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Sir Tom: Talk to the people with low paid, poor quality jobs

Posted by Katherine Trebeck Senior Researcher

22nd May 2012

Sir Tom Hunter isn't the only person who passes judgement on people he doesn't know. We all do it occasionally. 
But Sir Tom is rich and successful.

So people listen when he says the welfare state has created 'pampered, dependent people who expect what others strive and graft hard for'. 

But there is a risk here.

If we base policies on assumptions, myths and stereotypes, we can end up harming people who need our support the most.

For example, there is a myth that our benefits bill is too high and that people are taking advantage of the system.

Research shows otherwise.

What actually happens is that the vast majority of people pay into the system when they are in work, and get support at other times - mostly in their childhood and in their old age.

In fact, 75% of the redistributive impact of welfare is across an individual's lifetime - not from richer people to poorer people.

So people are only getting back what they have paid in. 

Then there is the myth that most people on benefits would rather live on state support than go out to work. 

This is wrong, misleading and damaging. 

Out-of-work benefits are not nearly enough to participate in today's society.

People who are reliant on benefits are forced to make terrible sacrifices.

They can't provide for their children and their children's future. They fall into poor health and debt.

Few people would choose this life, but many families are forced to live it. 

The truth is there are simply too few suitable jobs.

People desperately want to work, but for many - especially older people who have previously worked in traditional industries like manufacturing or construction - a job in the growth areas of service or retail is not realistic. 

And it's not realistic for many of their sons and daughters either.

Research shows that service and retail jobs being created in Glasgow are often going to over-qualified students.

And even when young people with fewer qualifications do find work in these sectors, the jobs pay below-poverty wages that have to be topped-up with state-funded tax credits. 

These jobs are also often insecure, unsatisfactory and offer little chance of progression - but people still choose to do them rather than live on benefits. More than half of adults in poverty are in working families.

So when Sir Tom bemoans the lack of a work ethic in Scotland, perhaps he should talk to the millions of people who take up these low-paid, poor-quality jobs. 

Or perhaps he could turn his attention to the ethics of those companies that continue to receive state hand-outs without paying people a Living Wage.

Blog post written by Katherine Trebeck

Senior Researcher

More by Katherine Trebeck

Katherine Trebeck