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Life on the Breadline
March 18, 2012 5:34 AM   Subscribe

Welcome to the world of Britain's working poor. The Rowleys belong to a section of society not much mentioned in ministerial and media dispatches. They are neither the very wealthy affected by the 50p tax nor the "squeezed middle" expressing anxiety about child benefit and this week's budget; nor are the Rowleys representative of the long-term unemployed or one of the 120,000 "troubled families" in which the government is investing £448m over the next three years.

Crisy and Richard are one among thousands of couples who, without attracting much attention, live daily on a precarious and crumbling financial cliff edge. They are the working poor, frequently self-employed, paying dearly and disproportionately simply because they want to stay in jobs, no matter how low the pay.
posted by modernnomad (105 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The cost of childcare, the low hourly rates and the anomalies in benefits are a vice squeezing the life out of the aspirations and hopes of people like Richard and Crisy. And worse is to come. Next month, the rules on working tax credit change. Now a couple need to work 16 hours between them to be eligible. From April a couple must work 24 hours. If Richard loses his job, then because Crisy is employed for 10 hours, the family will no longer be eligible for working tax credit. £3,870 will be cut from their annual income, already stretched tissue thin.
And, meanwhile, the Coalition wants to reduce the top level of tax, from 50p in the pound to 40p. And damn the revenue losses. In case anyone was wondering, this—the removal of tax credits at the bottom end at the same time that those at the very top are showered with thousands of pounds of new income—is what class warfare looks like. So pardon some of us if we start talking like old-school Marxists. Because that time has come.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:01 AM on March 18, 2012 [85 favorites]


I know this is going to sound kind of insensitive, but I'm genuinely asking: why do couples in this situation have kids? And not just one, but two (and often more)?
posted by Mooseli at 6:24 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mooseli, the article suggests the kids in question were born at a time when the family weren't struggling nearly so much.

The benefits situation here is getting patently ridiculous. I've been on crutches for a year (owing to nothing more than a broken foot which is healing excruciatingly slowly) and they haven't let me sign on Jobseeker's Allowance in that time, arguing that I wasn't fit to work (which sends what message to people with more permanent impairments?) insisting that I instead apply for ESA (Employment Support Allowance, which is what's replaced Incapacity Benefit and is what you fall back on if you're not eligible for statutory sick pay). The benefit is exactly the same money - just over £50 a week. The difference is that I'm not in the unemployment statistics this way. To top it off, ESA have been finding every possible excuse they can to not pay me, meaning I've not seen a penny of income of any sort whatever since October. I'm still trying to get them to pay out, and they're still coming up with all sorts of novel document requests they hope I can't fulfil - the latest two being my birth certificate and passport, originals only, no copies. (This was dealt with by getting authorised and witnessed copies made at the local DWP branch, which they legally have to accept as equivalent to originals). Consistently I'm treated as if I'm trying to cheat the system merely by claiming benefits, made to jump through a series of ridiculous and arduous hoops, and so far, I have nothing to show for the last half year of this.

And the government wants to make it harder to get ESA. The extent to which these people are despicable cunts is impossible to explain.
posted by Dysk at 6:32 AM on March 18, 2012 [42 favorites]


(And yes, I've been applying for work - over 230 applications in the last half year - but oddly enough, no-one's hired me.)
posted by Dysk at 6:34 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know this is going to sound kind of insensitive, but I'm genuinely asking: why do couples in this situation have kids? And not just one, but two (and often more)?

If a nation starts questioning the idea of poor people having children, then things are going very, very awry.
posted by zardoz at 6:37 AM on March 18, 2012 [72 favorites]


Dysk, sending empathies from across the pond. My sister had to fight for a good 8 years trying to get on disability here in the states. The hoops and appeals and jumping they make you go through is so fucking horrible, and I'm sorry you have to go through something similar.
posted by symbioid at 6:45 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a nation starts questioning the idea of poor people having children, then things are going very, very awry.

If a democratic nation starts questioning the idea of its working class -people like the Rowleys - having children, it is probably doomed.

Or its days as a democracy are numbered.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:47 AM on March 18, 2012 [36 favorites]


ryanhepard: Thanks for not adding ftfy in this conversation.
posted by hal9k at 6:57 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Another symptom stands out in the article; this idea of "doing the right thing" vs "benefit cheats". It can be so hard to hear people believing the idea that they're doing everyone a favour by not taking government help when they don't seem to realize that they've paid for it already - taxes. If it's ok for the rich to claim they need more money from the government then so should the poor, but it's always framed differently and leads to rude, unhelpful bureaucracies that work to keep the poor from accessing what little help is available to them.

When you read:
Sue should be on antidepressants but can't afford the prescription. Her husband has toothache but can't pay the cost of the dentist. "If we were out of work, we'd get free school meals, dentistry, opticians, prescriptions, help with the council tax," Sue says in tears again. "We had so much going for us . Now, I sometimes can't even afford the petrol to get to work. It is so embarrassing."
It's hard not think they need to find some way to get themselves out of work but quick. "Benefit cheats" aren't cheating when they're ensuring their own health and safety; that's the whole idea of a safety net, last I checked.
posted by Salmonberry at 7:05 AM on March 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


...the house, bought five years ago for £156,000
...If Richard is in work all year, the couple's combined salary is £16,627


They have borrowed nearly 10 X combined salary to buy this house, right now the interest-only mortgage is probably cheaper than renting but whats going to happen if interest rates ever rise above 0.5%?
posted by Lanark at 7:08 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


when they bought it they were earning probably double that as she was working full-time and he was in the military.

Of course 5x income is nuts, but I think that's pretty close to median in the South-east of England.
posted by JPD at 7:12 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few years back, I was hospitalised with a life-threatening disease for about a month whilst studying at post-grad level. When I got out I was too sick to go back on my course, so I was allowed to leave the course and they would hold the place for me, allowing me to heal up and come back when I was ready.

To the people in charge of ESA, this meant that I was attending a university course, and was therefore unable to claim their benefits. Sure, I might be on enough steroids to bulk up a mouse, unable to stand for long periods of time, and living in a relatives home 250 miles away from my university, but the fact that I might want to resume my expensive Masters-level course meant I couldn't possibly be *that* sick.

The point of this is not that I got sick, but that the safety net completely failed me. I'm not surprised that it fails other people, who might be less adroit at dealing with the system. I'm a pretty intelligent guy, and I had a lot of time to devote to understanding their rules, and I still failed. I eventually admitted defeat and gave up dealing with the system, as the stress was too much for me during my illness.

Since then, everything I've read and seen only points to the system getting worse, and denying more people. The sentencing for last summers riots seemed harsh at the time, but it wasn't really about those rioters - it was a sentence for the rioters to come this year, who've been at the hard edge of living without a safety net for a few years now.
posted by The River Ivel at 7:17 AM on March 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


That makes for horrifying reading. It's almost impossible to break out of that cycle once stuck in it, yet the myth still persists that it's possible to climb the ladder when everything conspires against you. Why not bring the universal tax credit forward rather than create more dire problems for families that will cost more to fix in the long run by letting the existing credit expire?
posted by arcticseal at 7:26 AM on March 18, 2012


The Working and Child Tax Credits was one of the greatest things that the last Labour government achieved. With surprisingly little fanfare it made an enormous difference to the lives of millions of working class people in the UK.

