Hard Work. Life in Low-Pay Britain

By Polly Toynbee.
ISBN 0 7475 6415 9

Foregoing a large salary and comfortable life to live on a
run-down London estate on the minimum wage by undertaking hard and
often oppressive jobs may seem an extreme Lenten penance.

But Polly Toynbee, an avowed atheist, took up the challenge from
Church Action on Poverty. The result is an absorbing and revealing
portrait of the human and economic plight of Britain’s submerged
and forgotten third.

School cook, care assistant in a private older people’s home, call
centre worker (so awful she could manage only a day), office
cleaner, cake factory packer – here invisibility and an often
appalling working environment illustrate what labour market
“flexibility” and “mobility” mean. This is the world of seedy
employment agencies, no pensions and arbitrary dismissal.

Underpinning observation and experience with official and other
reports, Toynbee finds pay is worse relatively than 30 years ago.
Much is due to “vandalism” of privatisation.

If you read only one book this year, let this be it. It should
shame Cabinet ministers, former Tory ministers in their board
rooms, council leaders, chief officers and the heads of the new
private companies. But it should also shame all of us.

Terry Philpot is author and editor of several books on
social care.

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