A good editorial in the Guardian, spelling out what anyone who’s ever looked at the issue critically knows: The ‘Underclass’ in Britain was not created by a group of lazy, feckless poor, but rather by low paid, insecure jobs.
Six months ago I worked the night shift at a local factory, and, with little to do on the night shift, ended up chatting with the staff there. Family was their most important issue, and listening to the men and women, who’d been lucky enough to have these decently paid, reasonably secure jobs for most of their lives talk about their children was very enlightening.
One thing in particular became immediately clear: Their kids were better educated, equipped with more skills and more motivated to find work than they themselves had been at their ages. But, rather than finding the sort of jobs their parents had, they were instead floating between temporary, low paid work, the dole and cash-in-hand self-employment. (Much as I had.)
It was an astonishing thing for their parents, and something they seemed to take solace in, that their own children were not alone. There were one or two success stories, of the lad or, more often, lass, who’d gotten an office job, or work in retail/sales. It wasn’t as high paying – min wage – but there was at least a degree of security, a chance for promotion etc…
For the rest though, it was a story of odd job after odd job. Bar work, post office Christmas staff, temporary warehouse job. All low paid, none with a degree of security behind them. And these were the lucky ones; the ones who’d left school with qualifications, who had some nous… for the rest it was a life of cash-in-hand self-employment in an array of fields where pay was scarce, hours long and the taxman was an ever looming threat. Or the dole…
It is these people who make up a large portion of what the media (and those whose only experience with poverty is a Channel 4 TV series) consider to be ‘the Underclass’.
The sad thing is, that while the right would love the reason for it’s existence to be feckless, laziness, trying to get one over on the rest of us by conning the welfare state for all they can… the majority of the underclass are actually in employment (or at least, have been in some form of employment in the past 12 months). The reason for the poverty is not the innate want of these people to sit around watching TV all day, but rather is down to the pathetically low wages that pass for a job these days, the often inadequate hours of many jobs, combined with the inherent insecurity in most low paid work.
Compare this to the comparatively better paid, more secure work their parents and grandparents did and you see how ‘working class’ became ‘underclass’ in the right’s eyes.
Don’t believe me? Ok then, fact time:
On the minimum wage not being enough, go take a look at the Living Wage Campaign.
On the high turnover rate, I like this quote:
“Call centres are the new dark satanic mills. We have people who are timed when they go to the toilet. This is the 21st century, working for government… they’re very difficult jobs, the turnover rates are huge, low paid, oppressive.”
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary
And cite this. (Or you could just quite your job, enter the job market as a fresh faced twenty something and find out for yourself…)
With about 75% of welfare spending going on Pensioners, Disability, Child related benefits and misc things like carer’s, maternity pay etc… Approx 10% of what’s left goes directly to those in work, another 11% on housing benefit (the majority of which goes to those in work) and only a tiny fraction to those not in work.
The Underclass’s main source of revenue is not welfare, it is not even crime – although when no work can be found legitimately what can you expect if some do turn to it – it is wages earnt from work. That those wages are not enough to subsist on in this day and age is not their fault, but who get’s the blame?
At the end of the day what it comes down to is simple: The welfare bill has been left holding the buck for the lack of well-paid work, increasing rents and job insecurity. By attacking the welfare budget, you are in attacking working people. – The Pensioners who worked their whole lives for their ~50%+ slice of the welfare bill and the men and women who find work is not enough to live on in 21st Century Britain.
If we truly wanted to reduce the welfare bill, and not just grandstand and moralise at the expense of those worst off in society, we’d build more social and low cost housing, introduce a living wage and create more better paid jobs off the back of the state until the economy returns to a strong enough position to do so.