Somehow I think the gutting of Tax Credits will make as equally enormous a difference to those people.

Whether the minimal impact on the Media and Political classes will mean it will once again go largely unreported remains to be seen, I have a feeling the electoral response will be loud enough to hear though. It wasn't just his smile which kept Blair in power for so long.
posted by fullerine at 7:28 AM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


We've got an eight-year-old cooker and the boiler is older than me

Translation? I was imagining oven and stove, respectively, but those are usually one unit in the US, and an eight year old oven is actually quite new.
posted by desjardins at 7:42 AM on March 18, 2012


Let's not forget that they're pulling in £1800 a month, half of which comes from the government.

And a quarter of that is going straight back out in interest payments to the bank.

I don't know what the solution is, but the fact is that if a couple on a minimum wage job needs that wage provided again on top of what they already earn, then something is very wrong with our current system.

The government is topping things up to a level where they can just survive. That seems about right.

And the post was presented in quite an axe-grindy way. This sort of shit has been going on for decades. That we're just noticing it now under a Tory government reeks of propaganda.
posted by zoo at 7:46 AM on March 18, 2012


An oven is likely an electric oven. They probably get natural gas piped to their home to run their hobs.

A boiler typically heats your water for washing and heating your home through radiators.

An eight year old cooker is no biggie. A 20+ year old boiler will be inefficient and, in all likelihood, prone to stopping working.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:47 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


desjardins: An eight year old cooker isn't super old, no. Ours is about ten years old. It's a bit bashed up, but it's fine.

The Boiler is the thing that provides hot water for the house.
posted by zoo at 7:48 AM on March 18, 2012


Translation? I was imagining oven and stove, respectively, but those are usually one unit in the US, and an eight year old oven is actually quite new.

The boiler will be to heat their hot water or for their central heating. And white goods (ie cookers, freezers, washing machines, fridges etc) are only expected to have a life of five years.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:48 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those that are saying the poor are always with us... well things were not so bad a few years ago and dropping a benefit is going to make things a hell of a lot worse for edge cases like this very quickly

However, many of the working poor are in a fraught situation, not because of their behaviour but because of the structural inadequacies of the system. The economy is not generating extra hours of work. In the six years to 2010, £150bn was spent on tax credits. They were essential for survival but they also provided a huge subsidy for employers, in many instances paying pitiful wages.

This. There have been some major structural problems with the economy and the last government's subsidising low wages may have in the end done more harm that good.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:51 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. Sorry for the derail. Carry on.
posted by desjardins at 7:53 AM on March 18, 2012


I know this is going to sound kind of insensitive, but I'm genuinely asking: why do couples in this situation have kids? And not just one, but two (and often more)?

Because having children is a human right.

Making people wait until they are financially secure to have children is akin to demanding that the some working poor be sterilized -- because they have no guarantee that they will ever be financially secure.

would it seem at all reasonable to say, "You are an economic underclass, therefore you are forbidden to reproduce"?
posted by jb at 7:53 AM on March 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


Or in other words, Kill The Poor
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:00 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population..."
posted by blue_beetle at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


I get the feeling that every single penny of extra help given to the poor has been soaked up by increases in the housing market. That wealth we felt over the reign of Blair... Nothing but herd mentality borrowing huge amounts of money from houses we didn't own.

This was Thatcher's fault BTW. The minute she started selling council houses was the minute this country was doomed.

So what we have is a decade and a half of bullshitting ourselves that we can afford it, whilst we pile debts up that the upcoming generations will have to pay for. And we're only just noticing that we can't afford fuck all.

Blaming the upcoming storm on the coalition's tinkering with the top rate of tax is like blaming the guy who asked for extra ice in his martini just before the Titanic went down.

Meanwhile, we're stuck in this vicious place where everybody else is to blame, where we want everyone to pay except ourselves and the majority of the vitriol for proposed changes is being forced on Nick Clegg.
posted by zoo at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or, we could just say the Tories hate poor people, that the deficit can easily be fixed by cracking down on tax avoidance and by quoting that miserable little sociopathic misogynist Charles Dickens.
posted by zoo at 8:07 AM on March 18, 2012


zoo: Blaming the upcoming storm on the coalition's tinkering with the top rate of tax is like blaming the guy who asked for extra ice in his martini just before the Titanic went down.

Yeah, except it's not just "tinkering with the top rate of tax".

It's the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 a year for students. It's the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), one of the few things that kept poor 16-19 year olds in full time education. It's the proposal leaked yesterday that public sector employees should be paid less if they live in poorer areas. It's the tax policies and insider dealing that allow companies like Vodafone to make sweetheart deals which let them off with £6bn(!) in tax. It's the privatisation of the NHS and how that's further going to fuck the public purse.

And a whole lot more I'm too angry to get into right now.
posted by Len at 8:12 AM on March 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


zoo: Meanwhile, we're stuck in this vicious place where everybody else is to blame, where we want everyone to pay except ourselves and the majority of the vitriol for proposed changes is being forced on Nick Clegg ... Or, we could just say the Tories hate poor people, that the deficit can easily be fixed by cracking down on tax avoidance and by quoting that miserable little sociopathic misogynist Charles Dickens.
Let me guess. You're a Liberal Democrat?
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:15 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Paul Mason, Newsnight's economics' guy, wrote a very good piece I read recently saying we were in a much worse position at the end of the Second World War and we got out of that and built a welfare state on top of it. The solution is to basically inflate all the debt away. It would be slightly trickier to set up, what with more global markets, but still doable. Politically it would be another matter as it would wipe out the savings of those that have done all right and full employment will be hated by big business as it would mean wage bills going up (even if other business costs go down). So I can't see it happening unless things get really nasty.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:16 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The differentiation in pay for the public sector is one particularly insane, spite and vicious Tory policy. One of the big problems with the economy is the fact that bits of the Britain (ie the SE) are as flush as Germany, where as other parts like the NE approaching, well may be not Greece yet but certainly as bad as some of Southern Europe. That will only make it worse.

Oh and another big problem is too many sectors governed by a cartel of a few big companies... but as that's the Tory bread basket / future directorships for MPs I can see that changing soon
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:21 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tuition fees. Probably the thing I agree with you the most here, but lets not forget that you don't have to start paying those fees off until you're earning a good wage.

EMA. Actually, this is the thing I agree with you the most.

Public sector paid less if they live in poorer areas. It's cheaper to live in poorer areas. Why should public sector workers in areas like the North East be paid more than the taxpayers around them that pay their wages? There's been a London allowance for the Public Sector for years. I haven't seen this criticism levelled at that.

That vodafone stuff. Mistakes made during the Labour years. The Tory government are just drawing a line (albeit clumsily) under the mistakes of previous governments.

Privatisation of the NHS. The fucking NHS could do with some privatising. It's a behemouth the British public has never been able to afford. Paid for with American money; consistently subsidised by the selling off of our national infrastructure; unworkable & unaffordable.

