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Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain [Paperback]

Polly Toynbee
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

14 Jan 2003
'A passionately reasoned and compelling account of the avoidable cruelties still embedded in the underside of British life - by a writer who has literally worn the clothes, lived in the flats and done the jobs of the poor. Every member of the cabinet should be required to read it, apologise and then act'. - Will Hutton. A frank and breathtaking book, this is journalist and broadcaster Polly Toynbee's account of her courageous intention to live and work on the minimum wage. The 'decent living' wage set by the Council of Europe is set at GBP7.39. The minimum wage in Britain is currently GBP4.10 per hour. And often, people are working for less, their voices unheard, their faces unnoticed. The low-paid are caught in an economic double bind that victimises them and shames the rest of us. Toynbee took whatever jobs she could find, often offered for less than the official minimum wage.Living on an estate in Clapham, she started from scratch and found that if she were truly unemployed, she would not even be able to afford a new job, and that faced with starvation, it's impossible not to sink into debt. In this powerful and compelling book, Polly Toynbee journeys to the inside of Britain today and uncovers that world which is invisible to most. This is a damning portrait of social justice in Britain.

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Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain + Them And Us: Changing Britain - Why We Need a Fair Society + Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First Edition - Paperback edition (14 Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1902488512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747564157
  • ASIN: 0747564159
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 72,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Not only should everybody with any conscience read it; it should be the manifesto for a third Labour term." -- Independent on Sunday 16th February

About the Author

Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist and broadcaster and was formerly the BBC?s social affairs editor. Previous books include Did Things Get Better? An Audit of the Labour Government (with David Walker), Hospital, Lost Children, The Way We live Now and A Working Life. She has won the National Press Awards and What the Papers Say columnist of the year. She lives in Lambeth and has four children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poverty is always relative 13 April 2010
By Damaskcat HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The author was asked to live in poverty for the period of Lent. I agree the situation was artificial and in some ways she probably made it harder for herself by starting off the experiment with less than the majority of people would start off with. She of course could not claim Job Seekers' Allowance because she was not unemployed but she did make an effort to find out what she would have been entitled to if she really had nowhere to live and no furniture. She established what she would have to do to get a loan from the Social Fund in an interesting interview with a member of staff from the Department for Work and Pensions which showed how you really have to know the rules in order to get what you're entitled to.

She then approached a charity which provided furniture at rock bottom prices. I thought her visit to the charity was interesting as it showed the difference between what she considered essential and the items which are actually essential. I patted myself on the back that I would have had more money left over from the loan she had theoretically received. The author having furnished her flat then had to find herself a job as soon as possible knowing she had little money in reserve and would have to give up receiving benefit long before she was paid for her first week's work. This to me highlighted a major problem with the low paid - that gap between stopping benefit and being paid for your work. People doing the jobs at the bottom of the scale will usually not have savings to tide them over such a gap and bills have to be paid.

I felt her comments about spending more than she would earn for a week at the hairdressers or on a meal out served to point up the difference between the middle class and the poor rather than being patronising.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside Britain 6 Sep 2009
By Lincs Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
In 'Hard Work', Polly Toynbee a middle-class Guardian journalist takes up the challenge thrown to her to live life as one of the many 'working poor'. She adopts the lifestyle of an ordinary, middle-aged woman from a run-down council estate in East London.

Polly doesnt find it difficult to get employment, but the jobs are thankless, jobs that few people will lower themselves to do and the wages are so low that she is in debt from day one. Even getting to interviews, getting to work, supplying herself with a decent pair of work shoes puts into debt. Many jobs pay less than the minimum wage, and of course the banks wont touch her - but the many loan sharks operating on the estate are glad to loan her money - at hugely inflated interest rates. All of the jobs, without fail are hard work, dirty, boring and often dangerous. Polly is offered no training, no benefits, no job security.

This book highlights many many problems with today's society - although written in 2002, I am sure that most of these problems still exist - if not more. Our Government seem obsessed with getting people into work and training, yet the Government has contracted out most of it's public services, for example, hospital portering, public sector cleaners and care givers. By outsourcing this work they have given over this very important work to mainly uncaring employers who are only interested in making as much money as possible and not interested in the people that carry out the work for them - these workers that are being exploited day after day are mainly women, and mainly mothers.
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61 of 70 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I've never been so moved to write a review before. The contents and sentiment of this book will stay with me for long after I've put it down. Toynbee is a middle-class journalist, living a comfortable life in a fashionable part of Clapham, not having to worry about how much her weekly shop at Sainsburys comes to. As Orwell before her, she trades this in temporarily, to experience life on the minimum wage - to see how the ignored one third of the UK live. It's a chilling tale - although Toynbee never resorts to shock tactics - her story is about the millions of respectable, working people who will never escape the trap of poverty - not the minority underclass who the media always target because they make for a more dramatic story - the drug addicts, neighbours from hell and teenage criminals.
This is remarkable honest, raw writing - Toynbee reveals a great deal about herself in this book - and this adds to its power. She is not a left-wing apologist - she confesses that she likes some aspects of globalisation - at least big businesses have minimum standards to adhere to, unlike small ones. She likes shopping for pleasure, and sees nothing wrong with consumerism (environmental damage aside). The main thrust of the book - that the minimum wage must be raised is argued rationally and sensibly throughout. She also points out that inequality is related to gender, class and race - it's the "women's" jobs that tend to be the lowest paid.
In addition - this is beautifully and thoughtfully written - some of Toynbee's phrases gave me goosebumps. As a working-class boy who worked in nursing homes to supplement his university grant - a lot of what she said resonated personally with me. Good on ya Polly!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
I enjoyed this book and found it very interesting and informative about how difficult it can be to get a job when on benefits.
Published 2 months ago by Claire
5.0 out of 5 stars A*****
I would strongly recommend this title.
Rated. An in depth read for enquiring minds
I give it the highest accolade.
Published 8 months ago by S
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I borrowed this book from the library several times, bought a copy, lent it to someone, didn't get it back and just had to buy another copy. Really thought-provoking
Published 10 months ago by Elizabeth
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, great delivery
Excellent book, actually reprising former MP Matthew Parrish's attempt to live on minimum wage or benefit decades ago. He couldn't do it either! Read more
Published 16 months ago by Val Gaize
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Majorly Left Out The Private Sector
Having worked a number of minimum wage jobs in London, and being truly shocked at antics like employers cancelling the next day's shift at 9pm the previous night without pay, I can... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Arachne202
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and very readable
Very readable and accessible. Toynbee is very honest about her own privileged life (which I respect) in comparison to the terrible life style that she adopts to find out what is... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Ms. R. M. Thompson
4.0 out of 5 stars A sincere likeable author - albeit somewhat naive
Polly Toynbee is self confesedly an affluent, middle class "liberal"; normally speaking, I wouldn't touch a book by such a person, since in my view, the so called liberal left will... Read more
Published on 6 Sep 2011 by Roger an old romantic
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Work: by Polly Toynbee
Polly Toynbee works in a variety of low-paid jobs and lives in a substandard council flat, in order to experience at first-hand the realities of the sort of life that so many... Read more
Published on 25 Aug 2011 by Dulcie
5.0 out of 5 stars Politics apart, focus on message
Exactly. I'm not into any political debate, I don't follow their issues. I'm barely an observer. And without focusing on author's political background and views (I know it may be... Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2011 by Mr. J. M. Zielinski
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable
A great story and essential read for anyone making strategic or employment decisions in the public or private sector. Read more
Published on 6 April 2010 by V. Morgan
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