Thatcherite economics in Britain introduced us to the new doctrine of labour market flexibility, and ever since its introduction into employment practice it has become the norm. Flexibility, we are told, is good for business and encourages employment, and it is. Greater flexibility in labour recruitment allows investors and business owners to make more money by paying workers less. It doesn’t take an economist then to see that this isn’t good for people who have to work for a living. Over the past three decades and more they have been forced to work few hours, on less secure contracts, for a steadily decreasing income.
Wages have not, as the talking heads on the television or in the university claim, stagnated. It is far worse than this; wages are falling. The money minimum wage workers earn has fallen year on year, as the cost of living around them has stayed the same or increased. The very idea of a minimum wage was introduced to ensure working people a basic level of comfort in their fulltime employment, but even this refused to take into account the fact that fulltime employment, in a flexible jobs market, is becoming a thing of the past. Employers have to pay benefits and insurance on their employees who work over a certain number of hours in the week, so it suits them to employ more workers who each work fewer hours. The innovation of zero hour contracts has only accelerated this process.
Workers caught in this trap could of course find jobs that pay more than the minimum wage and offer fulltime conditions with benefits, but there are more unemployed people than there are jobs on offer. We can add to this the simple fact that employers are catching on to the idea of making more money by shafting workers. The result, for an increasing number of ordinary people, is that there are no alternatives to the working poverty trap. Living on such little money has all sorts of awful consequences for people’s lives; it means they get less nutrition and suffer, illnesses, and die younger.
This system is getting worse rather than better, and this is because the model is good for business. What this means is that it is good for a few wealthy people who want to use their wealth to make more money while making more and more people poorer. Governments aren’t stepping in to fix the problem because they have bought into the idea that what’s good for business is good for the country. In most instances now politicians are elected into public office, and therefore the government, with the help of business donations and sponsorship – meaning that they are compromised and have to work for policies which help business rather than people. Flexibility is only one way in which people are being harmed for the increase of profit. Serious change is needed urgently.