But giving people more choice, and localising decision making is not privatisation. Current policies may be ill thought out and useless, but to label it as a kind of back door privatisation is a nonsense.
posted by zoo at 8:23 AM on March 18, 2012


Salmonberry: Another symptom stands out in the article; this idea of "doing the right thing" vs "benefit cheats". It can be so hard to hear people believing the idea that they're doing everyone a favour by not taking government help when they don't seem to realize that they've paid for it already—taxes.
Yeah. And it's due to the success of thirty-odd years of neoliberal propaganda, which has encouraged people to think of benefit claimants as irremediably other—a class unto themselves, rather than people temporarily having a tough time. There's a kind of subconscious mental shorthand at work here, where the very act of claiming "handouts" is somehow "cheating," rather than, say, drawing down on a sum of capital already accrued through years of tax payments. Or, you know, being helped out in a time of need as any citizen of a decent country should be. Especially if they have children, who are fundamentally not to blame for the cavalcade of supposed working-class sins zoo lists above.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:24 AM on March 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


And yes - I'm a died in the wool Liberal Democrat. But that has little to do with my anger at how much blame is consistently laid at Clegg's feet.
posted by zoo at 8:26 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cavalcade of working class sins??? Name one working class sin I've mentioned. Show me one point where I lay any blame at the feet of the the poor of this country.
posted by zoo at 8:28 AM on March 18, 2012


I don't think that the families profiled in the article would separate themselves from people on benefits -- for the first family, one of their big problems has been the job seekers allowance they have been trying to get. There was certainly no "I've never used govt handouts" type rhetoric -- they were trying to get the benefits to which they are entitled.
posted by jb at 8:32 AM on March 18, 2012


Why should public sector workers in areas like the North East be paid more than the taxpayers around them that pay their wages?

It's not about them earning more than the 'tax payers' (and public sectors pay tax too). It's about them earning a bit more money in relative terms to encourage the best staff to work there. Also it puts a bit extra money into the local economy to try and help to bring it up.

But giving people more choice, and localising decision making is not privatisation

But it's not about that, is it. It's for instance about forcing GPs to become employees in little companies they have no idea how to manage that will end up being bought out by huge foreign companies.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:37 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


zoo: Public sector paid less if they live in poorer areas. It's cheaper to live in poorer areas. Why should public sector workers in areas like the North East be paid more than the taxpayers around them that pay their wages?

How about BECAUSE THEY'RE ALSO FUCKING TAXPAYERS? This bullshit distinction that somehow public sector workers are somehow leeches getting fat off the hard work of private sector employees is one of the most toxic pieces of bullshit that's currently being peddled. It's not as if being employed by the public sector instantly means your tax bill drops to zero. (For that, you need to be a multinational corporation.)

There's been a London allowance for the Public Sector for years. I haven't seen this criticism levelled at that.
Yeah, and the London weighting is totally fair. The London weighting says your job is worth this much, but since you live in London, we'll help you out because the cost of housing etc is so disproportionately high. This new policy says "if you're a social worker in Darlington, your job is only worth £18k/yr. If you're a social worker in Cambridge, it's worth £25k/yr" and that's a completely different dynamic.

It'll also fuck the economies of regions already straining, like the north east. Because when people in areas where the cost of living is lower earn a decent wage, they pump that money into the local economy, thus creating jobs, thus giving more people disposable income, which is further put back into the local economy. This is basic Keynsian economics.
posted by Len at 8:39 AM on March 18, 2012 [33 favorites]


Privatisation of the NHS. The fucking NHS could do with some privatising. It's a behemouth the British public has never been able to afford. Paid for with American money; consistently subsidised by the selling off of our national infrastructure; unworkable & unaffordable.

Anybody who thinks this has no business commenting on British politics.

That's not even wrong, that's out in cloud cuckoo land.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:40 AM on March 18, 2012 [39 favorites]


This new policy says "if you're a social worker in Darlington, your job is only worth £18k/yr. If you're a social worker in Cambridge, it's worth £25k/yr" and that's a completely different dynamic.

Is this not linked to cost of living? And if it is, isn't it just the same logic as giving people in London more?
posted by JPD at 8:50 AM on March 18, 2012



Privatisation of the NHS. The fucking NHS could do with some privatising. It's a behemouth the British public has never been able to afford....

SNIP

We can 'afford' as a 21st century society to keep our people for FALLING ILL AND DYING OF SIMPLY TREATABLE DISEASES IF THEY DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY. We spend hundreds of billions on unnecessary 'defense', we give vast tax breaks to corporations, we have incredible subsdies for all kinds of voluntary activities, and yet the NHS is always brought up as 'unaffordable'. Private healthcare has worked SOOO well in the US (cough).
posted by lalochezia at 8:51 AM on March 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


Come on Len. Being paid more because you're in London is cool, but being paid more because you're in Cambridge is uncool. You can spin that as much as you want, but you must realise what you're saying makes little sense.

If you're going to pump money into the economy, hows about you pump it into the economy where it's needed. Hows about you make sure that JSA and ESA pay out a bit more.

Public sector workers do less work, they get paid more and they have fantastic pensions to boot. They're an important part of the country, but insisting that someone living in a poor part of the country has to be paid the same as someone in a more expensive part (unless its London) should be debated with more nuance than it's getting at the moment. Frankly, I suspect that the Grarr coming from the Labour party about this is just Tory Bashing.

And MartinWisse. Thank's for insisting I have no business in discussing politics. Maybe there's other groups of people should be excluded from the political process too. Maybe I could have my voting rights removed.

According to you, stating that the NHS was initially funded by America is cloud cuckoo land, but insisting that British citizens you don't agree with should not be able to vote isn't. That's a fucking topsy turvy world you're living in just there.
posted by zoo at 8:55 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


lalochezia: We surely would be able to afford a 21st century NHS if we were spending hundreds of billions on defense. But as we're only spending £38bn on defense, I'm apt to believe that you're talking out of your arse.
posted by zoo at 8:59 AM on March 18, 2012


@JPD: London is an exception because the housing costs are many deviations off normal.

The idea is that a job skill is worth a certain amount of compensation and that job skill in a government setting is expected to be worth the same across the country in order to encourage government employees to spread the benefit of their skill equally across the country.

In London though, which is way above the mean, in order to inject that skill you have to apply an allowance, otherwise London loses that benefit of that skill set, because no one can reasonably afford to live there on the pay band for that particular position.

It sounds unnecessarily punitive to me, and not logical at all.
posted by roboton666 at 9:02 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Privatisation of the NHS. The fucking NHS could do with some privatising. It's a behemouth the British public has never been able to afford.

The public pays for it either way, privatisation or not. Funny that Britain was able to pay for the NHS when the economy was a lot smaller.

The services still need to get paid for. What will change is the Tories will finally be able to generate a whole new profit making opportunity for their friends. I'm baffled at the idea that a private health system will provide the same level of care, costing less money, while providing a healthy return for the private companies who will run it.

