment if workers refused to do more than they were paid to do. Unemployment and a lack of career progression for many seems to be a good way to make us all work harder: those who want to take the first or next step on their career ladder will work hard to prove themselves and those in their way will work hard to keep their jobs. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but some people would suggest that full employment would not be in the interest of those wealthy people and large corporations that our government serves.

I work very hard: I'm actually doing what is effectively two full-time jobs (if you don't believe me, I have concrete evidence of this fact!) but I, for one, refuse to do more hours than I am paid to. If something cannot be done, then it does not get done. And perhaps eventually my employers will realise this and employ an additional person.

*I don't do it any more. I used to and it didn't stop me being made redundant when my employers were bought out by a larger company who simply wanted their clients. I did it again when I had a whole new different career to get a foot-hold in and continued to do so until I felt I had proven myself. I was then in the situation where I was about to start a new role and had a baby on the way, so I started that new position as I intended to continue: doing my 35 hours and nothing more (unless absolutely necessary and then only the very minimum extra). I wanted to be there for my son and my wife. I don't want to miss important milestones. I don't want to miss his bathtimes and bedtimes or playing new games because I'm on a train back from London or I'm in another room buried in spreadsheets or something. I work to live, not the other way around.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A gentle reminder about our economic woes

We are currently experiencing the longest period of economic stagnation since long before a Tory ever displayed the human trait known to many as compassion.

Thank heaven the brilliant Gideon Osborne has seen us through these tough times. His ingenious austerity measures have made poor people poorer and disabled people destitute, hassled the terminally ill and harassed the mentally ill, and have made the richest in the country much richer, so let's celebrate that. It's odd that he's given a really easy ride by the media because his policies have massively failed: if they had worked, he wouldn't be needing to announce yet more cuts like a disorientated miner digging deeper in an attempt to reach the surface.

But let's remind ourselves why we are in this position in the first place.

The Labour government inherited what the Tories like to call a structural deficit when they came to power in 1997. By the end of 2006, after a little boom in the early 00s, the deficit was back to a similar position, albeit slightly better than the last Tory chancellor had left. At this time the Tories agreed that it was a good position to be in and pledged to match or possibly even increase Labour's spending if they came to power in 2010. Then came the 'credit crunch', as warnings spread of an impending global economic crisis. This gave everyone the jitters and as lending, borrowing and spending stuttered, the economy slowed, meaning that 2007 saw a bit of an increase in the deficit.

Then the crash happened. Huge banks and other financial organisations started hopping frantically from foot to foot like a four-year old who didn't need the toilet half an hour ago. They urgently needed a huge helping hand from the public purse or everyone's money that only existed as the promise of some numbers on a computer screen anyway would end up vanishing into a black hole they'd only just discovered and couldn't have predicted and wasn't their fault whatsoever. Massive bailouts to the tune of around £1 trillion ensued over the next couple of years, creating a budget deficit almost as big as David Cameron's dark blue polo shirt mountain.

This deficit was unheard of, apparently, although most people had forgotten that the second world war left a much worse one which was dealt with by investing in things the country needs to be a nice, modern, productive place people could live healthily and work and spend money in. But never mind that. This terrible situation allowed the Tories to decide that spending money on schools, hospitals, helping people in dire circumstances to live a vaguely dignified sufferance etc was, after all that talk of matching Labour's spending, completely laughable and the opposite of what was needed. This despite being in a great position financially to borrow and invest what with having rock bottom interest rates.

So they started taking money off the disabled, the unemployed, the mentally ill, councils - especially those in poor areas (some have now had their budgets cut by around 60%) - children, pensioners (well, just women and public sector workers) and selling off everything they could think of including the Royal Mail, definitely not the NHS at all, forests and other green spaces, schools, justice (yes, like courts and stuff), prisons and even some police services. And that's just the things they've thought of so far. Just wait til they find out that MPs salaries are paid out of our taxes too. Oh no, hang on, they increased those by 11%. At least we can be safe in the knowledge that most of these things were gobbled up by ghostly island-based ethereal conglomerates and respectable companies like Serco and G4S.

Again, it is a bit surprising that the media just goes along with this. It's taken as read that we can't afford for everyone to exist and that all of this is necessary. People have either forgotten or don't believe that this is private debt, created by greed and dire lack of regulation. The Tories LOVE the City of London. If you believe what they say (and why wouldn't you?) it's the biggest and most important financial hub in the world and we need to protect it like a nursery for supremely gifted, yet horribly vulnerable corporate babies. If the City is as awesome as the government and the media would have you believe, then they are mostly responsible for the global recession and they led us into it, knowing that we would bail them out.

The last three governments (yes, one of them was with the Lib Dems - remember them?!) have made this private debt public and the Tories have taught us we don't deserve to be treated with dignity because of the mess Labour made of the economy. It's probably not relevant that the Tories are bankrolled by the City and that's where most of their friends work and where most of them will end up with cushy jobs once they leave politics. That probably isn't connected in any way.

Oh, and one last thing: we also need to consider the national debt as well as the deficit. It's only with those two things that we get the full picture. According to the Office for National Statistics, when Cameron and Osborne took over our economy in 2010, the national debt was £960 billion and now stands at over £1.5 trillion. That's an increase of more than 50%.

And the public elected the Tories in 2015 because they trusted them with the economy.