‘Working poor’ is a common phenomenon not only in United Kingdom, but all over the world. The anti-neo liberal argument suggests that world poverty and inequality have been rising. (Ravenhill,2005,p.294) People are working for seven days a week but getting minimum wage; what they earn can hardly support their daily life. According to national minimum wage rates in United Kingdom, the minimum wage per hour for aged 21 and over is GBP 6.7 in 2015.However, the emergence of ‘working poor’ attribute to different reasons.
Firstly, certain business activities and services are contract out to a company. Invitation of tender allow companies to compete with each other such as lower wages or cheaper materials. Consequently, company who is more suitable for the requirement would take the bid. The guardian took cleansing services as an example, the former bid involved paying cleaners £9.15 an hour, the level considered enough to live on in London. The latter one based on an hourly rate of £6.50 – the minimum wage (July 2015). The organization finally picked the cheaper bid, it would be wise from an economic point of view. Ultimately, the victim would be the working class. Since they don’t have bargaining power, employees have to accept unfairly low-wage job.
Secondly, the living wage outweigh employees’ minimum wage. The living wage is basically about how much employee should earn minimally to make ends meet. According to the living wage, set annually by the Living Wage foundation, the cost of living in the United Kingdom has increased by 40p to GBP8.25 an hour outside London and by 25p to GBP9.40 an hour in the capital. In United Kingdom, it is obvious that the living cost is higher in London.
In accordance with a report by Economists at UBS, house prices in London are the most over-valued of any major city in the world. For a grassroots worker, it is a heavy burden to rent a house in London, let alone various expenses. It is ironic to see while some of the middle class are purchasing luxurious good and the working class are struggle with buying basic needs.
However, the ‘working poor’ situation is not only happening in United Kingdom. China has a similar situation as well.To be more specific, ‘ant tribe is the new ‘working poor’ in China now. ‘Ant tribe’ refers to people who received higher education but only had a low-paying jobs. The ‘working poor’ in China are slightly different from Western countries, they are mostly university graduate.
The appearance of ‘ant tribe’ is related to China political and economic history. After the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1966 to1976, the Chinese government decided to have an economic reform from 1980s. China started to open the local markets, privatized state enterprises and reduce tariffs in order to attract foreign investment. The government also put more resources and efforts in higher education so as to nurture more people with professional skills. Since the 1980s, more and more people have been receiving higher education from the university. In 2010, China had more than 6 million college graduates.
Some graduates came from poor village. After they graduate from university, they want to stay and work in the big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. However, the living cost is very high in the big cities. There are many fresh graduates each year, the competition is very serious. Graduates who don’t have ‘background’ and ‘social network’ are difficult to find a decent job. Lian Si, who studies ‘ant tribe’ phenomenon expressed that many graduated ended up working in the sales and hospitality industries. They don’t have labor contracts with their employers and are not entitled to any social or medical insurance. ‘Ant tribe’ can only earn about GBP 2300 per year. It is pathetic to know that they received education in university and planned to apply for decent job, but they ended up with an unfairly low-wage job and a dull future.
Different countries should have specific solution to the ‘working poor’. For United Kingdom, the government should raise minimum wage so that hardworking grassroots workers are able to afford their basic needs and daily necessities. The British government should also promote the idea of business ethics and corporate social responsibility to the enterprises. Implementing living wage to employees would enhance their loyalty to the company; so it will also improve quality of the work. Paying living wage to employees also build a positive image for the company, which is important for doing business.
As for China, the government should create more jobs and opportunities for the fresh graduate. The Chinese government also need to provide a more comprehensive and secure social protection and insurance for workers.
By Angela Tam
Ravenhill, J. (2005). Global political economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Hilton,S.My conversion to the cause of the working poor. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/03/working-poor-minimum-wage
Osborne,H. London house prices most overvalued in the world, says UBS. The Guardian.Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/oct/29/london-house-prices-most-overvalued-world-ubs
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