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Walk wide of people with a book to sell. This may be interpreted as an unwise remark coming from a writer, but the recent comments from five 'rising stars' of the Tory party who are promoting their book 'Britannia in Chains' is a reminder that literary self-interest can be as ugly as any other variety.
The authors of this rather hysterically titled work, Dominic Raab, Elizabeth Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore, have described British workers as among the "worst idlers" in the world, saying “Too many people in Britain, we argue, prefer a lie-in to hard work.”
They claim that the UK works the shortest hours in Europe and retire early – facts which may easily be verified as inaccurate. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the average working week in Britain is 42.7 hours a week. Only Austria and Greece work longer hours. In the UK, the retirement age is higher than in most EU countries and is rising. British workers are less securely employed than in many countries - 27 per cent are in part time work, compared with 20 per cent across Europe. The UK has fewer national holidays that its European neighbours and the lowest statutory leave in the EU. 'Flexibility' in the labour market works largely to the benefit of employers – zero hours contracts, 'mini-jobs' and the Adrian Beecroft doctrine of consequence-free powers to sack workers are some examples of a culture which sees workers as disposable units whose rights must be kept to a minimum.
Austerity has created a fearful employment environment and is in danger of deforming a work ethic into a fear ethic. Too many employers are using their employees' insecurity as a means of maximising profit. £29 billion of unpaid overtime is worked annually in Britain and most of us will have either experienced or know of others who have experienced, the growing pressure to deliver more and more with ever dwindling resources.
Wages for many have been frozen or cut as the price of food and fuel rises. Skills and hard-earned qualifications are no longer a passport to a rewarding working life. Unemployment, casual employment and the necessity of taking more than one job in order to survive are common. Food-banks are opening at the rate of three a week and millions are dependent upon working tax credits to support their families. This is not the backdrop to the possibility of plenty, spurned by armies of feather-bedded benefit claimants.
The CVs of the five MPs, who were all elected to Parliament in 2010, reveal a further detachment from the lives and experiences of the working people of whom they make such sweeping criticism. With backgrounds in consultancy and financial services and periods as aides and and advisers to MPs and ministers before being selected for safe seats, they may all be impeccably industrious individuals. But it is not unreasonable to inquire how much contact with, and knowledge of, the lives of less fortunately placed citizens they may have.
There are lazy people in all walks of life. Some of them may be found at Westminster. But to take such people as the building bricks of a generalised theory is unwise and divisive. Do these 'rising stars' a favour – don't buy their book.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen