The illusion of security

During the election period we heard a lot about hard working families who 'do the thing thing', mainly as a group praised by politicians targeted with many pre-election promises of support. Since the election Government ministers have talked about the 'security of work', as if work in itself bestowed security on people. 

However, the reality for many of our clients is that work provides anything but security. In the run up to the election zero hours contracts received much coverage, with one party promising to outlaw them and another euphemistically renaming them 'flexible contracts'. While they do suit some workers, there are many who need work that is more predictable, consistent and stable. How can families, hardworking or otherwise, hope to plan their lives if they do not know from day to day what their income will be? 

One consequence of erratic and insecure work, whether caused by zero hours contracts or agency work, is the difficulties many people have maintaining a Housing Benefit claim. Several people we have represented in court, facing repossession for rent arrears, got behind because their income changed so often and so much that the Housing Benefit system couldn't keep up with the frequent, sometimes constant, changes of circumstance and claims failed or the claimant simply gave up trying to notify the local authority of all these changes. Unable to pay their rent, they inevitably ended up in court; hardly an example of security. 

One glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel is that Universal Credit, when fully rolled out and applied to working people should, through its reliance on the use of real time information on wages, should prevent this problem persisting. However, it is a long tunnel and a pinprick of light. 

This will be of scant consolation to those workers whose employers are trying to evade their responsibilities by classing staff as self-employed when they are, to all intents and purposes, employees. This conveniently allows employers to avoid troublesome red tape such as national insurance, holiday or sick pay, redundancy, or any other employment protection. It also renders the worker liable for their own NI and tax. Above all it allows employers to dispense with the services of self-employed sub-contractors at will. Where is the security in that? 

The UK is often praised for its flexible labour market and the contribution that this has made to our economic recovery. Much has also been made of the way consumer spending lagged so far behind expectations as the economy recovered. Wherether this was a sudden outbreak of well-intentioned prudence or simply caution on the part of many socnumers has never been fully explained. Perhaps the innate insecurity in a flexible labour market led to workers hanging on to their pay packets, unsure when they would get another. Add in rising costs of essentials, such as food and fuel through much of this period, and it is no surprise that many ‘hard working families’ still struggle. 

In what is now officially the most working class city in the country, many people are locked into poorly paid, insecure jobs that require low levels of skill and offer few prospects. Add in poor employment practices and 'the security of a job' seems a pretty cruel illusion for many families who work very hard indeed, just to stand still.


This entry was posted on October 12, 2015

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