A Bright Future?

I recall how, back in the eighties and nineties, we saw the increases in automation and computerisation as the solution to a better life. Everyone expected that this would mean that we would get the same amount of work done in four days as we were doing in five.

What we would do with the increased leisure time was the big question of the time. If routine jobs could be done by robots the people could also have more meaningful work.

So, hours worked each week would shorten and we could all be better off! So we thought.

Now, I am not an economist and I don’t have the material for a detailed analysis about what actually happened, but some things seem obvious in hindsight.

The ownership belong to the firm of course, not to the employeees – at least not normally unless it is a small private one. So, if you automate the production the resulting cost benefit and improved profitability go to the owners – either the boss in a closed company who gets more income; or in a public one where the directors get raised salaries with possible increased dividends for shareholders.

The employees who expected shorter hours either have no job anymore or they are in the remaining workforce still working the same hours for the same pay.

But there was another spanner in the works and that was globalisation.

I worked in marketing for three multi-nation companies in my working life – Kimberly-Clarke, Superfos of Denmark, and a division of Johnson and Johnson. Such lovely companies who had a good attitude towards staff so may I be forgiven for feeling that they would, today, be passing on the rewards of greater efficiency?

Well, perhaps they would except that they are in global markets having to compete with other firms who may not be to concerned for their people and must, therefore, remain competitive to survive. Or new firms enter the market such as from China creating increased supply and a downward pressure on profits. So everyone has had to cut costs and trim margins to survive and the ‘workers’ still stay low paid.

The week still remained a full week, the numbers of people needed reduced as computers took more work away and wages were under pressure from competition.

Fortunately we learn that unemployment today is at a long-term low in the UK. And wages likewise?

Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, has warned that the UK is facing its first ‘lost decade’ for economic growth in more than 150 years.

He said, during a speech at John Moores University in Liverpool on 5th December “We meet today during the first lost decade since the 1860s. Over the past decade real earnings have grown at the slowest rate since the mid-19th century”.

He added it was ” ‘incredible’ that real incomes had not risen in the past 10 years. He also fired a warning about globalisation, saying “there were signs of a growing sense of ‘isolation’ and ‘detachment’ among those who felt they had been left behind”.

What happened to our expected brave new world of leisure and better standards of living? Where have the champions of the ‘working man’ been all this time? How is it that heads of public companies can earn salaries in the millions and take bouses of hundreds of thousands or even millions even if their business as not in good shape. Is this a new form of corporate theft?

So, what was Brexit really about?
I think it was all total disenchantment, not so much with Europe. Disenchantment –

  • not about immigration but about income opportunity lost; seeing immigrants as the cause rather than as equal victims of the current grab for wealth at the top.
  • not about needing to take back control in the way it was portrayed, but about needing our government to make sense of it all to take control of employment, ensuring that we all got a fair share. At least Mrs May is now demanding that pay differentials are published, but this need to lead to action.

I am now a long way beyond what is normally regarded as ‘retirement’ age but my wife continues to run her business and I support her as well as being very active in developing our home and garden. We do that because we are still very active and need to keep occupied, but it also ensures we are financially secure and don’t need to ask for support.

There is also the value of being active, involved and needed such as shown by Joe Bartley who was met by cheers and applause from customers when he clocked on for the first time at the Cantina Bar and Kitchen in Paignton, Devon. At 89 he was bored and applied for work – well done Joe.

Pensions have been a hot topic for a long time but it was easily forseen decades ago. Even back in the seventies it was possible to forsee the bulge in over 60s that would come along thirty years later and all the support needed to ensure that pensions kept pace could have been decided and earlier intevention would have relieved some of the pressure on state resources today.

But the politicians failed it.

You can’t blame the older population of today for being income poor. Yes, many do have expensive propeties that can be mortgaged through equity release for cash now – not not the majority.

And, yes, we did have pensions but all my pensions with all the firms I mentioned above are lost because the rules at the time was that you lost the pension benefits if you moved to another firm. For me that is a decade of lost pension income benefits. Not my fault.

Again,the politicians failed to legislate when they could have saved some of the future demand on state resources. The law did change by the nineties and for me – after 1990 – moving jobs did not then mean a loss of pension benefit.

And then we have the pitiful state of housing in the UK. I know, when I bought my first back in 1971, that I could just afford it but there was no money for a lawn mower if I was to feed my family. If that were the only problem today I could say, well that’s how it was for me so why complain today. But it’s not. Houses are becoming the domain of those who already have; property for wealth rather than for home to raise families.

We have just managed to get a number of houses built in our village both starter and family sizes. But this was against unpleasant opposition from some residents who implied that houses here were only welcomed if they were expensive enough not to depress existing property values.

There are many reasons we have housing famine and it needs urgent action – it can be done – we have the land and the demand is overwhelming.

Once again our politicians are failing us.

Our younger generations face a future blighted by our generation’s failures and we owe them big time. We must press our politicians to act and ensure fairness for everyone. No more rhetoric, please.

We want our politicians to stop failing us and become the people we should be pleased to have representing us.