A report by the National Institute of Economic & Social Research show that Britain's youngest workers have suffered an unprecedented fall in real wages since 2008. For those under 25, pay was down more than 14% and at levels last seen 16 years ago, in 1998. For workers aged 25-29, real weekly wages, adjusted for inflation, were down 12% at 1999 levels, according to the think tank. Real weekly wages overall have fallen by about 8% since 2008, equivalent to a fall in annual earnings of about £2,000 for a typical worker in Britain.
The number of workers on zero-hours contracts has almost tripled to 1.4 million since last year's estimate, according to official data. More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The survey showed half of all workers in the tourism, catering and food sector have no guarantees of work. Retail and the care industry are also big users of zero-hours deals. Zero-hours contracts were found in the survey to be relatively rare among workers in the financial and professional services.
Critics of zero-hours contracts have argued that, far from being a response of employers to the financial crash, they signal a more fundamental shift to casual employment, especially in the public sector. The care industry employs more than 160,000 staff on zero-hours contracts, while hospitals have switched in the past two years to insisting that large numbers of workers, including anaesthetists and radiologists, are grouped in "banks" from which they bid to fill upcoming rotas.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said zero-hours contracts were only one element of a national issue of poverty among people who have jobs. Katie Schmuecker, policy and research manager at the foundation, said: "Zero-hours contracts are just one aspect of the UK's problem with in-work poverty. We have workers unable to get enough hours to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, and not being offered training and development by their employer, leaving them stuck in dead-end jobs.”
Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC said: "Insecure work with no guarantee of regular paid hours is no longer confined to the fringes of the jobs market. It is worrying that so many young people are trapped on zero-hours contracts, which can hold back their careers and make it harder to pay off debts like student loans. The fact that these contracts have become the norm in tourism, catering and food will be a major concern for the millions of people employed in these industries."
British workers are being urged to join in with huge, unregulated global workforces such as China's and become part of a race to the bottom of wage-slavery.
The long-term unemployed (one in 30 claimants, who have been out of work for more than three years), will now have to attend a jobcentre every day or commit to six months of voluntary work or a training scheme, or payments will be stopped. This is called Help to Work. It doesn't help. It won't work. Many leading charities such as Oxfam are boycotting mandatory work placements because they think the key word in voluntary work is voluntary. This is much the same as if you were sentenced as a convicted criminal to community service. Cameron said this week: "The day of giving people benefit cheques and not asking for anything in return – those days are gone." Forcing people to work for free will push people into "proper" work, he reckons. Osborne has a fantasy of full employment.
Jobcentre facilities and staff won’t be able to cope. The government's own research indicates that unpaid work placements are not increasing the chances of claimants finding work. As Guardian writer Suzanne Moore asks “ What, pray, will happen when jobseeker's allowance is docked because someone falls foul of the rules? If you stop their £72 a week, what then? Do they not eat? Does some other agency step in? How much will that cost? Do we have no politicians who will denounce this wickedness?”