Ken Loach’s new film Sorry We Missed You confronts the viewer with the depressing reality of being caught in the grinding poverty of low paid insecure work.
The facts and figures on the rise of zero hours contracts under the Tories – increasing five fold since 2010 to nearly 900,000 – are shocking enough.
As are the statistics on those working in the gig economy, which has more than doubled in five years to five million people, and the fact that a fifth of working households are now below the poverty line.
But Sorry We Missed You, which is based on real life case studies, smashes through the numbers like a gut punch by providing a first person view of what it is like to exist in a world devoid of employment security, working rights or a guaranteed wage.
The film follows Newcastle delivery driver Ricky, who is supposedly a self-employed “driver-owner franchisee”.
Despite working for himself, Ricky’s employer dictates when he works and how long for, and if Ricky can take a holiday – no surprise that his boss denies his request
Ricky does not have time to stop driving to eat or use the toilet – forcing him to carry an empty water bottle for emergencies – because he is being tracked by a handheld scanner and will be fined if he doesn’t make the deliveries in time.
If Ricky gets sick, he has to find someone else to drive his round or his wages will be docked by £200.
The painful closeup shots of Ricky desperately trying to fulfil his work commitments are accompanied by equally disturbing footage of the daily toils Ricky’s wife Abby goes through.
Abby is a care worker on a zero hour contract who works from 7.30am to 9pm providing home care for the elderly and disabled.
She does not get paid for the time she spends travelling from house to house and has just 15 minutes to either wash the individual she is visiting, serve them a meal or help them into or out of bed – there’s no time to do all three.
Just as painful are the scenes of the couple’s home life as they struggle to bring up their two teenage kids while working every hour god sends to put food on the table.
What makes Sorry We Missed You so upsetting to watch is the knowledge that many thousands of men, women and children are living similar stories to Ricky and Abby’s everyday.
Head of Unite Community Liane Groves said: “Sorry We Missed You holds up a mirror to society. What stares back is the ugly truth about the system of low paid insecure work that has flourished under the Tories.
“It is a system where employment rights, dignity and the chance to escape poverty are cruelly denied and working people are nothing more than a commodity to be used and dropped as soon as they serve their purpose.
“Only trade unions provide the solution to the problems the film highlights. When workers stick together they can stand up to these exploitative employers.”