We continue the serialisation of our intervention, The Viable Economy, this time with just one section, on Work and Income. You can download the whole pamphlet as a pdf file, here.
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The unviable economy is not a good place to work and nor is it a good place to not work1. On the one hand decreasing numbers of people work in high pressure, highly skilled jobs, administering the increasingly irrational system. On the other hand there are those who would like to, and could do paid work, but who cannot get employment, or who are under-employed. In between there are the armies of those with poor pay and conditions, the working poor. As automation and productivity increase then more and more people become surplus to the system’s requirements, their work, at best, becoming more routinised, their employment and income becoming more precarious, or at worst they join the ranks off the long-term unemployed. This pattern is what we have in our region, and it is what characterises the global system. In all places there is the co-existence of modern, technology-based forms of work and exploitation, with more brutal patterns of exploitation (including people-trafficking and forced labour, zero-hours contracts, outsourcing and home-working)2. Meanwhile, unwaged work, chiefly of women in nurturing and caring, subsidises the system as it extracts profit3.
As this system has become entrenched pay differentials have become much more unequal, while out of work benefits have become meaner and ever more conditional. At the same time a constant drone of political rhetoric about ‘hard-working families’ demonises those who do not have the capacity or opportunity for paid work.
The viable alternative
In the viable economy, work both paid and unpaid fulfils a purpose while its duties and benefits are shared. Remuneration for satisfying, interesting work is at a reasonable level and while incentives and rewards exist, they are at modest levels. People who are not able to do paid work, or for whom there is no paid work are paid a reasonable wage with obligations to contribute to the community or environmental goals. The viable economy, then, implies a shift of emphasis from pointless work for private profit to meaningful work for public good for all types of work whether paid or unpaid.
Some viable policy ideas
Promote the Living Wage with the goal of participation by all large employers, public and quasi-public sector organisations and all their suppliers and contractors.
Establish a common basis for establishing the benefits of work experience whether in or beyond formal employment via a straightforward regional personal development portfolio for lifelong learning and community contribution for all people whether in or out of work. Encourage participation by colleges, large employers, the public sector and those under contract to them, and from community based organisations.
Prioritise investment in labour-intense industry and decent jobs, recognising that there is a trade-off between availability of jobs, on the one hand, and the need to improve work-life balance and reduce overall working hours on the other.
Campaign for fiscal autonomy for the region and use it to trial a citizens’ income. Beyond this, campaign for introduction of an emissions cap and share framework as a redistributive and ecological strategy4.
Campaign for an overall reduction in working hours, thereby releasing employment for those that want it and increasing the potential for employed people to undertake unpaid work in the home and community. This could lead to firstly, the reduction of hours worked over contract, whether paid or unpaid, for example by ending opt-outs from the Working time Directive, backed by a Living Wage to reduce the need for low-paid people to work long hours, and secondly, the overall reduction towards a 21 hour working week5.
A reduction in working hours (together with the approach to investment discussed in section 7) could also help combat the upward rise in retirement age, with a balanced approach to contribution and income over the life-span.
1By work we include waged and unwaged work.
3Mies, M., & Bennholdt-Thomsen, V. (1999). The subsistence perspective : beyond the globalized economy. London: Zed Books.
4See note 30
5“Twenty-one hours is close to the average that people of working age in Britain spend in paid work and just a little more than the average spent in unpaid work.” New Economics Foundation http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/21-hours