A living wage?

It was JFK who said “The farmer is the only man in our economy who has to buy everything he buys at retail – sell everything he sells at wholesale – and pay the freight both ways.”
I cannot remember what I was doing when JFK died, but I remember this comment. It came to mind when someone sent me the link to this article. http://modernfarmer.com/2013/11/farmworker-confessional/
‘Farmer Confessional, I’m an undocumented farm worker.’

In the UK we do things differently. In food production our cheap labour is largely home bred. In the late 1990s I can remember sitting down and working out that I’d worked the previous year for 9p an hour. But agriculture is like that, I’ve had years when I’ve actually paid so much an hour for the privilege of working. But then I’m sure that a lot of self employed small business owners will tell you the same. But Tesco who sells what we produce insists on a 6% profit margin.

In recent years I’ve helped with ‘Farming Community Network’, it used to be Farm Crisis Network’ and it’s meant that I’ve gone onto farms to see what could be done to help people who’re in a serious mess. Whether it’s their physical and mental health, financial problems, animal health or government induced nightmare, we try to walk beside them and help.
A few weeks ago I had to read a report; it was ‘Walking the breadline, the scandal of food poverty in 21st century Britain.’ It’s produced by Oxfam and Church action on Poverty. I gave up half way through; I found I couldn’t see past those blighted lives, families scarred by illness, deprivation and poverty. These two august organisations were getting really wound up about the effects of food price increases on the urban poor but how many people gave a damn about the effects of poverty on the lives of those who produced the food?
Now to be fair to both Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty, whilst it was their report that wound me up, that was my problem, not theirs, both organisations have done good work in rural areas in this country as well.

More many years we’ve had a situation where our economy depended on falling food prices as a proportion of income. As a rule of thumb, for much of the 20th century the current generation could eat organic food and pay a smaller proportion of their income for food than their parents generation would do eating conventional food. This was based on technological advances and the use of cheap labour. Unfortunately for some; the technological advances have slowed (because who in their right mind makes major investment in a sector where the income is falling every year) and the labour isn’t so cheap any more. Odilia Chavez, the undocumented farm worker in the article, is hard working, skilled and flexible. As our economy stagnates, as our population becomes relatively less well educated compared to the rest of the world, less hard working, skilled and flexible, then we’re going to have to pay more to get Odilia Chavez and her like to come and do these jobs for us.

But in this country we’re seeing an apartheid slowly forming. We’re getting two classes of people. I saw this in today’s paper.

“Private-sector workers could see their final salary pensions “eaten away” by the rising of cost of living after ministers proposed removing legal protections against inflation from “gold-plated” retirement funds.
Almost two million employees who are still part of final salary schemes could lose the legal right to have their retirement income rise in line with inflation under the proposals.
The change, which would not apply to public sector workers, could cut the spending power of a pension by almost a third over a 15-year retirement.
Workers could also be forced to wait longer before drawing their pension because companies would be allowed to delay workers’ retirement in an effort to save money.
Additional benefits such as survivors’ rights, which pay an income to widows and widowers, could also be lost.”

Now this doesn’t impact on me too much, I’ve never put a lot of money into pension funds, when you don’t pay much tax it isn’t a good investment. I’m not really expecting to retire.

But then the paper went on to comment.

“The changes could also widen the gap between public and private sector workers. That divide has led some critics to talk of a “pensions apartheid” between the two groups.
Protections such as inflation-proofing will continue to apply to the 5.1 million state employees who are in line to receive final salary retirement incomes. That is because ministers promised that recent changes to public sector pension terms would be the last for 25 years, giving state employees “a settlement for a generation”.
By contrast, private sector workers have endured repeated changes to pension rules and tax raids on their retirement funds.”

We’re getting two groups, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and it isn’t healthy in any society.

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2 thoughts on “A living wage?

  1. keirarts November 11, 2013 at 8:25 am Reply

    I think the gap between the haves and the have not’s is more than the gap between public and private sector. The public sector is shrinking each year and the private sector is growing.

    The jobs market in other sectors is rotten. If you have a trade your ok but if not then its trouble. Took me ten months to get the job i’m in and honestly as you know i’m hating every minute of it. I’m lucky as a homeowner that I can afford to work these jobs but people with rent to pay would be in a lot of trouble. Our government is trumpeting the drop in unemployment but someone really needs to look at UNDEREMPLOYMENT.

    I work for a supermarket, so really I work for one of the big problem causers. Their success is built on having the cheapest prices possible. People like cheap things and don’t ever think about the hidden costs for these low prices. I walk about the store and I see cheap crappy ready meals loaded with awful ingredients sold at rock-bottom prices to people who are storing up major health problems later down the line by eating them.

    But then I suspect its all some of them can afford.

    We already have our version of the Mexican migrants here in the UK. The polish. Their leaving now (at least some of them) to be replaced by other EU nationals who see a favorable exchange rate in currency between the UK and their own country. The criticism is that their doing jobs British people are too lazy to do, Trouble is in some cases its jobs British people could not afford to do.

    • jwebster2 November 11, 2013 at 9:00 am Reply

      One thing I noticed in London with the Polish was the number who were wearing smart suits. Talking to them, they’d working in Starbucks or wherever on poor money but they’d got their English up to a good level and are now using the degrees they got in Poland and have good jobs.
      The problem is that the Poles and many other Europeans who come in is that they are better educated and better trained. Proper apprenticeships, in engineering companies, not in off-licence chains.

      The big companies, the big corporations are effectively just as bureaucratic as any government department. Frankly I doubt very much whether Companies like the big six energy companies are any more efficient that state controlled enterprises. They’ve adopted the ‘entitlement’ culture that you see in Politics and in the management levels of the NHS, the BBC or with senior Local authority employees, where they expect to be paid vast amounts of money just for being there.
      Even at the lower levels, these corporate entities have the same disregard for their customers that you see from government. Would a company that cherished its customer base have a company like Parking Eye run its car parks for it? Would they have a telephone cold-calling service based abroad using people who cannot speak comprehensible English phoning people at random to sell stuff to them?

      The inability to afford jobs is very real. We’ve been trapped, more and more of our money has gone into housing. As the value of housing has increased it’s meant that there is less money for other stuff, so those people producing/selling/servicing other stuff are fighting for a smaller pot.
      A lot of people will die millionaires by accident because they were lucky enough to buy a house thirty years ago. Their children, in the same sorts of jobs at the same stage of their careers having a hope of buying anything near as nice.
      I suspect the easy way to rebalance things would be to limit mortgages to three times join incomes. There would be a howl from the accidental millionaires, house prices would tumble and we’d probably get a working economy back 🙂

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