man placing his finger in the O of Work

Economist Richard Murphy says Boris Johnson’s argument that work is the way out of the cost-of-living crisis is flawed, due to ongoing government policy creating an abundance of ‘shit jobs’.

According to Boris Johnson work is the way out of the cost of living crisis.

Like the Bank of England, Johnson claims the UK has a ‘red hot’ labour market, with vacancies exceeding the number of people available to accept employment.

My appraisal suggests this is untrue. The jobs available seem to have three characteristics. They are low paid. They are zero hours, or something akin to it. And many are with agencies, with the intention that the employer assume no obligation to the person they’d rather not call an employee beyond the end of any working day.

The latest example I found was in discussion with a teaching assistant training to be a teacher. Right now is the time when this year’s new teachers should be looking for their first jobs. But there are almost none available. Schools can no longer afford the commitment to permanent staff. So they hire supply teachers on temporary contracts to avoid the commitments required to a full-time staff member.

Older teachers cannot afford to work on the rates these supply contracts offer.

Younger teachers do not get the support they need.

Nor can they afford the rent. So they sometimes have to take a second job.

That also explains why vacancies exceed the number of available people: we live in a world where too many have to rely on multiple jobs to cover the basic cost of living. It’s really not rocket science to work this out, but it’s beyond Johnson and the Bank of England.

Teaching is not alone in being degraded in this way. Nursing is a long way down this route, with ‘bank’ nurses covering an increasing number of shifts. I have no doubt it is to be found elsewhere too. It is far too commonplace in university teaching. The approach riddles the private sector.

Professions are being degraded. Security is being destroyed. The quality of service supplied is being undermined. Wages do not cover costs. Children, patients and so many others do not get the service they expect from people who cannot in any way be blamed for that. The casualisation of their work is meant to undermine employees, and it does. The people to blame are those who thought this a good idea, from Cameron, Osborne, May, Hammond, Johnson and Sunak onwards.

The simple fact is that there is no ‘red hot’ labour market in the UK. There are just shit jobs on offer to those who in desperation have to eventually take them in the absence of any alternative.

This is not a solution to the cost of living crisis. It is all about the deliberate destruction of value in the name of increasing financialised returns, whether in state or private sectors, where that return is utterly indifferent to value, people, ethics or the long-term.

What to do about it? That’s a harder question. I will have to come back to it more than once, I suspect. But unless we can restore the dignity of work – and the direction is continually in the other direction at present – we really are in deep trouble.

Ultimately the answer is in reducing the rents that extract value every day from working people, whether those rents be literally exploitative charges for living in houses; excessive house prices and now growing mortgage costs; forced membership of pension schemes that cannot pay a return as the funds are invested in environmentally bankrupt companies, or the exploitation of people’s labour by employers who have been trained or forced to cease to care. All these crush the value of work.

In that case right now work provides no answer to the cost-of-living crisis, because that crisis has been created by the same monopoly empowered exploitative philosophy that is simultaneously seeking to destroy the value of people’s labour.

The cost of living crisis is indication that our economy is shot to pieces, and needs a complete overhaul. I suspect nothing less will do.

By Richard Murphy

First published in Tax Research UK on 23 May 2022

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Featured image: Work by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

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