Thursday, 7 July 2011

Selling Cheap

(We've been quiet of late at You Didn't Win  due to me (AJ) being rather busy with poetry gigs, so apologies for not posting as often as we'd like. In our time away, we've been gratified to see how tough things are getting for the Tory-led Coalition, and we're particularly pleased to see that the moral bankruptcy of their backers in the Murdoch press has been publicised to such an extent that the Digger has been forced to sacrifice part of his media empire, the News of the World newspaper, like a chess player frantically throwing pawns away in suicidal moves to buy his Queen (Rebekah Brooks) another second's breathing space. We're less pleased about the fact that the grunt-level workers of the NOTW will now find themselves added to the unemployment statistics, but not to worry - You Didn't Win blogger Justine has been thinking on the words of Tory rent-a-gob Philip Davies a couple of weeks ago, and may have the perfect solution for them...)

The Tory MP for Shipley, one Philip Davies, caused something of a stir while discussing the Private Members' Bill that would 'allow' employees to opt out of the minimum wage. As one might expect, the response to his comments has been pretty much one of anger and dismay. With a bit of eye-rolling; he's a Tory - would we really expect anything less?

His defence has been the standard attack on left-wing strawpersons and to claim that he was just saying what people with learning disabilities had said to him. Because that makes it all OK, apparently. (Looking at his other twitter interactions with those who don't agree with him, he doesn't come over as a particularly nice person. You remember that thing when we were kids, repeating something back to someone in a singsong voice? I'm reminded of that. And this is an elected representative of the people.)

Never mind that it was probably a small group of people that he spoke to, or that some of those with developmental disabilities have sometimes got issues of vulnerability that mean they can be easily taken advantage of. Given that so many in society believe that people with disabilities and impairments are less productive members of society and need to be SPOKEN. TO. AS. IF. THEY. ARE. DEAF. as well as patronised, is it any wonder that some of them may internalise that and really believe that it's them that need to accept lower wages to be accepted by the rest of us? I have misgivings about a society that places ones' worth so entirely on paid employment; this serves to erode my already-shaky belief in it further. That we would seriously discuss paying the most vulnerable members of society even less than those who are just managing to hang on on £5.93 per hour?

Because if this came into effect, it wouldn't just be those with developmental disabilities who would be affected.

The current Parliament are wanting to overhaul the welfare system, as we are all already aware. One of the things they would like to do is to 'get the long-term sick' back to work. Those claimants fortunate enough to get through the ATOS assessments will only be able to claim Incapacity Benefit (or whatever they'll rename it under the new system) for a year. After 365 days (of if you're in 'luck' and it's a leap year, 366 days) that stops. Perhaps you'll be able to start a new claim. If you need to, there's a chance you'll be more ill than you were a year before. Hopefully you'll be at least about the same. You'll have to be assessed again. It's unlikely that the DWP will leave you alone for that year after your successful claim, too. They will probably want you to maintain your claim over the year, just in case you get better after 6 months or so, and can stop the claim and get to work. Having been chronically ill and claiming for ESA in the past, I have an inkling of how stressful that can be. Stress is generally not conducive to good health or recovery.

So, a year has passed and your claim is over, or you failed the ATOS assessment because, by proving you can jump the flaming hoops they ask you to jump through to pass, you were set up to fail. The Government really don't want to give you any money. The last of your benefits will run out in a couple of weeks, and after that your council tax and housing benefits will run out too. You need a job. But you have this long-term condition that means it's very hard to find an employer who will take you on; your illness may make you 'unreliable'. This Private Members' Bill suggests that you might want to work for less than an employer is legally required to pay you. The Tories suggesting this are at pains to point out that it's the employees who opt out; the employer cannot. Remember when they also said that universities could charge up to £9000 a year for fees? That was suggested to be optional, with only the very best institutions charging the top rate? Well, every university likes to think it's better than average, I suppose. The average for 2012 is about £8,400.

When it comes to maximising income and minimising expenditure, in a capitalist society, of course the fess are going to go up. Of course employers will pay as little as possible for labour. So there won't be outright statements of 'you've got the job if you'll work for less', but there will be a huge pressure on people to offer to work for less. In all my working life, I don't think I've ever gone for a job where there hasn't been a lot of interest. Or, at least, so I've been told at some point in the application stages. Whether it's a bland statement of fact, or a tacit method of pointing out just how replaceable I (and pretty much everyone else) am, I couldn't say. I guess it doesn't hurt to try to make new employees as compliant as you can from the outset.

Put someone who is desperate for an income in the interview chair. Or someone with a disability (not that the two are mutually exclusive; with the planned cuts they will morph into one and the same more and more). Everyone in the room knows that they could increase their chances of 'success' by saying they'll work for less... The job market may end up like a silent auction, but in reverse. The person who 'wins' is the person with the lowest bid.

As part of the defence of Mr. Davis' comments, a number of people have mentioned people working for free, to get experience. There are a number of comments on this Daily Mail article but I'm loath to link to it properly, so that's to the istyosty page of the same, but without comments. Internships are presumably what the commenters refer to. Internships of a fixed period of time (six weeks in the comment I refer to, the time period is more often than not up to a year) of unpaid work. They hinge on a certain amount of privilege; someone has to pay the living costs for that period of time. Lots of people volunteer for charities, but they also have to pay for their costs too, either by also having a job or being on JSA or pensions. To compare internships and voluntary work to working for less than the legal minimum wage is to compare apples to elephants.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: do we want to live in a society that devalues people, based solely on the job they can find? That agrees that those who have disabilities are worth less than those of us who currently don't?

(Note from AJ: this isn't the first time Philip Davies has popped up on my radar. Like Nadine Dorries he seems to be one of those annoying new Tory MPs who see it as their duty to ape the worst excesses of the Tea Party movement - the main difference between Davies and Dorries being that he chooses to do a cack-handed imitation of Glenn Beck rather than Sarah Palin. This piece, on the Telegraph's reporting of a European LGBT conference, contains a short digression on Davies which gives, I think, the measure of the man.)

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