Folks in the UK who earn less than £13,000 a year are entitled to benefits to top up their income. If their salary decreases, the benefits correspondingly increase to keep people on a reasonable wage. This has meant that if such workers go on strike, the loss of earnings was compensated in the form of benefits. Now, however, Iain Duncan Smith has decreed that this will no longer happen under the Universal Credit system next year. Low income folks who go on strike will lose both their earnings and their benefits whilst striking, which, of course, means that there is pressure on the lowest paid workers in the UK not to strike, making it harder for them to improve their lot.
Media Darlings offers the following analysis:
Our hypothetical prospective picketer earns the upper limit of £13,000 a year and is employed in a single full-time job somewhere in the economic hub that is London, nine-to-five, Monday to Friday… That’s a take-home pay of just £6.25 an hour, or £218 a week after tax. Assuming again that they have no dependents to worry about, under universal credit that means a budget of £225 a week to cover rent, travel, fuel, groceries and all the rest of it. £6.25 an hour is coincidentally the same amount the cleaners at Buckingham Palace were taking home before the civil servants’ PCS union led a campaign demanding the London living wage of £8.30 an hour. Public pressure over the royal wedding and looming jubilee forced the Queen’s contractors to buckle, conceding a rate of £7.50.
But imagine how the union branch in Buckingham would have fared under Duncan Smith’s diktat: for the worker we dreamt up earlier, a vote to strike would have meant losing £45 from their weekly budget for every day spent on the picket lines. That’s 20 percent of a household budget that is already barely scraping past the national poverty line.
And who is our cleaner, so improbably reliant on these benefits? Roughly ten percent of the entire UK workforce.
As I write this, I am mindful of a conversation I had with a reader on an earlier post highlighting welfare reform in the UK. It’s true that folks in the UK are amongst some of the richest in the world, and there might be something problematic about describing people here as living in poverty. I can’t work out exactly what to think about that issue.
But the problem with what’s going on in the UK at the moment is that (i) these measures increase the gap between the richest and the poorest in the UK; (ii) they make things harder for the poorer people in our society, whilst making things easier for the richer folks; (iii) being poor in the UK is not comparable to being amongst the global poor, but this doesn’t negate the fact that it’s difficult, stressful, has a negative impact on one’s health, and so on; (iv) these are measures dreamt up by a group of largely (male) millionaires, and as such, really have no idea what it’s like for the people whose lives are affected by their decisions. And that seems rather despicable. No doubt there are other reasons why this is problematic too. But now I must return to preparing lectures…
You can read more from the Telegraph here.