Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment’
Class has a pull on heart strings, and political labels which to the unaccustomed may seem quaint. While in America everyone is middle class, the closest politicians in Britain come to saying that is Middle England. Even then, it is talking about values that supposedly belong to middle class people – holidays abroad, rising house prices, concerned with status in a community and conservative values of society. The opposite view is Big Britain which is more socially engaging, sees money as not a measure of success, and doubts anything they are told from media sources where new ideas are seen as important. One looking forward with new ideas, the other wanting to recapture a bygone era that was better with traditional means.
The middle and working class distinction is still there, though more a cultural one then an attitude save for those political warriors of another time. John Prescott – deputy leader of the Labour Party during Tony Blair’s Premiership and the man thought to have brought the trade unions on side with the Blairite project – has a new series called “Prescott – The Class System and Me“. While this may take us on a whimsically philosophical view of class attitudes and culture (a chippy will be included) that distinction can be shown with Jamie Oliver trying to change attitudes to food. Food is culture, and even though Jamie Oliver is advocating healthy eating at budget type prices the difference that seems clear is education – at least the ability to actually use a pan rather than a microwave.
The ability to do well in education and get a high paid job is a key factor. Prescott failed his eleven plus and had jobs as a waiter and sailor before joining the trade union movement and becoming an MP. What you lack academically can be overcome by sheer bloody hard work and self improvement. The uphill battle Jamie Oliver is having on working class mothers – tired from unsocial hour jobs, not spending quality time with their children, and no cookery or nutritional savvy at all – is seen by some as an attack on class culture.
Yet cultural life style attitudes have an impact. How much education you have, how long you live, how healthy you are. It then impacts on your children too. The cycle can be broken of course; but overcoming ignorance and aspiring to try something different is not always something people want. Culture has become territorial and the grub you eat regarded as a status symbol of where you come from. Leaving you unable to concentrate at school, and later health problems.
Where you come from, your roots can be important. In my case, the first person from my family to go to University. As a manager the only time I have done any physical work was volunteering with a conservation group pulling up Rhododendron bushes. I had backache for three days, and regular hot baths. When I see one blossoming in a garden it’s beauty is diminished as I think of them as the weeds they were in the forest where they strangled the life out of trees. My voice developed mixing with middle class people at church, and a conscious mimicking of BBC news readers. It helped having a political correspondent as a name sake. If that is the reason for my interest in politics and current events then what would have happened to me as a child watching him on Strictly Come Dancing I have no idea.
My brief period of unemployment has come to an end. The credit crunch resulted in my taking voluntary redundancy. Now I am working for an international bank that sees itself as the local bank. Hopefully not a case of out of the pan and into the fire in these financial stormy times. The fact that there is a two year wait on a car parking space amounts to job security at these times.
So working again. Which seeing as the claimant count for job seekers will be two million by Christmas is not something I take lightly. The whole class distinction has to be put to one side when we look at what allows people to achieve high incomes and healthy life styles. Good education, high paying jobs, social hours.
In a recession, where graduates work at Starbucks because there are no other jobs available and they are closing down as people rein in their spending that matters more then ever. Lack of opportunity gives way to lack of aspiration. The drive to succeed, for personal enrichment through education, and learning the life skills to get ahead in life are important. Denying people the opportunity to make use of that hard work is one that we cannot afford to squander with social immobility and lack of access to education.
Those distinctions of working and middle class need to disappear. Education and aspiration, with equal access to opportunity are the words that need action to mobilise people to become more than their roots statistically ever suggested they could be. We need a society which works for people by rewarding the contribution people make to it, rather than putting obstacles in the way.
The credit crunch, less money floating around and the biggest increase in unemployment in a month since 1992 in the UK, rising to 1.72 million people. Times are tough, and businesses are reassessing how to manage risks and reduce costs. People are also needing to earn money – not least because benefits for the unemployed are less than the poverty line.
Enter the salesman. Direct marketing, face to face in stores, in the street, or door step is a cheap option for a company wanting their product promoted – for one trying to break into a new market, or increase sales. A marketing company gets a contract, and agree a percentage on sales that will be divided between them. The sales person however carries the greater risk. As I discovered having passed a preliminary interview and spending a day with a sales person as a buddy in a well known high street store, selling designer make up.
