Dominic Fairfax Forum
Dominic Fairfax Forum

Economic Insecurity in the UK

How does and Individual's level of Insecurity depend on his or her 'Market Situation?

Are people becoming increasingly economically insecure in the UK?

Why are some Individuals likely to be more insecure than others?

 

 

An individual’s economic security depends on his market situation which in turn, is dependent on his social class situation. His security is dependent on the amount of power he has to influence the workings of the market in his favour and on the rewards his skill and expertise can command in a competitive market. Billionaires, top bankers, the ruling elite and those of aristocratic heritage are in a class of their own and often have no need to be part of the labour market at all except to monitor their bank balances from their business endeavours. Some do not even need to do that. The higher professionals are essentially servants of the ruling elite and capital. They are increasingly directly employed by the state. A high profession obtains a monopoly on a particular service. Due to the absence of too much competition in specialised spheres, the higher professionals are able to demand high rewards for their services, often financed by the tax system. Consequently, they are able to live with a guaranteed high income.

 

On the other hand, vast numbers of people are employed in jobs such as food preparation, food distribution, food retail, fast foods, caterers, chefs, waiters and as supermarket checkout assistants. Anything related to basic bodily needs such as food, waste and health necessitates billions of workers. The greater the population, the more the basic bodily needs. Others are employed as miners, labourers, packers, clerics, train drivers, joiners, sales assistants, painters, plasterers, textile and factory workers, sewage and general waste-disposal workers to name a few. The numerous aforementioned occupations comprise most of the work force. Although they are often scorned and accorded little social status [especially 'blue collar' jobs], society could not possibly function without them since it is undoubtedly the case that they form the backbone of society and work the hardest. Millions of 'ordinary people' are concentrated in unskilled, low paid jobs because their backgrounds could not facilitate the necessary requirements for anything else or because their degrees have proved worthless. Often, an individual has to take on two or three part time jobs to try and make a living wage, especially women. The supply always vastly exceeds the demand for these kinds of jobs ensuring wages are kept low. Those employed in them tend to live hand-to-mouth existences especially if they have young families. Security is poor and unlike occupations requiring specialist expertise, the 'ordinary' are always in danger of losing their jobs depending on the market situation.

 

Groups such as the elderly, the chronically sick and lone-parents with young children have little power in the market and therefore receive little reward. Indeed, such circumstances largely prevent them from participating in the market at all. These are the people who would have ended up in workhouses in previous eras.  However, not all these groups are poor. Subsistence poverty is indeed common among the elderly, the sick, and lone-parents but only where the elderly, the sick and lone-parents have previously been dependent on jobs, partners or general backgrounds that provided them with few or no resources to fall back on. Consequently, they have to survive on meagre benefits from public funds. The economic insecurity of the elderly, the sick and lone parents is largely working class insecurity. It is imperative to remember however, that in the UK, large sections of those who consider themselves middle class are actually working class. Members of upper social classes have more support from relatives, more job security and sufficient income to save. They possess the resources to invest in pension schemes, insurance policies and shareholdings for themselves and their dependants to guard against the threat of poverty due to sickness, widowhood, old age or the abandonment of a family by the breadwinner. For the most insecure groups, social class rather than personal disability, inadequacy or misfortune accounts for the most profound economic insecurity in the UK.

 

 

Children born into affluent backgrounds invariably attend the best public schools. They are environmentally enriched. They will  reside in quality homes in the nicest areas and have a head-start over those at the lower ends of the stratified system. Most wealthy people are unlikely to have experienced financial hardship. As a result they may be so psycho-sociologically removed from the lives of the profoundly insecure that they have difficulty in relating to their plight. In the majority of instances, the wealthy and the comfortable have no idea of the urgency of the situations of the poorer members of society. Invariably, they opt for selective perception and try to deny the extenuating circumstances which precipitate relative poverty.

 

Managing directors and Chartered Financial Analysts are likely to come from privileged backgrounds. Those who have a DRCOG, a DCH, a MRCGP, an MBBS after their name, especially all four, most definitely come from privileged backgrounds. They may have been educated privately or courtesy of the tax payer; either way, their parents are, or were, affluent or at least ‘ very comfortable’. Inheritance plays a fundamental role. There have been many studies conducted on the plight of the economically impoverished; there is in fact, more money spent on studying the relatively poor than on actually assisting them. Relative poverty in its many guises, 'creates jobs' for researchers, social workers and the like. The latter attempt to assist the millions of families who fall apart and suffer the ramifications of not being facilitated to cope with the aspirational pace of economic growth set by wealthy. Throughout history, many people's social backgrounds could not allow them to become beneficial participants in the economic growth game. All they could do was assist the affluent to become wealthier by selling their labour in order to survive. Where wages were poor and sickness and unemployment rife, they ended up in workhouses or dependent on church charities and hospitals. The Welfare State, including the national health service, have largely replaced such establishments but if they were taken away, the majority of people would see that the gap between the rich and the poor is just as wide. Most would not be able to cope without child and working tax credits, child benefits, state pensions, pension credits in the form of housing benefits and government top-ups for low-wage earners. Ironically, the welfare state is largely financed by those it was intended to assist.

