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Posts Tagged ‘Inequality’

Inequality and the Generation Gap. More Than Meets the Eye?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Read any newspaper or magazine which focuses on economics and politics over the last few days and you will have almost certainly stumbled upon the idea of “intergenerational inequality”. The basic argument goes; for most of modern history in Britain every successive generation has enjoyed improved living standards compared to the generation that came before it. However, thanks to the economic crisis of the past decade there is a real chance that this will not hold true for the generation born between 1981-2000 (the so-called “millennials”). A basic tenant of our social contract and a fundamental aspiration for every parent, that our children should have a better life than we did, has been thrown into doubt in a way that is truly unprecedented.

Is that fear justified? I’d argue “Yes, up to a point”. It’s true that the figures don’t make for pretty reading. According to the Resolution Foundation, older millennials (around 30-35 years old) are the first workers to earn less than those born five years before them, and many of them entered work before the Great Recession. At the same time, it’s been reported recently that pensioner household incomes have overtaken those of working age equivalents for the first time.

Clearly something needs to be done, but the danger here is that we start seeing intergenerational inequality as a zero sum game, where making things better for young people can only be done by taking away from older people. Will, for example, will following the advice of some in abolishing the “triple lock” on pensions (where pension increase per year by the higher of the growth in average earnings, the Consumer Price Index or 2.5%) create good-quality, high-paid jobs for young people by itself? I’d argue not. Reducing inequality must come from lifting people up to the same level, not dragging them down.

I’d go further and say that treating entire generations like some vast amorphous block does nobody any favours. Take two young people born on the same day; one living in the countryside and another living in an inner city. Do they really have any similarities beyond the fact that they share a birthday? Do we miss any potential inequality in income and opportunity between these two because we’re more focused on how they’re doing compared to their parents? A few facts and figures can show what this means in practice. While some pensioners may be earning more than those in work, there are still 1.6 million pensioners (14% of the total pensioner population) living below the poverty line after housing costs. A higher income young person at age 20 has a greater income than a poorer member of their parent’s generation at any age.

We must resolve ourselves to fighting inequality wherever we see it, not setting up one generation against another. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways in which we can do this. Building more and better housing will benefit both young people looking to settle down and older people looking to move or downsize in retirement. Protecting pensions gives security not just to people on the verge of retirement age, but to young people who want to know that pensions will still be there for them decades from now. This is more than a dry debate about economics. If we accept that inequality both between and within generations is one of the gravest issues we face (and I believe it is) then how we deal with it says a lot about what kind of country we are.

I’ve had enough of the policies of scapegoating, divide-and-rule and “us versus them”. We need to be far more ambitious and far more progressive before we can even begin to put things right.

Fight for Worker’s Rights in the 21st Century

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

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For those who still believe that employers should offer a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work there were two pieces of good news this week. Down in London, workers for restaurant food delivery startup Deliveroo successfully protested against changes to the company’s payment policy that would lead to them being paid substantially less than the national minimum wage. At the same time, thousands of workers at Sports Direct are set to receive back pay totalling almost £1 million after the retailer, which is also facing an investigation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, admitted that they had broken the law by not paying their employees the national minimum wage.

It should be noted that neither of these companies are struggling financially. In the three years since its creation in 2013 Deliveroo’s value has reached over £700 million, and Sports Direct remain a fixture on almost every UK high street, bringing in a profit of £241.4 million last year.

Both companies, in their own ways, show how businesses and employers who should know better are trying to find ways to get out of their obligations to the people who work for them. Deliveroo insists that the people who work for them are not employees but “independent contractors” working through a tech platform that they provide. As such, despite these “independent” employees being forced to work set shifts and wear a branded uniform, they do not receive the most basic of rights, including sick pay and holiday allowances. Workers for Deliveroo have also been made to sign contracts that prevent them from taking grievances to any kind of employment tribunal.

In the case of Sports Direct, Parliament found that their practice of staffing their warehouses with agency workers on insecure, zero-hour contracts led to a laundry list of exploitation, including routine breaches of health and safety regulations, financially penalising and summarily dismissing workers for breaking minor rules (including complaining about their treatment and conditions), and making workers wait, unpaid, for mandatory security checks at the end of shifts, which brought their average earnings below the minimum wage (£6.50 an hour against the then-minimum rate of £6.70 an hour).

It is my hope that these two events will send a very clear message: paying employees at least what they are legally entitled to is not an optional extra, and treating employees with dignity and respect is not a nice to have. While the overwhelming majority of businesses have never needed reminding of this fact, we must always remain vigilant against those that seek to push the boundaries of what is legal and decent in the pursuit of profit over all.