It is not unusual for sales people to be paid on commission only. There is no minimum wage safeguard here, nor does the 48 hour week apply. The set up is that the sales people used by the marketing company are self employed, contracted by the marketing company. The sales rep is dependent on pitching the product and selling successfully. Watching this in action, from 11 am to 5 pm in a well known high street store, the sales person acting as my buddy to assess me, sold two products, revenue of £60. His percentage meant £18 for 6 hours work; £3.00 per hour compared to the minimum wage of £5.52 ($10.16 where in say Florida the minimum wage is $8). He had spent £3.50 on travel and £1.50 on food.
Indeed the way to keep going is to safeguard a positive mental attitude. Out of 250 people only 8 people listened to the pitch, and 2 bought. In between he raised his spirits by singing lewd lyrics, and telling young women to run up and down the store naked to get the make up (courting them to buy?). My own survival was to imagine I was an undercover journalist trying to pick up sales practise.
This marketing company requires people attending 4 hour a day training sessions (7:30am to 9:30am and 5:30pm to 7:30pm). These are unpaid, and mandatory to be contracted (note that: retained rather than employed) and for future promotion. The significance of promotion is that after 10 months if promoted to Assistant Manager you will be on double commission. In the above example that would have meant a wage rate of £6.00 per hour. The working week is 6 days, and a 12 hour day.
The EU defines the poverty line in the UK at about £10,000 ($18,400) income a year for a single person. Talking to the sales person it is not unusual to be below that threshold in some weeks even working 7 days – “you have to manage your money”. The hook is baited with you having to make a catch, to literally have something to eat. Sale anything and the marketing company take 70%. This is the only way you are trusted to “Always Be Closing” as Alec Baldwins’ character said.
It would take at least 7 to 9 months for you to double your commission. There is no guarantee you will be promoted. The jackpot prize is the promise of going beyond that double commission to running a location where you finally may get an income of about £50,000 a year. I found this however a little difficult to believe – the location manager in question was sharing the house with my sales buddy with three others. Why do people accept such uncertain income? The promise of becoming the top location guy, who gets a slice of everything down the chain. The same reason why drug dealers accept earning less than someone working at a McDonalds, the promise of becoming a Kingpin. Their odds, if they survive, are better than in any other business environment they may work in to get to the top. At least they dream so.
This boils down to a 6 day week 70 hours with no safety net. Uncapped commission is held out that you keep what you make. The government gets less in the way of taxes by this arrangement, and the marketing companies reduce their tax liability and risk of an unsuccessful product. The money they get from taking the contract on is already theirs. You on the other hand have to rely on people to buy the product. You have to put in the hours. You have to engage as many people as possible (big net for those small fish). You have to close the deal. You then have to make another sale to them (they bought once, so could be a hidden sale).
I could see myself in the role of a salesman – people wanted to listen to the pitch from me, and I found the way to make them want to buy the product if they had the money. I found myself thinking of different ways of making the close. The buzz as you try to sell. But I could also see in my sales buddy the desperation – it was effecting his body language, and he was not eating well at all. He looked close to a nervous breakdown, as he did imaginary golf swings and sung suspect lyrics about knowing that sort of woman . He was determined to get promotion to manager, he hated sales. Yet he would be doing this for almost a year before realistically having a chance at managing a location. He had Willy Loman’s dream – promising himself a trip to America once he was a location manager. When he had the money.
I heard the early morning mandatory training in the room next door to the waiting room, prior to going on the sale. Loud music up beat music, people being pumped before the sale – when most people would be having a cup of coffee scratching the sand out of their eyes. A discussion of what would happen to whoever sold less that week? Everyone came up with something fun rather than nasty – cook a meal for the boss was the winner. The talk was about installing a positive mental attitude and group solidarity rather than the Glengarry Glen Ross answer. I recognized this approach – this was holding out a promised land, making it seem obtainable, keeping people in a routine, with a sense of belonging. Reinforced after a day of selling when most people will reject you, almost consider you like an alien wanting to abduct them, with another two hours of reinforced positive thinking. A twelve hour day, a six day week.
