Our Spring magazine is finally here! Click here to view and read our new articles!

All work and no play makes Jack collapse in exhaustion

Image credit: http://www.sabusinessindex.co.za/
Image credit: http://www.sabusinessindex.co.za/
Image credit: http://www.sabusinessindex.co.za/

There’s nothing like a bit of encouragement from our friends and peers, especially if going the extra mile will reap more rewards than just living through the normal daily grind. But, once again, the mask of encouragement and aspiration has been deployed by the Conservative Party as they attempt to portray their attitude to employment and labour to be humane and supportive.

Tax credit slashing is the order of the day, despite what the Conservatives might like to be known as the highlight of the conference, and with thousands of families set to lose more than they gain when they detract their benefit reduction from the national living wage, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (but really – what would they know?), the Blues are keen to justify themselves and their policies; so keen, in fact, that they seem to think that the Labour Party has left the planet, allowing the government to take every mainstream political stance possible. The leading figures, such as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, enthusiastically tell their gathered party members that they are “the party of working people”, the party for the working class, the party for investment and construction, for infrastructure and – I shudder – “the only party of labour”.

You’d think that people will struggle if their tax credits are cut – it’s the opposite, says the Chancellor. Working people, he argues, will suffer if the state’s finances are in unacceptable state.

But this seems to be more than a socioeconomic topic for Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, who believes the reduction of tax credits to be an important cultural landmark. The Conservatives are not happy with the fact that for many people, half or more of their income comes from the state – the money isn’t quite earned. People will be inspired to work harder and achieve greater things if their tax credits have been cut. Mr. Hunt is excited: this could be a cultural revolution. Britain’s labour force would become a harder-working, leaner and stronger group, “creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success”. We should aim to be like the workers of America or China, who work harder than most people.

I don’t think that I’d be proud if I received part of my income from the welfare state, but encouragement, especially in the market, usually comes with an incentive. Typically incentives are positive – if you work harder, you could get a pay rise, a promotion, valuable career experience or new perks. The Conservatives’ incentive is so negative it might not actually be an incentive at all – you will have to work hard because without state assistance, you will struggle to make ends meet. If you’re in the public sector, the only positive incentive you might enjoy is a 1% pay rise – a few years ago even that was capped at zero.

I am baffled that anyone could use the American labour force as a role model. The American labour force do indeed work harder than most labour forces around the world, but is that really because Americans possess an innate hardworking work ethic? Or is the reason why workers take more than one job, or why elderly citizens come out of retirement to work, that pay has remained stagnant? It certainly has for the bottom 40% of American workers, and has been for decades. Productivity has been rising since the 1970s yet average wages have remained stagnant – the American labour force are being paid the same real wages for doing more and producing more. In 2011 it was reported by Mother Jones that the real value of the minimum wage had risen by a third of the percentage that living costs had risen since 1990. The minimum wage is between a half and a third, dependent on whom you consult, of what it should be if it kept up with inflation and productivity rises. I hope the Conservatives don’t want a system that leads to the vast income inequality that is present across the pond too.

It’s a nice of idea of Jeremy Hunt to have a national workforce that produces as much as our American or Chinese cousins, but both are greatly overworked, stressed and dissatisfied. Leisure time is eaten up as more workers continue their jobs during holidays, much to the ire of their families, or simply cannot afford to spend time relaxing. We have enough of these problems in British society already: for instance, many people come down with mental problems and stress after their welfare has been cut. Ironically, why trying to cut the size of the welfare state, the government also cuts some parts of the workforce. We have far too many cases of overworked and underpaid labour in Britain, often engineered by employers who, through a network of lucrative tax methods, avoid paying much tax here.

If the Conservatives are the party of labour, then it’s damn hard labour, I’m sure.