When Rishi Sunak offers salvation through “better” jobs (Rishi Sunak’s speech offers mood music but little economic meat, 4 October), he is using the trick of eliding “anyone” into “everyone”.
On an individual level, anyone may well be capable of undertaking training, improving their self-presentation, or perhaps even moving home, in order to get a better-paid job.
But then comes the switch. Having outlined a strategy that might work for anyone, Sunak implies that the supposed benefits can accrue to everyone, and so suggests this as a solution to the manifest problem of people who work hard but can’t afford to live properly. Wrong.
However well we train and polish everybody, there are still less-attractive jobs (most obviously in the care sector) that need doing. Who does these jobs when everyone who today works for the minimum wage as a carer has upskilled themselves into “better” jobs?
Helping people continually edge in front of each other in a zero-sum game of competition for “better” jobs is not a strategy that can deliver for everyone. We need a strategy which ensures that full-time work in a socially valuable but lower-paid role once again commands a high enough income to rent a flat and keep it warm, and to afford a decent and fulfilling lifestyle.
One of the reasons we have a low-pay, low-skill economy (Boris Johnson to brush off petrol queues as ‘change of direction’, 5 October) is because so many formerly council- and government-run services have been privatised. Previously safe jobs, which came with training, fair pay, a good pension, adequate sick pay and reasonable working conditions, have been replaced with much less safe jobs where pay and/or conditions are significantly reduced.
The only way to deliver services where the largest cost is people is to cut pay and conditions. Training is reduced to the minimum (no two-or three-year apprenticeships, for example), travel is not paid for, pensions and holidays are cut etc. And a “flexible” workforce, where agency workers (who have no allegiance or loyalty to the company) are taken on at busy times and let go when not needed, becomes a matter of policy. As all this is now the norm, private companies no longer need to compete for staff by providing good pay and conditions and secure employment, and many companies manage their finances so that they don’t even pay tax in this country.
A high-pay, high-skill economy requires investment in the workforce – an aspiration we can aim for in the service sector, but it is more difficult to achieve when competition is the driver and local authorities are starved of finance.
Boris Johnson advocates “a high-wage economy” and quotes Margaret Thatcher. Will a market-driven increase in wages for some not inevitably lead to significant inflation? In 1981, Thatcher also said: “I tell you that inflation is the biggest destroyer of all – of industry, of jobs, of savings, and of society.” So, why is Johnson pursuing this policy? Is it simply a “post-Brexit transition”? Or is planned inflation a way of reducing in real terms the national debt without increasing taxes? Either way, it is easy to see who will suffer.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Boris Johnson’s “channelling” of Margaret Thatcher to authorise a U-turn in an economic policy that she inaugurated some 40 years ago is bizarre enough for Lewis Carroll. Thatcher’s policies led directly and intentionally to our low-wage, low-skill economy with its unaffordable housing costs and predatory consumer finance industry. Come back, Arthur Scargill, all is forgiven.
I wonder whether Boris Johnson has the guts to follow his advice to business, and apply it to the public sector, where the government is the employer. Namely, to fund sufficient training places and improved pay and conditions for NHS and care staff, to end the government’s reliance on staff trained in developing countries, thus depriving those countries of what little healthcare they have.
Birdham, West Sussex
So it has happened, the biggest cut in welfare payments in our recent history, comparable to the 10% cut in unemployment benefit made in 1931 at the time of the Great Depression, and affecting up to 6 million people, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty (‘Grown men come in here crying’: how Tory cuts have hit Blackpool hard, 5 October). With this cut, the government has reached new depths of insensitivity to the needs of the community. It is hard to believe that the cut goes through without a national cry of outrage. There can be no forgiveness of this government, now or ever.