Still, we're all in this together. Though some more than others.
posted by daveje at 9:04 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


roboton666: I wouldn't say "many deviations off normal"

Average house price in UK: £200K

Average house price in London : £400K
Average House price in Cambridge : £300K
Average House price in Middlesborough: £115K

So should there be a Cambridge Weighting?
posted by zoo at 9:07 AM on March 18, 2012


Notes from the US Healthcare system: Unless you intend to go completely free-market and stop even providing any care for the elderly, a system which involves paying government money to private enterprise for health care purposes does not work very well. The GAO estimates right now that the US pays about $48 billion a year in just improper and fraudulent claims. Of which our incredibly complicated fraud enforcement scheme recovers less than $3 billion. Health care program still make up 20% of the US budget despite vast numbers of people not actually getting anything near adequate care, and almost 6% of what we spend goes to fraud, not to mention how much of it goes to cover the increase in overhead from a decentralized system.

It's really not all it's cracked up to be. And these people still wouldn't have adequate medical care. So. Yeah.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:09 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cambridge rental housing is also as expensive as London.

that said, people who work in Cambridge do have the option to buy/rent in some of the villages outside of the town proper, and I gather that prices are much lower there - especially to the north (fen country).

My dream place to live would be somewhere like Ely.
posted by jb at 9:11 AM on March 18, 2012


If people are unclear about the ideological position of the Lib Dems, I think zoo is a good example of just what they have become. Some may feel he/she is spot on, others may feel the position is mistaken. However this is the echt Lib Dem voice nowadays.
posted by communicator at 9:23 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hey Zoo, you do have a tendency to put words in other people's mouths, don't you? Didn't say you shouldn't have the vote or whatever, just that obviously you're just too clueless to be able to comment knowably about British politics. Which isn't an unique position to be in, especially for a Lib Dem...

The NHS is the greatest accomplishment of post-war Britain, one of the few ways in which the UK really has been an example to other nations, able to provide healthcare to all for a fraction of the cost of a supposedly more efficient "free market" healthcare system like that in the US.

It's not perfect and as with any western country on the brink of the demographic shift caused by the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, it's looking at a huge challenge as it will need to provide this generation with more and more healthcare, but these problems cannot be solved by any sort of free market thinking.

Proof of that can be found in that large country on the other side of the Atlantic...
posted by MartinWisse at 9:28 AM on March 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


zoo: Public sector workers do less work, they get paid more

Have you got any evidence, any whatsoever, for this? Because in my experience, it's complete bollocks. I've known plenty of social workers, teachers, public health officers, speech therapists, doctors, nurses, radiographers, binmen, street cleaners and librarians, and bar the doctors, none of them were/are particularly well-remunerated, and most of them worked much harder than I've ever done, in all my private sector years of employment.

The starting salary for being a social worker – a job which requires extensive training, horrendous amounts of on the job stress, long working hours and fuck all thanks from anyone – is approx. £19,000pa. This is the same salary I was, until recently, paid by a big electronics corporation to stand on the shop floor of my local branch of Currys and sell people their laptops, rather than their competitors'.

Which of those jobs requires working harder? Which is the more skillful? Which is the more stressful? Which would you rather do for £19,000pa?
posted by Len at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2012 [31 favorites]


Average house price in UK: £200K

Average house price in London : £400K
Average House price in Cambridge : £300K
Average House price in Middlesborough: £115K

So should there be a Cambridge Weighting?


Housing is one of the craziest parts of the English economy. We need a lot or work to figure it out, and that includes state intervention. But once you strip that away the difference shrinks quite a bit. Many consumables simply don't cost three to four times as much in London than Middlesborough, and public transport actually costs less. So let's put money into social housing and making it work properly. Let's not just throw more fuel on the fire. Let's not make it difficult for poor areas to attracted decent public workers. The cost of living in Middlesborough—or rather, the cost of housing—compared with pay is an incentive for people to consider working in areas they would otherwise avoid. The weight of London and the south east is slowly tipping our land into the sea, you and Osborne are only going to make it worse.
posted by Jehan at 9:37 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


zoo: And yes - I'm a died in the wool Liberal Democrat.
Nice Freudian slip there. Yes, you guys are dead at the next election. Or let's hope so, anyway.
But that has little to do with my anger at how much blame is consistently laid at Clegg's feet.
Yes. The one thing worth getting really angry about at the moment is the amount of blame accruing at the feet of a disingenuous, crypto-Tory multimillionaire who's purged his party of pretty much anyone saner than a swivel-eyed, hollow-earth-conspiracy-freak libertarian on a meth binge. Poor Mr Clegg and his long-suffering supporters! They mean so well! Sure, they enact bad policies and do nothing to stop the Tory rampage, but don't you see? They feel bad about it afterwards! And that means everything!
Cavalcade of working class sins??? Name one working class sin I've mentioned. Show me one point where I lay any blame at the feet of the the poor of this country.
Well, your post above suggesting that the country's problems only really started when working-class people started entering the retail housing market sounds dangerously like the rhetoric in the US blaming the global financial crisis on the kinds of people taking out NINJA mortgages.
communicator: If people are unclear about the ideological position of the Lib Dems, I think zoo is a good example of just what they have become. Some may feel he/she is spot on, others may feel the position is mistaken. However this is the echt Lib Dem voice nowadays.
Absolutely. And anyone who's curious about just how deluded and unworldly this shower of doormats is should read this declaration of collective insanity in last week's Guardian.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:41 AM on March 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is, by the way, turning into an example of the kinds of thread mentioned in this MeTa.

It's something that the blue rarely does well.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:45 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What you said MartinWisse, specifically is "Anybody who thinks this has no business commenting on British politics."

It's good to see that Ad Hominem statements about the Lib Dems are creeping into the conversation. Much preferable to actual argument. For the record, my thoughts are my own. If you're making assumptions about what all Lib Dems are like based on what I'm saying, you're sorely mistaken. I don't base my politics on what Head Office tells me.

And sonny jim. I've no problem with people entering the housing market. I've a problem with the fact that a previous Tory government basically stripped the land of affordable housing. A move which cleared the way for a housing bubble which threatens to completely destroy our economy.

And ..."disingenuous, crypto-Tory multimillionaire who's purged his party of pretty much anyone saner than a swivel-eyed, hollow-earth-conspiracy-freak libertarian on a meth binge."? Really?

That all sounds good, but I'm not entirely sure you're discussing this rationally.
posted by zoo at 9:48 AM on March 18, 2012


Really? That all sounds good, but I'm not entirely sure you're discussing this rationally.
Sorry, dude. That's two years worth of anger and incomprehension there: it wasn't supposed to be personal. But there's something about the Lib Dem mindset I just genuinely don't get. I agree with some of what you say; things are bad. But how is taking yet more money out already-deprived areas of the country (like the North East) by limiting public-sector pay; scrapping the EMA; privatizing the NHS; and forcing people out of the workforce is going to make it better? None of these things are going to rectify the main problem in this country, which is the burgeoning class system and the capture of the political and opinion-forming apparatus by the super-rich.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:56 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Len: I suspect you're right. No, you are right. I have a tendency to confuse all public sector workers with a specific brand of public sector worker that probably exists primarily in this countries worst Daily Mail mythologies.

