Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Crisis: forgotten victims

Temping workers and victims of repossessions. Who's talking about them?

Amongst the forgotten victims of The Crisis, as we already pointed out in February, there are agency or casual workers, i.e. the millions of people left with no protection whatsoever in the midst of the country's worst downturn in sixty years. This is the legacy of the most business-friendly set-up since the 19th century.

Yet, the bosses and their political mouthpieces are growling that the the labour market should be made even more flexible and that the minimum wage should be freezed or even reduced.

While the bailing out of banks is still regarded as a given across the political spectrum, the fact that hordes of people (don't forget that Britain features about half of all temping/agency workers in the EU) lost their jobs without any notice or redundancy money has hardly made the front-page news. When the word 'flexibility' became one of the staples at the political table in the 1990s, it was dressed up as a stepping stone towards a shiny permanent career.

For masses of workers, however, the only permanent thing they got to know was a non-stop "temping" condition in unprotected, dead-end, low-paid jobs. In the words of TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, "Too many employers are using agencies to replace secure jobs with reasonable terms and conditions with badly paid, insecure agency staff. Far from providing a bridge to permanent work, this runs the risk of creating an underclass of workers who cannot get permanent work, who have no loyalty to employers, and who have to move from part-time job to part-time job. "

Most importantly- and you won't hear any politician talking about this - this same temping army have spent years in the labour market without any chance of signing up to a pension scheme. If you consider Britain's post-WWII history, this is unprecedented, especially on such a large scale. The risk is that when this generation reaches pensionable age, millions of extra people will be left the wrong side of the poverty line.

Also, the victims of repossessions are hardly hitting the news. You don't have to be a left-wing liberal to realise that losing your home must be one of the worst experiences imaginable. And this is happening to 75,000 families this year on top of the 45,000 in 2008. Think of the amount of documentaries or investigative reports that could be made on the subject.

And yet you'll find that "Smeargate" and the naval-gazing and toss-arguing about Labour's weakness and inability to connect with people (this one by John Harris is a classic example), are receving a hundred times more attention. Stuff that, to most, sound incomprehensible at best and irrelevant at worst.

Millions of people are gagging to know: which political group is ready to offer immediate and factual help to the forgotten victims of the crisis?

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