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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poverty is always relative, 13 April 2010
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This review is from: Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain (Paperback)
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. The rest of the book contains descriptions of her various low paid jobs - packing cakes, working in a school kitchen, working as a hospital porter, cleaning, care assistant, nursery worker and cold calling by phone. She doesn't grumble about the jobs just points out how physically hard many of them are. She highlights many issues which seriously need addressing. Things like having to go and collect application forms rather than receiving them through the post, not being able to take contracts - or even copies of contracts - away with her, having to be at a job 15 minutes before the official start, having to go and sit and wait to see if there are any vacancies. Many of the jobs were through an agency which means an employee's rights are few and their job security non-existent.

The people she met were interesting and she really got over to me the commitment people showed to these low paid jobs. Many took a pride in their work and went the extra mile - often unpaid - to do the best they could. Many were working below their capabilities because it was nearly impossible for them to take the time out to search for another job. The majority of the people she met were women working for low wages - often below the then minimum wage - because the job fitted in with the care of their children and they didn't dare complain about pay and conditions. Employers consistently undervalue these people and do not reward them as they deserve to be rewarded.

The author highlights the stupidity of contracting out public services because you end up with workers doing the same job working side by side for different money and for different employers with different job descriptions so it is almost impossible for them to co-operate to get the job done in the best possible way. I thought the chapter about working in a care home was the most emotional and the author showed how people try and do the best for the inmates even though there are nowhere enough staff to do the job how it should be done. Was it really a good idea to hand this work over to the private sector where the main motive for the business is profit rather than service? Her interview with `Mr Jones' highlights the major problems. Profits are being made on the backs of low paid overworked staff.

Low paid jobs - in spite of the Minimum Wage - are even lower paid than they were in the 1970s relatively speaking. The Tax Credits system, while it may have boosted the income of some families - though not single people - has merely made it possible for employers to get away with paying lower wages knowing the taxpayer will make up the difference. Can this be right? Do we need to tackle this problem of low pay for essential work? Everyone would notice if all the care workers, laundry staff, cleaners, school dinner ladies went on strike but they are not unionised so this is unlikely. Employers regard staff as expendable and turnover is high. Yet if they paid more and took the time to train staff they might actually get a better job done at lower cost.

I thought this book was a real eye opener and it showed that these low paid essential jobs need to be looked at differently and the wages need to be increased even if it does mean higher prices for the rest of us. It's really a choice between higher taxes to boost the income of the lower paid or higher prices because the people doing these essential jobs are paid a proper rate for the job. Which do we want?
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Feb 2013 21:06:52 GMT
T. S. C. says:
The reality now is that we live in an economic apartheid plain and simple. The ruling classes, the wealthy, powerful politicians, big business simply don't care about the rest of us and live in a world of wealth, privilege and low taxes. Most of the Middle class happily but quietly collude in this as long as they have good high-paying careers, nice housing, good education and are cushioned from the hard realities of low-paid dead-end jobs that go nowhere. The rest of us? We're supposed to 'put up and shut up' accept third rate lives, and somehow be entranced by the soap opera that is the royal family. We need a new system, we need a proper living wage and we all need to demand fairness and equality; and we need to look at this class system, that has built-in injustice and unfairness and ruthless exploitation at its core.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Feb 2013 09:08:09 GMT
Last edited by the author on 24 Feb 2013 09:19:26 GMT
Damaskcat says:
Thank you for your views. Not sure I agree with them. I live on an amount which equates to less than minimum wage because I am retired but not yet old enough for my state pension. I find much to enjoy in life - great deal of it free. Having spent four years caring for my disabled partner I would say that money is very far from being the most important thing in life - good health is. Without good health money - beyond enough to pay essential bills - is worthless.

I rarely compare myself with others as there are always going to be people who are worse off or better off than I am financially. I have enough food to eat, a roof over my head which is paid for, good health, warmth and enough money left over for my hobby which is reading and reviewing books If you want consumer goods the latest in designer wear, expensive holidays etc you are never going to have enough money. I used to think money was hugely important - now I don't believe it is essential to happiness. People at the end of their lives rarely bemoan their lack of cash - they regret not spending time with family and friends and spending time enjoying themselves and appreciating the good things about this world.

My recipe for happiness? Forget what other people are doing and how much money they have - look at the little things in life, a sunny day, a crisp frosty day, a child's smile, seeing family and friends, a stranger's smile and shared laughter at something funny - these are the things that matter not being rich, having a prestigious job or being able to go on luxury holidays.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Apr 2013 23:18:32 BDT
Last edited by the author on 13 Apr 2013 23:18:47 BDT
T. S. C. says:
Thank you for your views too! I think I agree with everything you just wrote. Money is not the b all and end all of everything, being a Christian for over 15 years has taught me that. But it is when those who are wealthy want to even deprive people of what little they have, so they can have more (for goodness knows what reason) then it becomes hypocritical.

LIke you 'I have enough food to eat, a roof over my head which is paid for, good health, warmth and enough money left over for my hobby which is reading and reviewing books' and a number of other hobbies besides.

Having faith means I see the bigger picture of life and am grateful for all the good things I already have and all the small mercies that make up my life. But as someone who is relatively young, I want to be successful because I don't want to stay unemployed. I am realistic about this and I work hard to achieve my dream and my goal in life. And it isn't just about money, it is about having a fulfilling life as well.

Your last paragraph (I won't copy and paste it) basically says it all and I concur almost completely with it. You don't need lots of money to be genuinely happy-I know as I grew up in quite serious poverty but was never happier as when I was a child.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2013 09:14:39 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Apr 2013 09:16:03 BDT
Damaskcat says:
Seems as though we do agree - mostly!

I wish you every success in your future life and I'm sure you will achieve your goals. A fulfilling life is what matters in my opinion - whatever that may look like to the individual.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Apr 2013 14:55:16 BDT
T. S. C. says:
You hit the nail on the head again my friend: 'A fulfilling life is what matters in my opinion' Yes absolutely! And if we understand that God's blessings are spiritual as well as material, things like peace, contentment, happiness, joy and taking pleasure in simple things that don't cost anything, we have cracked it!

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Apr 2013 08:16:12 BDT
Damaskcat says:
Exactly! Whether or not people believe in God those are the things which bring lasting peace and contentment.
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