I know good hard working public sector workers too. And I've nothing bad to say about the social workers, nurses, librarians, bin men, etc. (Though I think our binmen are employed privately) too.

It frustrates me that the recent news about variable public sector pay is being used in such a voraciously political way. I'm not sold on the idea, I'm not 100% convinced it'll ever be implemented, but I do think it's worth looking into.

There's no way a "cambridge weighting" is ever going to be implemented, but it's interesting to consider how we would implement it, and what effect it would have on the various regional economies. I just don't think it's as cut and dried as described at the top. There has to be some slimming down of the public sector, and taking it from those who are regionally overpaid is a way that doesn't instantly push some families into poverty. (Pay freezes, redundancies, and other cuts may do this).
posted by zoo at 10:00 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In a way I feel sorry for the Lib Dems... well the ordinary party members. Whilst I sometimes wonder if they really are all/mostly just Tories with beards and sandals (I remember talking with a Labour councillor who hated them more than the Tories), I kinda know someone who was very active party member (including being an candidate's agent) and he seems pretty much human (though he's gone a bit quite politics-wise). I'm sure most of them just wanted a nicer country with a fairer electoral system. But the leadership was commandeered by the Orange Bookers who reached out to the disaffected Labour vote before the election and then totally abandoned what they had said by utterly capitulating to the Tories. They have also shown themselves to be completely naive politically, getting totally outmanoeuvred on PR. And now the party is a dead man walking. There's even talk of an independent pro-NHS candidate standing in everyone of their seats come the next general election and they are just going to be crushed. Clegg really has sold you them all out for a ministerial car and some plum directorships and no doubt a cushy job in Europe down the line. Still I suppose you can always go to the greens.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


So, the overarching policy I see coming out of the current Tory administration is one of decentralisation. The NHS changes, and weighted public sector pay are both examples of this ideology in play.

I don't think that the tories are trying to privatise out of the back door. I think they're trying to decentralise. There's a difference in opinion between us, and as we're both just guessing at motive I suspect we're not going to convince each other.

The only argument I've seen against this weighted public sector pay is it will deprive struggling regions of government money. I can see that, but I'm not sure that any loss in regional income wouldn't come back through other government sources.

The poorer public sector workers would get that money paid back to them via tax credits, etc. The richer ones are probably not spending the extra money regionally anyway. A proportion of that money will be going on more high end goods and services that tend to benefit people who don't live locally.

Just thought of this now, but you realise that it's essentially a "trickle down" argument you're making for keeping public sector pay normalised across regions.
posted by zoo at 10:12 AM on March 18, 2012


zoo: There's no way a "cambridge weighting" is ever going to be implemented, but it's interesting to consider how we would implement it, and what effect it would have on the various regional economies. I just don't think it's as cut and dried as described at the top.

No, it's more complicated than a simple one-line summary, but here's the fundamental problem with it: when you say that a teacher in one part of the country deserves to be paid less than one in another, you're saying that the people they serve – the local community – are worth less, and should accept lower standards. It's saying that people in areas where it's more expensive to live – such as London and the south east – are more deserving of the government's money, in the form of larger salaries for public sector employees, than people in poorer areas. And whichever way you want to slice that, it's an abhorrent concept.

It says that areas which can afford to pay their teachers/nurses/administrators/etc more, and who will therefore attract the cream of that particular profession, deserve the best, and that areas of deprivation, poverty and lower living costs should be grateful to just take whatever's left over.
posted by Len at 10:13 AM on March 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


The Lib Dem vote will go to the greens. I'm seeing it already amongst my friends.
posted by zoo at 10:13 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like your "deserving it" theory and will give it more thought.
posted by zoo at 10:15 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't want to sound too right on about it, but differentiation in pay for people doing the same or similar jobs is also a classic weapon used by Capital against Labour as it leads to resentment among workers, makes collective bargaining harder and plays them off against each other. It's one of the less talked about themes of the novel Saturday Night, Sunday Morning
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:20 AM on March 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


zoo: I like your "deserving it" theory and will give it more thought.

Thanks. I know you're taking a bit of a beating here, but props for being level-headed and honestly debating all us cynical old socialists :)
posted by Len at 10:26 AM on March 18, 2012


Yeah. The dynamic fearfulsymmetry talks about also comes up in the issue of performance-based pay for teachers in places like the US and New Zealand. It's sold as a way of rewarding "good" teachers, but what it will actually do is make teaching "difficult" (i.e. poor) children that much more unattractive. So what you'll end up with is a two-tier system, where services in already-deprived communities are second-rate almost by design. This will simply perpetuate inequality, and further enrich the South East at the expense of the rest of the country.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:31 AM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thanks. I know you're taking a bit of a beating here, but props for being level-headed and honestly debating all us cynical old socialists :)
Seconded.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:40 AM on March 18, 2012


If you want to see that in action, look at the "ISD" education set-ups in the US.

Education here is all about living in a "haves" neighborhood with good schools, which drives home values up, which increases tax revenues, which gives more funds to thd local schools, etc etc.

It kind of sucks really.
posted by roboton666 at 10:44 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think that the tories are trying to privatise out of the back door.
Privatisation is already happening.

As someone who grew up in the 80s in a northern mining area all I can say is - same Tories, singing from the same hymn sheet. Crush the poor. That the parliamentary LibDems (I say parliamentary because on issues like the NHS it looks like the general membership isn't with them) are propping up this class warfare is straightforwardly despicable.
posted by Coobeastie at 11:29 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


but differentiation in pay for people doing the same or similar jobs is also a classic weapon used by Capital against Labour as it leads to resentment among workers, makes collective bargaining harder and plays them off against each other.

This is what I think it's all about - breaking solidarity. It's a sneaky way of confusing and delaying wage negotiations, as the unions will now have to bargain at a regional level.

What shocked me was the Daily Mail reaction to this story. The readership was pretty much universally on the side of public sector workers. You know you've lost when that happens.
posted by Summer at 11:39 AM on March 18, 2012


Coobeastie: I don't think that the tories are trying to privatise out of the back door.
Privatisation is already happening.



From the article:
NHS Devon and Devon county council have shortlisted bids led by two private, profit-making companies – Serco and Virgin Care – to provide frontline services for children across the county, including some of the most sensitive care for highly vulnerable children [emphasis mine]
Fuck me. That would be the same Serco who run Yarl's Wood Immigration removal Centre, which in ten short years has had everything from a fire which almost burnt it to the ground, to "violent, racist, sexist and vindictive" officers/guards, not to mention hunger strikes.
posted by Len at 11:42 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the main issue with pay differences is still that everything being equal, people will prefer living in some places than others. I used to work for an LEA for HR, and got to see where all the teachers lived. I can tell you that barely a handful of people who teach in Scunthorpe actually live there. So many live in the surrounding villages, or even further out into the countryside. The town is poor, but teaching brought a decent salary and could still attract people to teach there, even if they wouldn't live there. For the area, their pay bought them a pretty good life. But if we reduce the pay of teachers to be more reflective of Scunthorpe, the decent life goes, and all that's left is a pretty average existence in a crappy town. The ones who can move will go elsewhere, not because they'll be better off, but because at least they will be somewhere nicer.