It sounded like a cult enterprise. It thrives on the challenge of selling itself though it’s product, and the hard times. But it knows how to motivate you, keep your spirits going. It was telling when my buddy told me the pay when I asked him (commission based) which I should not have found out till the first day of work, drawing up a contract. I found that out by courting my sales buddy (a sales technique I know from retail) through empathy. I could even see how I was falling for a sales pitch at the final interview – a hand outstretched to me after the interview which I shock without thinking and then was told I had the job while being basked with a million dollar smile. How do you back out of that when the guy has made you sell yourself at the interview, with a close like that and my buddy in the room?
That suspicion had come to me at the first interview. I was also given the impression that there were many people being considered, even that the location manager needed to speak to his board of directors after the first interview before confirming the second stage usually – that usually a decision would not be reached so quickly. I went home rather uneasy, that this was obviously not true.
Why the government does not close the loophole of commission only pay that allows people to be contracted as self-employed people – when in reality they are employees in all but name. No definite income would make loans and a mortgage impossible, and the hours put in equal to one day a week without pay seems to me like low cost serfdom.
The prize is a dream and it reminds me of Death of A Salesman:
“He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. and then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”
The dark side is a man that has a dream that may not every be his as he sleep walks his time away. Yet people have to survive, whether getting some money or having a delusion that pulls them through. It allows people to have a rotten life, thinking tomorrow will be better while ignoring that what is real is now, and what you do now has repercussions.
The search continues with eyes wide open.
Today I went to the job center in Penzance. Where they was slight confusion that I was down here in the South West while my Mum is in hospital but actually live in the Midlands (which is more North Middle for US readers). The idea that due to personal circumstances you may be constantly going backwards and forwards is only catered for if a holiday. At least the ball is rolling to diminish the decline in my savings.
The staff were very friendly and supportive. The attitude was that I should be looking for the right job, rather than going for anything at the minimum wage. They had security guards on duty which is a sad reflection of how some people react to their situation. They confirmed that wages down here were thousands of pounds less than equivalent jobs up north yet living costs were much higher down here (water rates being the highest in the country due to pollution and the beaches). With less job opportunities in a county of half a million. Ironically one job opportunity I received was for a Christian charity; I was extremely well qualified except for believing Jesus was God (or a god), which as a charity they are allowed to discriminate on. I wonder how far the legislation allows – could you, for example be refused if you were a Unitarian – not believing in the trinity?
Getting a call back for a job later this afternoon, which happens to be down here. My CV was picked up in their search. Nice to actually have someone chasing me for a job while I wait to see if other applications have got my foot in the door for an interview – I hate the waiting game.
The European Commission is warning that Britain will have two consecutive quarters of negative growth – the technical definition that economists use. The government is far out with it’s projected growth rate of 2.5% for the year; with the Commission predicting 1.1%. That seems borne out by the fact that there was no growth in the economy in the second quarter. That growth rate is less than the EU predicated average of 1.3%.
It may take more then the Cabinet having a day trip to Birmingham (first outside London since 1920s) to guide Britain through this; having photos taken around the Midlands is not really a government in action, but trying to make sure they do not become unemployed by the electorate. Union’s are flexing their muscles as pay deals agreed earlier actually mean pay cuts now with inflation at 5%. The budget is in deficit – not necessarily a bad thing during uncertain times but not helped that this was the case before the current downturn in the world economy. Not that it is time to get the sack cloth and ashes out, but expect more wailing of teeth with the talk that this downturn is set to last for the next two years.
Rising house prices are no longer something for households to bet on increasing asset wealth. The credit crunch means that first time buyers are not fully able to take advantage of the price decrease, as mortgage providers tighten the criteria and conditions for lending. The decision by the US Treasury to bail out Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae will stabilize the housing market there – the effect here was to bolster the London Stock Exchange (once computer problems on Monday were sorted out, stopping trading for several hours) and in the long term will help exports to the US market – thus helping the global economy.
Life however will go on, even if it means buying store brands and making meals from scratch rather than microwave meals and no visits from the Pizza boy. Nothing personal, just weathering the economic storm that is the market exuberance going into free fall due to “animal spirits” as Keynes noted. The government of the day claims success in taming the beast as things seem to be galloping along nicely; when it starts jumping like at a rodeo it is always something else that has spooked the beast, but they are best placed to solve it seeing as they are already in the saddle.
Well, come the next election we will cast our votes on that. It looks more of us will have taken our P45s to the job center by then.