Paid work is never enough: we need to pay attention to the quality as well as the quantity of jobs created

Getting people into employment will not on its own ensure decent living standards and reduce poverty, finds Peter Taylor-Gooby. His research shows that, while higher employment is associated with lower poverty, other factors are more important. The most important factor in reducing poverty levels across the countries looked at was the strength of contractual rights, and other policies, such as access to child care, policies to reduce discrimination against women were also significant.

Most people think paid work is the royal road to a better life for people of working age. The value of work is at the centre of policy thinking across the board, from Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to UKIP’s commitment to ‘enroll unemployed welfare claimants onto community schemes or retraining workfare programmes’. Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit puts work ‘at the centre of our welfare system’. The EU’s 2020 Growth Strategy ‘is about more jobs and better lives.’ And so on.

The idea that getting people into work will solve the problem of achieving decent living standards for those of working age was given extra impetus as unemployment rose from about 5 to over 8 per cent between 2008 and 2012, paralleled with a rise in working-age poverty. Now unemployment is falling back towards pre-crisis levels but, as IFS analysis shows, poverty among working age adults is failing to respond. The poor quality of many of the new jobs indicates short-comings in the case for paid work as the foundation of welfare.

Most of those in poverty live in working households. Among families the proportion in households with at least one member in work rose from 50 to 68 per cent between 1996 and 2013 according to the DWP’s Households Below Average Incomes statistics. The job market started to recover from its low point in 2012 but many of the jobs on offer are far from satisfactory. The number of part-time workers rose from 7.2 million to 8.2 million between the recession in 2008 and 2014, the numbers of involuntary part-timers from 0.7 to 1.7 million and the number of temporary workers from 1.4 to 1.7 million. The Labour Force survey shows a doubling of zero-hour contracts between 2007 and 2013 to 300,000.

These statistics suggest that we need to pay attention to the quality as well as the quantity of jobs created. Our new research examines factors affecting employment and poverty across 17 European countries for the period of prosperity and growth between 2001 and 2007. This is the time when the sun shone, the most favourable period in recent history for the work = welfare = decent living standards project. The research shows that, even at this time, new welfare was much more successful at getting people into work than at reducing poverty.

Employment rates rose across Europe, especially for women. However, far from declining, poverty rates also increased (by the standard EU 60 per cent of median income measure) from 18 to 18.6 per cent between 2001 and 2007 in the UK, and also in other successful economies such as Germany (11 to 15.2 per cent), Sweden (9 to 11.5 per cent) or Poland (16 to 17.3 per cent). One explanation is to do with access to paid work. Governments need to make sure that even more people move into work. This is the logic that lies behind the EU’s Employment Strategy and Horizon 2020 programme and behind national work-centred policies such as Universal Credit. Then the great recession swept everyone towards work at any price policies, redoubling the stress on paid work.

These were the good times, when, if ever, the link between work and decent incomes should be strongest. Higher employment is associated with lower poverty, but the analysis shows that, even during this period, other factors were more important. In fact the most important factor in reducing poverty levels across the countries was the strength of contractual rights. Other policies such as access to child care, policies to reduce discrimination against women were also significant.

The level of employment plays a role in ensuring decent living standards, but one that is less powerful than that of employment rights. The suggestion is that while employment is probably a good thing, if we want people to be better off, we also need to make sure that the quality of jobs is adequate. The best way to ensure that is to strengthen contractual rights against dismissal and to promote trade union membership. Recent trends in policy to weaken employment protection, to undermine the role of trade unions and to introduce high fees for access to employment tribunals move us in entirely the wrong direction. Shovelling people into low-paid jobs is all the fashion, but it is not the answer to the problem of poverty among those of working age.

For more, see “Can ‘New Welfare’ Address Poverty Through More And Better Jobs?” by Peter Taylor-Gooby, Julia M. Gumy and Adeline Otto.