You meet many people up here who moved because "my money goes further." While it can sound like a subsidy, it means that an area which would otherwise experience a net drain of educated people actually manages to attract people in their 30s and 40s who want to settle down. England's had an unbalanced economy for over 100 years, which has and does cause a lot of problems. We need some draw to get people to spread out, and in the case of teaching, to support development of poorer areas. It's already difficult, as the relocation of the BBC to Manchester showed—many did not want to leave London even though they would be better off and still live in a decent city—but we have to keep trying.

In a country so small as England we can't let market forces dictate economic geography. There's simply neither space nor will to let the successful south east expand unendingly. Maybe there are better ways to rebalance this land, but cutting regional pay is going backward, not forward.
posted by Jehan at 11:44 AM on March 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


So what you'll end up with is a two-tier system, where services in already-deprived communities are second-rate almost by design. This will simply perpetuate inequality, and further enrich the South East at the expense of the rest of the country.

It's OK. We'll just leave those areas to managed decline and simply let them die.
posted by Summer at 11:45 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, the overarching policy I see coming out of the current Tory administration is one of decentralisation. The NHS changes, and weighted public sector pay are both examples of this ideology in play.

I don't think that the tories are trying to privatise out of the back door. I think they're trying to decentralise. There's a difference in opinion between us, and as we're both just guessing at motive I suspect we're not going to convince each other.


Not quite. Independent schools work to weaken local government. The abolition of regional government served to reduce EU influence. The removal of PCTs breaks healthcare organization into much smaller and weaker chunks that can be dominated centrally.

Decentralization would be to empower local government to the same as London, let them form their own policies on transport and education, and give healthcare and social care as the responsibility of a joint PCT and local government board.

Local government in England is incredibly weak—indeed, shocklingly so. Building up the powers of the UAs and forming them into greater groups would do so much to counterbalance central government. But it's really no policy of either Labour or Conservative. Liberal Democrats might actually be the best of the three for this (which is why I'm a voter). But party politics likes the idea of just concentrating on one election, and the winner takes all, literally everything in England, once they have Parliament.
posted by Jehan at 11:54 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re pay differences, it's of course very different to say that public sector pay depends on local circumstances than to say that every public servant gets the same base pay, but some in expensive cities get a bit more. Most people whose political interests are not served by denying this difference know this. What's next, demanding legal minimal wages must be determined locally as well?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:56 AM on March 18, 2012


I have a Theory, which is that the debate on public services - their quality and cost - is driven, as are most things in England, by the experience of our masters in London.

But because the public sector pays better relative to the private sector outside London, well, we get better people in the public sector. In London the private sector can pay higher wages and thus attracts more good people.

So the quality of public sector workers is higher outside of London, so public services are better outside of London. But that's not where our newspaper editors, television presenters, radio interviewers or pressure-group chairs live. Hence the narrative of failing public services.

It seems to me, then, reasonable that you pay what you need to get the people you need to do the job. In Liverpool, that will be less than people in London. To some extent everyone agrees this - see the London weighting - but we should go further. London should be able to spend more money on public sector workers, and the non-London England should pay less for its public sector workers. This will better equalize outcomes.

(Of course, you should realise that London is in effect a different country from England. All sorts of standard measures - employment, age distribution, ethnicity - are wildly different from anywhere else in the country. So we should really be discussing pay in Manchester versus pay in Blackpool.)

zoo, Lib-Dem here too, though I'm a floating activist. I was a Labour member until the ID cards policy - I'm a hand-wringing liberal, clearly. And the Tories hate women. So Lib-Dem it is!
posted by alasdair at 12:44 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never thought of having children as a right but rather a responsibility. All humans have the right to choose whether to have children or not but this is a choice not a right in itself. I simple do not understand that the right to have a child involves a reciprocal responsibility of others to support and care for that child in the event that it's parents are unable or unwilling. I do understand and actively support social policy that protects and provides for vulnerable children--but this is a matter of enlightened social/community self interest and not derived from the right of persons to have children.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


alasdair, it's a Morton's Fork. If public services are bad in London, they're obviously not working hard enough and should be cut. If public services are good in London, they're obviously overpaid and should be cut. Once you believe in austerity, there's a reason to cut anything. The NHS could offer the best value for money healthcare in the developed world (hint hint), but once you believe it's unaffordable and unworkable, you'll rationalize cutting it any way you can.
posted by Jehan at 1:07 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I simple do not understand that the right to have a child involves a reciprocal responsibility of others to support and care for that child in the event that it's parents are unable or unwilling.

It's called having a society. It's called believing that children are not luxury purchases but are smaller, vunerable human beings with their own rights. It's called We're all in this together.
posted by jokeefe at 1:20 PM on March 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


@jokeefe--did you read the end of the post--I agree but I still do not see where having children is a right as asserted in several posts
posted by rmhsinc at 2:18 PM on March 18, 2012




http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/03/thought-experiment-mps

I'm sure the Tories would love that idea. The other parties, not so much.

That said, Nick Clegg's nest is nicely feathered enough for him to notice a cut in his MP salary. Just his wife's earnings as senior partner from a major law firm must be something like one order of magnitude higher.
posted by Skeptic at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2012


I'm convinced both the U.S. and U.K. desperately need a dramatic decline in housing prices, but people dislike seeing house prices actually fall, so they'll instead need stagflation, but who knows how long that'll take.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:56 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


jeffburdges There's currently a dramatic fall in house prices in Spain, and let me assure you, it's far less pleasant than you appear to believe.
posted by Skeptic at 3:40 PM on March 18, 2012


FYI, locality based pay adjustments to the salaries of US federal employees have been in place for decades, perhaps a minimum of 40 years. I've never heard a word of controversy about it.
posted by NortonDC at 3:43 PM on March 18, 2012


I've tried to think of a good response to this story, but I don't have one. And in the end, I think the first thing I'll do is write to my MP to tell them how angry I am about the proposal to change public sector pay scales, and then see if summarising that helps me have good ideas about what I can say about people in this situation, and how to make their life easier.

I think the only sensible response is to run up quite a few numbers in a spreadsheet and say where things should change: whether it's that the credits are too low, the minimum wage too low, the availability of work that's too low, the availability of childcare, the distance Crisy has to drive to her cleaning job (I assume £30 a week of fuel makes 200+ miles of commute).

Gathering up all those figures, I'd find out where things had gone wrong, and what had changed since this government came in.

But it looks to me like the availability of work for Richard's the real problem.
posted by ambrosen at 3:50 PM on March 18, 2012


NortonDC, it's worth remembering that England (most but not all public sector workers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland aren't under the control of London) is larger in population than any US state, but smaller than 30 of them by area. It's pretty hard to draw lines where one salary should end and others begin.

And it's all centrally managed. The proposal here is that any public sector employer can employ on strictly local terms and conditions. The supermarkets (Britain's largest private sector employers) have the common sense to know that that would ruin staff morale.
posted by ambrosen at 4:03 PM on March 18, 2012


So is this location-based pay thing, is it applicable to Scotland as well? If it is, wouldnt it be a shot in the arm for the secessionist argument, as it were?
posted by the cydonian at 4:15 PM on March 18, 2012


ambrosen: NortonDC, it's worth remembering that England (most but not all public sector workers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland aren't under the control of London) is larger in population than any US state, but smaller than 30 of them by area. It's pretty hard to draw lines where one salary should end and others begin.

