There’s something quite troubling when you put yourself into a working environment which change your appreciation of the value of money. For most of my life I have been comfortably lower middle class, without the kind of money to lavishly spend on cars and clothes, but I have always had a roof, always had food and even had a few luxuries such as a games console and camera equipment. Through my own political development, I found myself studying the inequalities and struggles facing those less fortunate than myself - but words on a page pale drastically compared to a human voice and terrified eyes.
Everyone I work with are definitely working class. They all work full-time (whereas I am part-time), desperately grateful for extra hours, getting paid as pathetic £8 an hour. One colleague has five children and is only 31. Another is 17 and was kicked out of her home by her Dad. Another lives with his mother, helping to pay the bills. The prospect of social mobility is not a conversation you can have with my colleagues without sounding incredibly insensitive. I once asked my colleague with five children what we would work as if she could do anything, and she replied ‘I always wanted to be a nurse’. A quick google search when I got home in hope of finding some cheap and practical entry into the nurse profession resulted with depressing results. Degrees, qualifications needed. Years to complete. Soaring fees. Even if loans could be taken out to fund the courses, who would then look after the children, how will she juggle being the breadwinner while studying? It was a pipe dream, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her.
What my small window into the reality of worker’s lives, was that effectively, the worker has no power. Some, perhaps. As detailed before, a worker might see their wage climb a few pounds will appropriate pushing, or demand contracts and use it to defend the number of hours worked etc. But these are changes which might get a slightly more spacious apartment, they are not changes which will give my colleague a chance to go study.
In the face of such extreme pessimism, big ideas are needed. Small schemes and initiatives might help a decent number of people, but wholescale changes are needed, as there’s nothing to stop employers exploiting a worker who will simply accept any working condition because they need it. ‘In-work poverty’ - such a phrase is a societal embarrassment.
When big ideas are so desperately needed, one is beginning to creep into public discussion, politicians are taking it more and more seriously, and day by day it’s sounding like it could shift from an idea, a solution.
Universal Basic Income
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