Goodbye to Steady Employment
Looking back, it was easy. When I was starting work at the end of the 1960s no one said I had to work for free as an intern, no one said all they could offer was a part-time job, no one said you must be ready to work but we’ll only pay you if we call you in. If you survived a probationary period, you became a permanent member of staff. Many of us even accrued pensions linked to our final salary, to remove financial anxiety from retirement.
This epoch coincided with one of economic expansion and rising prosperity on the island of Great Britain. If you worked hard you could ‘get on’.
It’s now so much harder to ‘get on’. The average gross earnings figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for April to June 2014 are for ‘full time’ jobs only, and are £565 a week, for men and women combined. The average gross weekly earnings for men in the UK were £613 a week in this second quarter of 2014, and for women, £490 – a gap of 20%, but that’s yet another story.
Nearly 31 million people were ‘in employment’ in June, July and August 2014. The total was 30.763 million, according to ONS. Barely more than six in ten, 62.2%, of these were employees with full-time jobs. They numbered 19.149 million, and the earnings data applies just to them. It does not apply to the 6.837 million part-time employees, to the 3.255 million self-employed working full-time or the 1.268 million part-time self-employed. Nor does it apply to 126,000 unpaid family workers, or to 128,000 on government employment schemes. It does apply to temporary employees doing full-time hours, but the very large number of temporary workers, 1.696 million between June and August 2014, hints at the insecurity in the workplace.
Bearing in mind the UK’s burgeoning population, 64.1 million in June 2013 and likely to be around 64.5 million now, an annual growth of 0.6%, the numbers of good, stable jobs need to rise in step. Instead it is insecure and unpaid employment that is growing most. The number of temporary jobs increased 7.3% in the year to June-August 2014, the self-employed ranks swelled by 6.6%, and the number of unpaid family workers soared 8.6%.
To keep pace with the cost of living as measured by the Retail Prices Index, wages should have risen by 5.70% in the two years from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2014. The average rise for employees with full-time jobs, who are only 62.2% of all those ‘in employment’, was 2.36%, an actual cut in value of 3.34%. Those living in Northern Ireland fared worst, seeing the real value of wages slump by 10.52% during those two years, followed by the West Midlands with a real cut of 5.11%, and the Yorkshire/Humber region with a fall of 4.46%. No wonder that income tax receipts are disappointing.
Employees with full-time jobs in Wales have, on average, seen a 1.5% increase in the real value of their pay over the two years 2012-14, but that pay, an average of £506 a week, was a lot lower than the UK average of £565. In addition, Wales had only 974,000 people working full-time in the year ending June 2014, and they included the full-timers among the 192,000 self-employed. In Wales, one in seven, 14.1%, of all those classed as employed were self-employed, without security or benefits like paid holidays, or indeed any guarantee of regular income.
The figures, from the Labour Force Survey and the Annual Population Survey, are subject to survey error, but give a sharp flavour of falling real wages for full-time employees over the UK, except in Wales and North East England where incomes are still below average. And, everywhere, we have zero-hours contracts. The Office for National Statistics carried out a survey into the use of zero-hours contracts during two weeks in late January and early February 2014, and reckoned that in some 1.4 million cases, employees with no guarantee of work were called in at least once. ONS also found 1.3 million contracts under which no work at all was done during those two weeks. By their very existence, zero-hours contracts highlight the present powerlessness of swathes of the workforce.
Pat Dodd Racher