Yeah, here's your problem. Imagine the combined populations of California and Illinois (approx 50 million). Then imagine all of them living in a piece of land smaller than Louisiana. Even if you throw in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland – the latter of which is mostly hills, sheep and shuttered factories – you're still looking at somewhere relatively dinky, in American terms: the UK as a whole is smaller than Michigan by a few thousand sq mi, but contains as many people as California and Texas combined.
posted by Len at 4:33 PM on March 18, 2012


One thing missing from this discussion is the current use of contractors & temporary workers in the UK public sector.

I have visited IT teams based in London where 100% of the staff were contractors because all the original permanent staff had moved on to higher paying jobs in the private sector. (The contractors cost about 3 x as much to employ and all had to be trained up.)

At the other extreme, in unskilled or low skill roles, it is possible to hire temporary staff for wages much lower (pdf) than the national pay scales that would apply to a permanent post.

I don't think its all about location, IT staff are expensive anywhere in the UK and cheap unskilled labour can still be found even in London.
posted by Lanark at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2012


My immediate thought was 'free school dinners'. It would make all the difference and end the social exclusion of it (it's associated with poverty and leads to bullying. Ok,it was 40 years ago, but there are some things you know haven't changed.)
posted by maiamaia at 5:04 PM on March 18, 2012


the cydonian: Some departments are paid from Whitehall (London), but much is locally funded, some on schemes which match England & Wales pay scales, some which doesn't. An overview of the Scottish reaction is here.
posted by ambrosen at 5:07 PM on March 18, 2012


Concerning the size of the UK: 25% live in 'the south-east' (think, commuting distance to London, if you're prepared to commute for 2 or 3 hours and live next to a train station), 10% live in London. Birmingham (the original one, and it's not so good they needed to name it twice) is wholly contiguous with Wolverhampton and Coventry, and this central city-nexus has the same population as London, but none of the money and jobs. Further North are a lot of largish cities, most of which have few/no jobs and lots of poverty. The rest of england and all of wales bar a city or two on the english border is mainly rural. In terms of media interest, london is 95% of britain and the south-east is 5%. 25% of the population actually lives in the rural regions, and most of them are poor; the vast majority of poor people live in the north east, and the vast majority of jobs are in the south east. It's pretty typical that they found someone in the south east to follow. The reason is simple: the industrial revolution occurred in the north and midlands next to the coal-fields which powered its steam engines, a long time ago, and the enclosure of all the common lands which meant poor people could no longer subsistence farm drove the poor into cities where they worked in slave labour conditions on starvation wages and lived many families to a room, in conditions which make the horrors of, say, Apple factories look luxurious: this is what funded the industrial revolution. The last people to die of starvation in britain due to poverty were north-east miners' children during the first world war, or during the depression, i forget. Rationing of food during the second world war was introduced to prevent social unrest, after that the welfare state was introduced. For some reason, the poor will not relocate from the industrial cities now the jobs have gone, during the 80s when Thatcher decided to make financial services not industry our main GDP earner - helped by unbeatable downwards wage pressure from Asia (my first job was £1 an hour, and i rejected one at 48p/hour - that didn't buy much even in the 80s) and the inevitable end of Empire-era protectionist taxes on imported manufactured goods. At the time, we socialists thought this would make Bangladeshis rich - but of course, Western multi-nationals established factories there and got rich. Not sure,now,how we imagined hand-weaving grannies were going to supply our market and get rich...So britain has a tiny,rich-ish region, a large ignored poor rural hinterland, and a large ignored set of ex-industrial wasteland cities. The older cities (not villages that expanded with factories and slums during 1812-1914 say) are nice and self-satisfied and have good facilities etc, so somewhere like Cambridge is smaller but better served than Wolverhampton - we have some quaint bits too. Some former mining areas are even sort of rural-ex-industrial - think housing estates surrounded by fields. Most notable for heroin consumption nowadays.
posted by maiamaia at 5:25 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


My immediate thought was 'free school dinners'. It would make all the difference and end the social exclusion of it (it's associated with poverty and leads to bullying. Ok,it was 40 years ago, but there are some things you know haven't changed.)

I believe that such a thought was in the Black Report 30 years ago. If you can get hold of the Penguin version, it's a wonderful vision of where health in England could have gone. Of course, it was put out in 1980, which might tell you what happened to it.
posted by Jehan at 5:28 PM on March 18, 2012


What depresses the Hell out of me is the way the Overton window has been pushed here. We have an extremist government enacting policies Thatcher wouldn't have dared and the Lib Dems are preening themselves about enabling this. We haven't gone that far in Scotland yet. Independence is going to be our last chance to get out before our public services and society are ruined too.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:31 PM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Concerning NHS privatisation: it started in 2005 when the NHS transport service staff were sacked and the job contracted out. They protested that they were specialists in transporting eg hearts for transport and DHL weren't. I've been trying to tell everybody ever since that it's being privatised and nobody listened (yes, i'm a politics nag) they all said 'they'll never do that'...

Concerning regional pay: i have lived and worked in Italy and Germany and have Greek friends: Britain is unique in rent for a tiny room needing nearly all of a full-time minimum wage income, the only escape is to buy so that one day you'll be free. Rents here are insane, until you have lived abroad you cannot believe it. Even when i was young you could find a cheap place. I never thought renting a room 2x3metres in London would cost 105% of my income. Even in Shrewsbury, minimum wage x 16 hours a week, when you come off benefits, would be less than bedsit rent (you don't get working tax credits below 31hrs average work a week). In Pembroke Dock you can pay £60/week,(but there is literally a job or two a week, and the town stinks of the petrol refinery.) This kind of regional variation in your main expense doesn't happen e.g. in germany, where most people rent, tenancies are so secure you can speak of dying in your home - the landlord can't kick you out with a week's notice at any point like here, it's stress free - and you can economise on your relatively discretionary expenses. Rent is about a third of minimum wage in Saarland, for instance, and not much more in posh cities. Here, where it's a quarter in one place what it is in another, regional wage variation makes sense.
posted by maiamaia at 5:43 PM on March 18, 2012


maiamaia, I've no idea what your point is, but your numbers are way out - the Birmingham conurbation and Great Manchester (very slightly smaller) come to just over half the size, and you need to add in Leeds-Bradford, Strathclyde and Tyneside before you've met the size of Greater London.

I'd like to fact check the whole of what you say: e.g. landlords have to give two month's notice, housing benefit is available when wages don't cover rent (housing benefit is available where I live at almost twice full time minimum wage for a single person, to cover £600 a month rent, for example), but I really think you need to focus a little more on responding to the issues raised by the article and a little less on everything that's gone wrong with the country, ever.
posted by ambrosen at 5:49 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


ambrosen: (housing benefit is available where I live at almost twice full time minimum wage for a single person, to cover £600 a month rent, for example)

This is another thing that varies to a substantial degree regionally. Where I live (a smallish town in the Midlands), the most I'd be entitled to is £65 a week - which really isn't enough to cover any rents in my town, anywhere (I'm lucky enough to be effectively house-sitting for a friend, at a very low rent) even in shared accommodation. The waiting list for council housing is several years. The extent to which the housing allowance actually allows you to get housing really depends on your local council...