But there is also a bigger picture at stake here. A hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution transformed our economy and society, generating enormous wealth and enormous hardship in equal measure. We didn’t respond by trying to turn back the clock, we responded with laws and regulations that kept the good, prevented the bad and reduced the inequalities between different levels of society. The march of technology is now changing the how we live and work inPorterlight-Bicycles-X-Deliveroo-Custom-London-Cargo-Bike-3-1024x575 a similar way to the Industrial Revolution, and the same principles must apply. As a country, we must embrace progress, but we cannot and should not allow it to be used to justify the stripping away of rights and benefits that workers fought for centuries to acquire. A future that does not carry everyone with it is no future at all.

Join the Fight Against State Pension Inequality

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

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Imagine this scenario. You’re a woman in her late 50s to early 60s; you’ve worked, brought up a family and contributed to society from an early age. You’ve made retirement plans based on what you were told your pension age would be. Then, with little or no warning, you are told that it will be years before you receive your pension, ruining all of your plans and potentially leaving you in desperate financial circumstances.

Surely this can’t be fair? Unfortunately, for up to 500,000 women in the UK it’s a reality, a reality that is already happening to them. That’s why the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign is so important, and why the work that our MPs; Angela Rayner, Andrew Gwynne and Jonathan Reynolds have put in to raise this in Parliament should be applauded.

A bit of backstory is necessary here. Back in 1995, the Pensions Act passed by John Major’s Conservative government included plans to raise the retirement age for women from 60 to 65, bringing it into line with the retirement age for men. This process, known as “equalisation”, was due to be completed by 2020. In 2007, the Labour government also scheduled an increase in retirement age for both men and women to 66, to take effect between 2024 and 2026. Due to the long timeframes involved neither of these moves was particularly controversial. However, the 2011 Pension Act introduced by the coalition government accelerated the entire process. The rise to 65 for women would now happen between 2016 and 2018, and then both sexes’ pension age would rise to 66 by 2020.

What does this all mean in practice? In broad strokes, it means that millions of men and women will have to wait longer before they can claim their state pension. That’s bad enough as it is, but look a bit closer and you’ll see that it’s even worse than it sounds for women approaching pension age. Over half a million women born between 6th October 1953 and 5th April 1955 will now have to wait a year longer to collect their pensions. Of those, 300,000 born between December 1953 and October 1954 will see an increase of almost 18 months. When you add in the 1995 rise in pension age for women as well, many women who expected to receive their pensions at 60 will have to wait three, five or even six years longer than they planned before they receive their pensions. In some cases, a difference of a few months in age between two women can result in a delay of years in reaching pension age. To make matters even worse, many of the women affected received little or no warning of the changes, leaving them scrambling to fill in the gaping holes that have been blown into their retirement plans through no fault of their own.

The WASPI campaign are calling for transitional arrangements for soften this blow for women across the country, helping them get their retirement back on track. I urge you to join your voice to theirs by signing the petition here. Together we make the government offer women a fair deal on pensions.

The Great Public Health Carve-Up (Part 2)

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Almost half a year ago I reported in this blog that the government had announced a £200m cut in local health spending. Local authorities such as the one I lead have had a legal responsibility for improving the health of our residents, for running public health services such as sexual health programs, alcohol and substance abuse treatments, and for providing advice and information so those who need our help can access it.

I bring this up today because the government has now launched a consultation on a further cut to our public health funding next year on top of what we have already suffered. Greater Manchester as a whole is losing almost £10 million in public health money after April 2016, but that figure hides more than a few other stories. I said last year that while these responsibilities often go unnoticed, they are absolutely vital in keeping the NHS financially sustainable. A penny spent by local authorities on helping someone give up smoking is hundreds of pounds the NHS doesn’t have to spend when the same person develops lung cancer.  Furthermore, many of the frontline health services we use are commissioned from NHS providers. A public health cut would add more pressure to beleaguered NHS finances, either from reduced income from commissioned services or from increased service demand in the absence of preventative care. It’s a classic example of robbing Peter to pay Paul in the name of “austerity”.

It’s no secret that Tameside suffers from poor health outcomes. The recently released Index of Multiple Deprivation shown that Tameside was the 16th most deprived out of 326 local authorities studied for health deprivation. Our healthy life expectancy (How many years people can expect to live in a “healthy state”) is 57. We desperately need investment in the kind of preventative measures that public health services specialise in. So how has the government responded to this need? By cutting our health grant next year by £1 million this year and £340,000 next year. Worst still, the cuts are being distributed in a manner that breaks the link between an area’s need for public health services and the funding given to run those services. This is due to two things: Firstly, the new figures to calculate how much funding is required for sexual health and substance misuse services are not connected to either the level of need or the harm caused by drugs and alcohol in the area. Secondly, the government has reduced the amount of funding that children in poverty receive compared to children not in poverty.

Across the board the story of this cut is that deprived areas with higher levels of premature morality have lost out to affluent areas with ageing populations. A public health system that favours authorities with aging populations is worse than useless when most of the people in your authority won’t live long enough to benefit from it. We need a funding system that lets us improve health equalities across the country, giving people the chance to grow old no matter where they are born. The current system of cuts is the exact opposite, widening gulfs in health outcomes and making the most important factor to a long life being what postcode you live in.

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