Enter your email address to stay in touch

‘Kids are going hungry’

Brum bin dispute shows scourge of working poverty
Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary, Thursday, September 21st, 2017

It is long past time for a pay rise. The rise of low waged work is widespread. It has also been long-term.  For at least 30 years, working people have been getting poorer while those at the top get ever richer.


Our fattest cats make more in two and a half days than many workers make all year. Today the average FTSE 100 boss earns £1000 an hour. This in a country which is the fifth richest on earth yet wages for ordinary workers have seen their wages endure their biggest attack since Queen Victoria was on the throne.


Yesterday, the OECD, the body which monitors the fortunes of the western economies said that UK growth would be the lowest in the G7, behind France, Italy and Germany. The OECD pointed the finger of blame at this firmly at our culture of poor wages.


When people aren’t earning, people cannot spend. It doesn’t take a Harvard degree for that penny to drop. But put a few more quid in the wallets of working men and women and the economy can motor.


Because we spend it on our high streets – we don’t squirrel it away in a tax haven like the Cayman Isles or dream up imaginative ways to dodge our taxes. If workers can earn, then workers can spend.


If workers can earn, we can pay more in tax.  Taxes for our hospitals and schools. We are the true wealth creators. So it stands to reason that if workers’ wages are held down then our economy hits a wall.


The wall is now in sight.


We are now in the grip of a living crisis.  Average wages will be lucky to climb by 2.1 per cent this year.  But with the real cost of living – RPI – running at 3.9 per cent workers are having to do more with less money.


We are sitting on a mountain of personal debt – the biggest in Europe – as working people borrow to get by.There is just too much month at the end of the money.


Those queues at the food bank are not some uplifting display of the `spirit of the Blitz’ as the staggeringly wealthy Jacob Rees-Mogg would have it.They are a living, breathing, suffering representation of life in Britain today.


The poor – most of them in work – queuing to be given food that is in turn donated by people who don’t have much themselves but detest what is happening to this country.


Kids are going hungry.  They are going into school with nothing in their bellies – with only the help from their teachers to get them through the day.  Their parents are skipping meals.These are working people.  This is the state of our nation today, 2017.


In Birmingham, my union is fighting to stop the spread of working poverty.


We’re fighting tooth and nail to stop the council slashing £5,000 off the wages of the refuse workers, and to make their working lives less safe into the bargain.


Bin workers with part of the legal team Unite secures High court ruling halting Birmingham bin worker redundancies. Unite called on Birmingham City council to honour the Acas agreement and resolve the Birmingham bin dispute after the High Court ruled in the union's favour today.

Bin workers with Unite legal team. Unite secures High court ruling halting Birmingham bin worker redundancies.


The council officer who wants to slash their pay, pushing them into a reliance on benefits is on £180,000 a year.


She won’t miss £5,000 – but the men and women I represent sure as hell will.  That is food on their table.  That is a winter coat for their kids.  That is keeping the heating on.


Our multi-millionaire chancellor once quipped that moving house was no big deal – he just stayed in one of his other houses while all the work was being done to his new house.


So we shouldn’t be surprised that Philip Hammond admitted last week that neither he nor his Tory cabinet colleagues are in the best place to understand people’s economic struggles – because they are all loaded.


This then is what is wrong in our country today. A cabinet of millionaires can never be `all in it together’ with working people. When a FTSE 100 boss can earn was £5.48m, or 401 times that of a minimum wage worker, we are not all in it together.


When that boss also earns 172 times more than a nurse’s pay and 145 times more than a teacher’s, we are not all in it together.


When a council offer can refuse to uphold a negotiated agreement in order to lower the wages of a workforce, then we are definitely not all in it together. Power – and workers’ pay – is in the wrong hand in this country.


Putting it right is now urgent.  It will be down to us in the union movement to put it right because when we are in workplaces, pay goes up, workers are protected, and abuses stop.


Join a union.  Vote for Corbyn’s Labour. And get our people back on their feet.


  • Pic of Birmingham bin workers by Mark Thomas

Related Articles