(Of course, my housing benefit is conditional on my ESA, and so also remarkably absent. If I lived under any other arrangements and didn't have a very understanding and patient friend as a landlady, I'd likely have been evicted a while back.)
posted by Dysk at 8:04 PM on March 18, 2012


Unsolicited American opinion forthcoming.

I'm surprised that locality pay for public sector workers is so controversial in the UK. The General Schedule that dicates US civil servant pay has been adjusted by region for quite a while now and it's accepted as a matter of course. Workers in Washington, DC, who are drowning in rent payments wouldn't be too happy to hear that someone in Wichita who pays a third as much in rent gets just as much in salary.

Are, for example, per diem travel expenses for public sector workers the same by region in the UK? They vary wildly in the US, so once you accept that hotels, meals, and other expenses cost different amounts in different areas it's not a difficult leap to locality pay.

What's interesting in this thread is that it's just assumed by UK-based commenters that low cost of living = terrible area. Over here it's seen as something exploitable for the worker...move to a cheap area, take a pay cut, but make up for it with cheap rent.

(Don't even think about privatizing any part of the NHS. Do you want any part of the conflagration we have in the US? Obama was forced to pass an unholy compromise instead of the single payer system we so dearly need, and he's being tarred and feathered for it by the reactionaries among us.)
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:54 PM on March 18, 2012


Concerning NHS privatisation: it started in 2005

I worked in the NHS on a project team introducing private healthcare before that, and the team had been set up in 2002: the Independent Sector Treatment Centre programme, which launched in 2005.

For those of you dismayed with [part] privatisation of the NHS, it was a pillar of John Reid's health policy in the then Labour government.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:48 PM on March 18, 2012


MuffinMan - I don't think anyone's under any illusions that Labour is that much better when it comes to the privatisation issue, which is why all this is so galling for supporters of the NHS.
posted by Summer at 3:39 AM on March 19, 2012




Privatisation of the NHS. The fucking NHS could do with some privatising. It's a behemouth the British public has never been able to afford. Paid for with American money; consistently subsidised by the selling off of our national infrastructure; unworkable & unaffordable.

This is absolute crap. According to the World Health Organisation, the United Kingdom Government was eighteenth in the world at healthcare spending per capita. (Fifteeenth if you exclude Luxemborg, Monaco, and San Marino). This means the government spends less per head on healthcare than every single country except Italy, Greece, Spain, Romania, Malta, and Portugal. The United States government spends 30% more per head on healthcare than the British Government does.

Throw in private healthcare and Italy spends more per head than we do. The French and Germans spend 40% more. The Irish, Austrians, Dutch, and Belgians spent 50% more per head on healthcare than we did in 2009. The Swiss, the Americans, and the Norwegians spent more than twice per head what we did.

The NHS has a good claim to be the most cost-effective public healthcare service in the world - and it's almost certainly the most cost-effective public healthcare system in the first world (I'm not sure how you compare the cost effectiveness of the NHS to that of e.g. the Cuban or Nigeran systems). There is quite literally nothing more efficient anyone has tried except letting the poor die (and that does seriously unpleasant things to the economy).

This meme that the NHS is too expensive and that privitising it would help? Needs to fucking die. It's simply not true.

(And sorry for derailing the thread with a rant).
posted by Francis at 7:54 AM on March 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'd be all for regional pay restructuring for civil servants if parliament, Number 10 and 11, and all the rest of national government machinery were moved to the most remote part of northern England.
posted by srboisvert at 9:47 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Francis:

We're spending £100bn a year on healthcare. After welfare, it's the biggest item on the budget. We spend £50% more on healthcare than we do on education. We're currently running a deficit of £200bn.

But the insistence is that the NHS is cheap, and we can afford it. Governments continue to promise to ringfence it.

I'm proud of the NHS. If it wasn't for the NHS, people I know would be dead. Despite known issues with procurement, tiers of management and IT, the NHS is relatively cheap.

But my belief is that not only can Britain not afford the NHS, but Britain has never been able to afford the NHS. (With the exception of maybe a few odd moments when the country is enjoying the top of a boom.)

So yes, I'm in favour of privatising parts of the NHS. It's draconian and awful, but I'm also in favour of allowing people to pay a premium to get quicker access to healthcare. If truth be told, I'm in favour of providing a poorer service to the majority until such a time as we've paid off the Trillion Pounds of debt we've saddled ourselves with over the last decade.

FWIW, I'm also in favour of taxing the rich more and closing loopholes which allow British companies to avoid paying tax by moving profits out of the country.

But screw the NHS. My priorities are education and welfare.

There's some (but not huge) savings to be pulled out of the welfare system. I think the government dropped the ball when it decided to go back on it's changes to the child benefit system. But the linked article highlights just how important the welfare system is to us.

I would not touch education.

For so many people, healthcare is sacrosanct because you can't put a price on life. You can put a price on the quality of life, but you can't put one on the price of life. We'll happily spend £3,000 a month for a persons cancer drugs (giving that person an extra 10% chance of survival), but we're letting kids grow up without being able to read properly.

This is all about priorities. You can favourite a "Keep your hands off our NHS" comment as much as you want, but for me healthcare provides less social benefit than other things. The economy is in triage and the left wing in this country think we can kiss it all better without making any sacrifices.
posted by zoo at 1:55 AM on March 20, 2012


BTW, Francis - That figure of 19th place seems to be based on a PPP (Purchasing power parity). It's interesting that the WHO figures I've found calculates the cost of healthcare as being 3500 Int$ per head (Or about £5250) whereas the government figures state the NHS costs approximately 100Bn. This is £1639 per head.

The question is - why the disparity? There's probably a reasonably good explanation, but I cannot find it.
posted by zoo at 2:48 AM on March 20, 2012


Zoo:

We are spending less on healthcare per head than any comparable country. And we aren't a poor country. If we can't afford the NHS then no one can afford a first world healthcare system. Is this your claim?

As for privatising parts of the NHS, this does not and has never cut significant costs. It simply adds extra bureaucracy. Now, I agree on things like the cancer drugs. (And consider the £30,000/QALY that NICE uses too high even without the end run). But claiming that we "can not afford the NHS" is IMO just plain wrong. If we can not afford the NHS then we simply can not afford any system any country has ever used that could remotely be considered a first world system. The NHS is the cheapest and most cost-effective method anyone has tried.

As for maths, firstly you've run the currency conversion backwards. $3500 is about £2200, not about $5250. Secondly you've run the wrong number. $3500 is total spending on healthcare, including private spending. I'm using the average exchange rate here not the PPP calculation - where the Government spends $2747 per head per year or about £1720. So once we've fixed your maths, the disparity is between about £1720 and £1640. And yes, it wouldn't surprise me that the government spends £80/head per year on healthcare outside the NHS.
posted by Francis at 5:46 AM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


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