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The Cost of Living crisis: – It’s those money men, stupid

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

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Hypocrisy has become an artform for many of today’s Political class, and talking up politically expedient issues, spinning away inconvenient truths or criticising others for doing no more than they would do themselves has become the apparent norm.

After a media splurge targeting their inactivity in the sun whilst Cameron has been busy making hay under his, Labour have returned to the stage this week focussing their less than lacklustre performance on the ‘cost of living crisis’, giving every indication that this is the ‘issue’ that will steward their return to majority Government in 2015.

If tackling every issue were seen to be as simple as giving it its own branding or strap-line like this and waiting for it to go viral, we would have a marketing man in Number 10 already – which of course we actually do.

Sadly, the ‘cost of living crisis’ is probably the most dangerous issue that any of our Politicians could ‘play’ with, in the run up to the 2015 General Election, and we should perhaps all be concerned by its apparent adoption by the political left in order for it to be manipulated as a vote-winner. After all, the future of most of us is tied up with it, and its genesis reaches far deeper into the fabric of our society than any of our leading Politicians seem willing to contemplate or have the moral capacity and determination to deal with – even if they have apparently now acknowledged it for their own political ends.

The reality for most of us outside Westminster is that we don’t need posturing Politicians and media hype to remind us of the fact that wages are effectively standing still whilst the cost of paying our bills just seems to keep on going up and up, month after month, year after year without any sign that it will ever relent. Many hard working people simply struggle to keep themselves afloat even before they start to consider some of the luxuries that those very same politicians and newsmen probably take for granted.

Real people living in the real world already know firsthand what it is they are experiencing when the letters hit the mat; the e-mails arrive, the phone rings and when they go and shop. When the pay rises, tax breaks and bonuses that they desperately need aren’t coming to middle England and those hovering either above or below Britains poverty line– simply because the Government’s Pot is already exhausted and the Nation simply cannot afford it – these same people need politicians to drop talking up the effects of the problem and start tackling the cause head on.

This task is not one that will lend great comfort to any politician who values their place in history more than they do the lives of the people who elected them and this is problem enough with British Politics today in itself.

Facing the reality that the free market has surpassed its point of balance and therefore the good for which it was intended is not a thought that many in power will want even to contemplate. Therefore accepting that increasing freedom within the markets to pursue infinite profit, whilst that very same action is effectively enslaving great swathes of the normal population within fiscal misery is not a pill that many of today’s Politicians will swallow willingly. But it is there in front of all of them just the same.

Through the creation of the virtual monopolies which are the utility and energy companies; private businessmen, shareholders and pension funds have been given seemingly insurmountable power over the lives of everyone by being able to dictate their own paydays, whilst they go unhindered by Government and Regulators – who have nothing really but the interests of their Industry at heart.

Likewise, ever growing convoluted supply chains, often reaching the length and breadth of the Country or even across Continents allow many different traders, dealers and agents to add their cut to the margins which you would normally expect to see only from producers and retailers, then inflating prices way beyond what they should realistically be.

Further still, those businesses without control or a sizable share of their markets are also having their margins forcefully squeezed by the companies and organisations who do and many of these businesses are the same ones that cannot afford to recruit or pay more than negligible wage rises to the very same people who are now being affected financially from almost every angle you could imagine.

Whilst no reasonable person would argue that businesses exist to make a profit, it is simply beyond logic to add layer after layer of profit onto the most basic and essential of items or services and then expect end users to keep picking up and meeting these overinflated bills without any real additional income of their own to cover these exponential and wholly unrealistic rises.

Companies, traders, financiers and all manner of individuals and entities are in effect ‘vacuum profiteering’, making money ex nihilo or basically creating something from nothing in a manner which could be akin to having the midas touch, were it not for the misery that it is increasingly inflicting upon those who are wrongly being expected to pay for it.

Without those who hold this power over our economy taking steps to regulate and restrict the way that they make profit, they are through their very actions writing an agenda for Government over many years to come – whatever its Political make-up may be, that has the potential to create social and financial problems of a size and scale across our Nation that Government itself won’t be able to afford to put right – simply because the Taxpayer has no money left to fund it.

Such levels of responsibility over the health and wealth of a Nation should never have been placed in the hands of money men in the first place without sufficient safeguards in place to protect the many who could be affected by the unscrupulous profiteering of a few. But it has.

No Political Party should be seeking to take the moral or politically philosophical high ground on this issue as it is a problem which can only be tackled one way. That is by Government stepping back into the free market and taking an actively pro-market or even interventionist approach to regulating market behaviour – should it be so required. The UK needs to retain capitalism but it must also maintain it in a responsible and considerate way that doesn’t destroy the ability of consumers to consume in the process.