 

Many studies have focused on the characteristics of the economically insecure but studying them does nothing to address the crux of the problem which is undoubtedly stratification. Societies want intergenerationally perpetuated stratification. It is not at all correct that societies want everyone to be highly skilled and highly educated. This has never been the case in this or any other era. Societies require vast number of individuals to be educated only to a rudimentary level and paid very little; not only due to want of cheap labour and supply and demand factors, but also because notwithstanding temporary bases, nobody would sweep streets, pack boxes, dig graves, paint signs on roads, drive buses, work on assembly lines, work in care homes, clean toilets, empty dustbins or stand, bored stiff for hours on end as a security guard in a store hoping that somebody would pinch something just so they could get a bit of action if they were all highly educated. There are of course, always exceptions but social mobility is essentially an illusion; for every person who moves from the bottom to the top of the social ladder, there will be millions who will not.

 

 

Exceptions that come to mind are entertainers. It is true that a great many actors, presenters, journalists, TV personalities, rock stars, pop stars, journalists and the like, also tend to come from comfortable, privileged backgrounds and many gain entrance to these professions via the old boy network. There are however, some talented people [or not] who gain entrance to the world of entertainment irrespective of their social background. It is a short cut to economic security. That is why thousands of young people enter talent competitions in recent years. After all, what would you guys rather do; become rock stars or stack shelves in  supermarkets? There can be nothing more fulfilling than doing something you love and making yourself extremely secure in the process. Again, however, for everyone who makes it, there will be millions who will not. The entertainment industry makes billions. It makes mega-media moguls very rich indeed. Although we all like aspects of it, many sociologists state that the entertainment industries serve as a distraction from understanding the nature of the society of which everyone is supposed to be a part.

 

Economic security for lone males left holding the babies is invariably poor. For females left holding the babies the situation is much worse. But again, the economic situation of lone fathers or mothers will always depend on their social class situation and their position or non-position in the market. Sadly, that is what has come to determine a human being's worth. Except if they are wealthy and self-sufficient, lone parents tend to receive the most social condemnation because of their dependency on state welfare. In reality, far more taxpayer's money is spent on pensioners and Workers on Benefits [WOBS], let alone the colossal amount of money it costs to administer such benefits. Millions of lower civil service workers are on such benefits themselves. There have been the most horrendous anecdotes of these workers using patronising language and being downright rude to those who do not have a job at all. Thousands of younger people are employed for as few as sixteen hours a week in order to keep unemployment figures down. A substantial number of women, even very young women, are employed in care homes for the elderly for very few hours. In the deprived areas, these are often the only jobs advertised in their local newspapers. They are notoriously low-paid and 'must provide own car.' One young women, in tears, expressed that such workers are being used as the tail-end of the social services. She conveyed that the 'stench of these places is appalling and the sights [ she had seen ] were too awful to convey.' Many people's wages are topped up by the state to relieve employers of paying workers 'too much' in both the private and public sectors despite the fact that colossal amounts of money are appropriated by those at the top.

 

As the childbearing sex, women are extremely vulnerable to dependency either on a male or on meagre handouts from the state. Very few women with young children are entirely self-sufficient. There are approximately 1.9 million single parents in Britain today, perhaps more. Over 51% of single parents had their children within marriage. Only 2% are teenagers and only around 10% of single parents are male. 52% of children living in poverty come from lone parent families. Worldwide, there are far more women living in poverty than men. In the UK, it is often purported that this is because most females are still groomed with 'only the marriage market in mind' – especially working class women who seek security via a partner because careers have not have not been widely encouraged. Vast numbers of married or partnered women with children tend to be concentrated in part-time jobs such as shop assistants, cleaners, packers,  factory workers, assembly lines, nursery work, low-level clerical and as supermarket checkout assistants in order to top up their spouse's income. Girls from relatively deprived backgrounds are most likely to enter into early relationships and not to develop careers.

 

Working and lower middle class lone parents are the largest group of economically insecure people. They are mostly women. Very few men are sole caregivers due to death of the mother. Families are much more likely to be fatherless than motherless.  As aforementioned, the degree of economic insecurity as a lone parent will  depend on the afflicted individual's position in the labour market prior to having children. For women, her security in marriage is largely dependent on her spouse. If he is wealthy so is she. If he is poor so is she. Her situation on separation or divorce follows a similar pattern except that if her spouse was poor, she will be even poorer following separation. She will be in a very precarious situation; usually entirely dependent on state benefit. On the other hand, if she is a high flier with a good career and resides in a pleasant environment she probably will not suffer too much following separation from a spouse. Her occupation will be there for her when she decides to return. She will also receive much more support from her ex-partner, affluent friends and family as well as being able to afford childcare. On the other hand, if s/he already resided in a deprived area; if s/he was ill-informed and had children on trust or ignorance before developing a proper career; if s/he has no family support, no financial support from a poorly paid ex and no backup plan, then both the lone parent and his, or her, children will be profoundly economically insecure. This invariably renders the family emotionally insecure and lacking in self-confidence. The empowerment of women is essential. They need to realise that they really do not have to settle for marriage and babies at any cost to their own or their future children's well being and security and this necessitates a great deal of education in order to break the cycle. A fundamental prerequisite for women is also the provision of adequate child care and this is very difficult for them to achieve within a patriarchal framework.

 

People keep talking about the government. Those in the mid to lower levels of the socio-economic system seem petrified of it; the dreaded They. They are going to do this, They are going to do that. Almost as if the dreaded They are an entirely separate species. Lack of control over one's life due to economic insecurity always precipitates fear.The things that most of us really need are a reasonably secure livelihood. We deserve a clean and natural environment, a decent place to live and a good education for our children. But of late, these things seem to be passing further from the grasp of most of the world's people, not just in the UK. To paraphrase David Corton, fewer and fewer people believe that they face a secure future. Families, community units and the security they once provided are disintegrating. The natural environment on which we depend for our material needs is under deepening stress. Ecological concerns are secondary to corporate greed. Confidence in governments is undoubtedly evaporating as the corruption and dissimulation is increasingly exposed. In the really deprived areas one can observe the the anxiety on people's faces. Many thinking people have realised that in all corners of the world, something has gone terribly awry. The desperation and greed for oil is causing the most appalling violence. The West wants access to all geographical locations and the US which had little interest in the Middle East prior to World War Two, is pointing guns at every corner of the globe in order to secure it . Global financial crises point to failure on the part of the capitalist establishments in which people have been conditioned to place their trust. "In the world's most affluent countries, high levels of unemployment, falling real wages, greater dependence of part-time jobs and the weakening of unions are creating a growing sense of economic insecurity and a shrinking of the middle class. The employed find themselves working longer hours, holding multiple part-time jobs but having less real income. Many among the young have little hope of ever finding jobs adequate to provide them with basic necessities, let alone financial security. The degrees and technical skills of many of those who have seen their jobs disappear entirely mock the idea that unemployment can be eliminated simply by improving  contemporary education and training."[David Corton].

 

To reiterate, critical economic insecurity is mostly a working class phenomenon but undoubtedly there exists a levelling as the middle are gradually joining their ranks. It is not true that there is 'no working class' in post-industrial, post-modern societies. In the UK, wealth is concentrated in the top ten percent. In the US, the top twenty. In Russia the great majority of families are teetering on the brink of poverty. It is ludicrous and unacceptable that such small percentages are able to control the larger by wealth and ideology. We need to think about the children. Society has never really dealt with deprivation and relative poverty since time immemorial.  It is taking a very long time for the human race to wake up to the truth that we are responsible for each other. Without that, there will not be anything but chaos. The insecure and relatively poverty-stricken child is cut adrift from himself. He is isolated from his country’s collective pool of knowledge and mental and physical healthiness. He is estranged from fine cultural heritage, technological advances and environmental richness which should include him. In many instances, chronic economic insecurity thwarts and obscures the parents’ love. It is cruel to socialise children into accepting ruling class ideology and stratification as inevitable. In many instances, by the time they have entered their late teens they have already internally justified inequality and one-upmanship. It is absolutely essential that humankind enlightens itself regarding how socialisation and cultural hegemony actually work.  Perhaps then, we will take a quantum leap into the light of true evolution. In the sociologist, Robert Bellah's words, "If man and nature, men and women, white and black, rich and poor are really one, then respectively, there is no basis for the exploitation of the latter by the former."


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