About the Author

Peter Taylor-Gooby is Research Professor of Social Policy at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. He chaired the British Academy New Paradigms in Public Policy Programme (2010/2011) and is Chair of the REF Social Work and Social Policy and Administration panel 2011-15, a Fellow of the British Academy, a Founding Academician at the Academy of Social Sciences and, previously, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sociology and Social Policy Section.
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Unemployment rate could be twice as high as figures claim

Reblogged from http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/11/12/unemployment-rate-could-be-twice-as-high-as-figures-claim/

12 Wednesday Nov 2014

Posted by Mike Sivier

The Office for National Statistics has put out new figures on the number of people in work – and it’s more than last month. Hooray!

But, as ever, the devil’s in the detail and – as usual – the small print is annoyingly devoid of the detail we need. Boo!

We are told that figures for September showed employment continued to rise (by 112,000 since the April-June period) and unemployment continued to fall (by 115,000 people). There appear to be 3,000 people for whom these figures don’t account. Interesting…

(Perhaps they’re now on Universal Credit – as those figures aren’t counted in these figures, meaning the current way of calculating these statistics is misleading from the start.)

Pay rates – excluding bonuses – was 1.3 per cent higher than at this time last year. This was being trumpeted as a huge success, as pay has risen about the Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculation of inflation, which stood at 1.2 per cent in September. What a shame the more accurate (which is why the government doesn’t use it) Retail Price Index (RPI) calculation of inflation stood at 2.3 per cent, well above in increase in pay rates.

Let’s all take a moment to remind ourselves of where those wages are going, too. Tom Pride, over at Pride’s Purge, has a little graphic for it, which is stolen and reproduced below:

141112average-uk-pay-risesTomPride

So all those bankers, directors and MPs are taking all the cash, leaving the rest of us with – what? This article suggests that, when you take out all the variations – like bonuses, wages for people who do real jobs (unlike bankers, directors and MPs) increased by just 0.6 per cent in the past year. That’s from the Bank of England.

If employment has increased – and there’s no reason to say it hasn’t – we can also conclude that the reason employers are more willing to take people on is that they can pay peanuts for them and rely on the government to top them up with in-work benefits. It seems likely that the work was always there but employers weren’t going to take anybody on if it meant increasing the wages bill and reducing the amount of profit available to them. Now that zero-hours contracts are available, along with part-time schemes that deny people pensions and holiday pay, it’s a different matter.

Of course the trade unions are in no position to stand up for workers’ rights – they have been stripped of any influence over the past 35 years of neoliberal, free-market rule.

The number of people who were self-employed increased by a staggering 186,000, to reach 3.25 million, while people working as self-employed part-time increased by 93,000 to reach 1.27 million. That’s 4.52 million – almost one-sixth of the total number of people in work. If you think that’s great, you haven’t been paying attention. Remember this article, warning that the increase was due to older people staying in work? And what about the catastrophic collapse in self-employed earnings we discovered at the same time?

How many of these are people who have been persuaded to claim tax credits as self-employed people, rather than jump through the increasingly-difficult hoops set out for them if they claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance – and do they know they’ll have to pay all the money back when their deception is discovered?

The number of people in part-time employment has also increased, by 28,000 to reach 6.82 million. Are we to take it that this means under-employment has increased again?

Public sector employment has fallen again. If you want to know why the government keeps messing you around, there’s your answer. There aren’t enough people to do the job. This month’s statistics show 11,000 fewer public sector employees than in March, and 282,000 fewer than this time last year.

Unemployment is said to have dropped – but remember, this is not counting people who have been sanctioned. A recent study by Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University suggests as many as half a million people could have been sanctioned off-benefit in order to massage the figures, meaning that the total listed – 931,700 – is probably wrong. Remember also that Universal Credit claimants aren’t counted, nor are those on government work schemes – another 123,000 people.

This means the actual unemployment rate is likely to be double the number provided by the official statistics.

And what about people on ESA/DLA/PIP?

It’s said that the numbers don’t lie.

What a shame that can’t be said about the people manipulating them.