By taking just the key players such as the utility, energy and finance companies to task, Government could go a considerable way to putting safeguards in place that would ensure a basic standard of living can be maintained against the minimum wage, and that the minimum wage would then itself reflect a living wage and one that should keep many more people safe from harm and therefore from being a potential burden to the State.

Regrettably, action of this kind does not reflect the creed of contemporary Politicians and the point continues to be missed that wealth creation only works effectively when there are benefits – in whatever form they may be – for all.

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour don’t want to embrace the answer and neither does UKIP, which is riding high on the tide of discontentment and disenfranchisement that the lack of connection with reality amongst the other Political monoliths has created within the Electorate itself.

It’s time for Politicians to wake up and smell our overpriced coffee before it’s all too late.

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Zero Hours Contracts: Government needs to improve them; not remove them

August 3, 2013 Leave a comment

images (44)Zero hours contracts have been bounding along in this week’s news with a series of stories covering the alleged exploitation of workers by high profile Companies such as Amazon. But what would the real impact be for business and workers themselves if there was no legal provision for what is today’s version of a casual contract?

By their very nature, businesses that have an operational or service-providing side to them have to manage and address variations in sales or workload, depending upon any one of a number of different influences that can dictate how busy or quiet they might be. These could be as simple and regular as seasonality, like the run up to Christmas or perhaps the unexpected changes in customer shopping habits that some retailers and travel companies have experienced as a result of unpredictable factors such the recent hot weather.

As customers in any respect when we are out and about, we will rarely even begin to consider the processes behind the scenes which ensure there are an appropriate number of staff on hand to serve us when we need them, or how things would actually run if Businesses such as hotels, shops and pubs were not able to call upon flexible staff to fill gaps caused by absence or are ready to drop what they are doing – and get paid – for covering those extra hours when more hands are required.

Many extra shifts will of course be covered by the additional hours of existing staff. But the variation in operational need can be far more significant than that which can either sensibly or legally be met by ‘regular’ staff through overtime alone, and businesses must have the ability to cover such eventualities without employing and paying staff for hours that they simply aren’t needed.

Naturally, there are those opposed to the idea that employees should have anything less than ‘proper’ contracts of employment and that rubbishing the ability of firms to engage what are essentially casual staff will force companies to provide would-be employees with much more favourable terms.

But whilst this may sound like a call to arms and the raleighing cry of voices who care about the people who often need these jobs, such impractical views manifested in laws which would prevent use of Zero Hours Contracts or their equivalent would leave many unemployed people without the opportunity to work. They certainly wouldn’t get the chance to demonstrate what an asset they could be to a potential employer, and that employer could itself become even less sustainable because of the costs associated with taking on staff to deal with unpredictable growth when at times they have to behave as little more than a charity to do so.

Sadly, media portrayals of the unemployed and the dependency culture have left many of us with the idea that every person without a job or income is the same as the next and that each of them is basically looking for a free ride at everyone else’s expense.

Whilst this may be the case for some, the reality for many more couldn’t be more different. They see the value of having work and fully appreciate the opportunities that might follow. For others, having an arrangement where they don’t have fixed hours but go in to work at times which are mutually convenient with an employer is actually a positive lifestyle choice and one which many – for instance semi-retired people – may well be very pleased to embrace.

The harsh reality of all this is that like so many other areas of our over-legislated and bureaucratic governed lives, ill-considered solutions or changes brought into being simply because of media tittle-tattle or quixotic rhetoric will cause more harm than than it ever will good for all of the people and businesses who actually need practical and thought-through options most when it comes to the employer-employee relationship.

There will always be a small percentage of businesses that exploit people in every way that they can, just as there will be work-shy people who will manipulate the system to work best for them wherever it will let them. However, these are relatively few in number even if they make it into the press, and it is simply wrong that opportunities are closed down for the many businesses and workers who need them  just because of the self-serving actions of a few.

Responsible companies should be able to employ casual staff without recourse to temporary staffing agencies that cannot offer the same level of continuity as staff who have an ongoing relationship with the business, and the unemployed should be able to take up casual work and make a contribution whilst they work without fear of losing benefits or having a bureaucratic struggle to justify why – especially when it might just be the step that gets them into full time work and helps the sustainable growth of British businesses.

Sustainable business growth requires access to a casual workforce, just as many of the unemployed benefit from access to casual jobs. The Government has the ability and power to deal with this unnecessarily complex issue fairly and imaginatively to the benefit of all concerned.

But do they really want to?

 

image thanks to itv.com

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