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Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain (Anglais) Broché – 14 janvier 2003


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'A passionately reasoned and compelling account of the avoidable cruelties still embedded in the underside of British life - by a writer who has literally worn the clothes, lived in the flats and done the jobs of the poor. Every member of the cabinet should be required to read it, apologise and then act'. - Will Hutton. A frank and breathtaking book, this is journalist and broadcaster Polly Toynbee's account of her courageous intention to live and work on the minimum wage. The 'decent living' wage set by the Council of Europe is set at GBP7.39. The minimum wage in Britain is currently GBP4.10 per hour. And often, people are working for less, their voices unheard, their faces unnoticed. The low-paid are caught in an economic double bind that victimises them and shames the rest of us. Toynbee took whatever jobs she could find, often offered for less than the official minimum wage.Living on an estate in Clapham, she started from scratch and found that if she were truly unemployed, she would not even be able to afford a new job, and that faced with starvation, it's impossible not to sink into debt. In this powerful and compelling book, Polly Toynbee journeys to the inside of Britain today and uncovers that world which is invisible to most. This is a damning portrait of social justice in Britain.


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10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Poverty can't be simulated 12 juin 2009
Par Peter Durward Harris - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Being unemployed, I read this book hoping that Polly focused primarily on her observations without too much analysis of causes and solutions. Sadly, politics dominate the book, but that's not the only problem.

In order to simulate a life of poverty, Polly created a completely artificial scenario that made things far worse than they would be for most people. She found accommodation (in a run-down tower block) that desperately needed furnishing, but without a starting allowance. While some people may find themselves in such a situation, I suspect that it's only a small minority. For example, when I was made redundant in 2002, I still had my rented accommodation, my possessions and some money. I still have the first two although I have much less money these days. Polly decided that she was going to get a job come what may and created a bogus CV, necessary for her purpose but not an option for me. Polly was able to use her real name as it's not her professional name. Polly also regarded a lot of things as necessities that aren't. By contrast, I adjusted gradually to a lower standard of living as I suspect most people do.

Since coming out of bankruptcy (something caused by taking out a huge loan six months before my redundancy), I simply remember when the big bills are due (every three months for the telephone, every six months for the water) and plan accordingly. I don't have a TV because the annual licence fee is a pernicious tax, but I can visit a betting office to see the big races (the aspect of TV that I most miss) although I rarely bet these days. Radio serves me well for news and sport. I do without home heating and when it gets really cold , I either hide under the duvet, go downtown or have a hot bath, all cheaper than heating a room for several hours. These and other sacrifices allow me a limited budget for books and music, but even then I am price-conscious. Life on benefits isn't great for me, but it's worse for some people, especially those with small families.

There are many problems relating to long-term unemployment that cannot be simulated including the re-training schemes (particularly New Deal, for which I prefer the description Raw Deal), the limited range of subsidised training courses and the even more limited capabilities of the agencies to understand individual needs (Next Step, a government agency, tried to put me on a NHS course but the NHS said I was over-qualified), the periodic jobcentre interviews, the checking-up in between, the impact of bankruptcy and so much more. The housing benefit system doesn't allow monthly payments, so as the landlord refuses to accept payments directly, I get 12/13 of my monthly rent every four weeks leaving me to pay the difference. Yes, there's a once-a-year bonus month but I'd rather have monthly payments without a bonus month.

Polly took a series of jobs in a short space of time (obviously for journalistic needs; I'll allow her that much) in order to get an idea of how hard some people have to work for pitiful wages, spread over several industries. The fascination of this book for me lies in the description of some of the condition under which people sometimes have to work, not least being the one-copy employmennt contract. If this isn't illegal, it certainly ought to be. In the days when I was able to find employment, there were always two copies, one for the employer and one for myself. I was always able to read my copy at home before signing, and keep it thereafter for reference. It seems that some agencies expect people to sign contracts that they can only study in the agency's office, but not take home. The system is clearly designed to stop people showing it to anybody who might make life awkward for the employer. I can only hope that I never end up desperate enough to sign such a contract. Polly also highlights a number of other issues that are useful to know.

I'd be interested to see how easy it would be for Polly to get a menial job using her real CV. My experiences suggest that employers seeking to fill such vacancies don't like taking on people with a history of well-paid jobs (in my case, as a computer programmer), preferring candidates accustomed to menial work. Meanwhile, the shortage of IT staff is a myth. Employers could fill such vacancies with people like me who could do the work but need re-training. Employers won't fund such training, nor will the government.

The book is good at highlighting some specific housing and employment problems but Polly's artificial scenario, only a little of which (the fake CV and rapid job turnover) was necessary for journalistic purposes, together with the large amount of unnecessary political dogma, detract substantially from what could have been a great book. If Polly had stuck to the facts as she saw them, letting readers make up their own minds about causes and solutions, I could have sympathized with her inability to adjust.

If you have an interest in the subject, this book is worth reading despite its limitations. One way or another, it will make you angry, whether you direct that anger at employers, governments, journalists or all of them.
13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Poverty Bites 10 octobre 2005
Par takingadayoff - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Hard Work is the British version of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Journalist Polly Toynbee does justice to the genre. She works mind-numbing jobs that pay just enough to keep her in poverty. She packages pastries and cleans hotel rooms, she lives in a squalid flat she can barely afford, and she tries to make ends meet on minimum wage. It is very depressing.

Toynbee finds that being one of the working poor is to be defeated at every turn. When she gets her dark, damp, unfurnished flat, she has to borrow money from the Housing Authority to furnish it because she won't get paid until she has been working for at least two weeks. She can't make an appointment to see the doctor because her job doesn't allow any paid time off. She can't try to get a better job because all the employers want to schedule interviews during her work hours (and she can't afford to take time off) or they want her to devote the day to waiting for an interview. She can't even make her views as a voter known, because to get to the voting station would mean unpaid time off from work, or an hour on the bus and in line waiting to vote after a 10-hour shift on her feet.

Life is a constant Catch-22 and she finally admits defeat when she has to move out of her apartment because the building's front door doesn't lock, there are drug dealers in the lobby, and she can't afford a phone.

In between descriptions of her alternate life in the slum, she splices discussions of the politics behind the policies regarding wages and poverty in Great Britain. Even for someone who isn't familiar with British government, it is very clear. It is also obvious that we in America have a lot in common with Britain.
9 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The dystopia of the British poor 28 juillet 2005
Par Rick Darby - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This is another entry in the view-from-the-bottom genre, which goes back at least to Orwell (as sociology) and Dickens (as grimly realist fiction). Polly Toynbee, a writer for the left-wing Guardian newspaper, dropped out of her comfortable life (for nothing can be more comfortable and respected in modern Britain than to be anti-capitalist and anti-American) to assume a false persona toiling in the "invisible," low-paying jobs of the service economy, so that she could write about that world from her own experience.

Not only did she work in such contemporary sweatshops as a hospital, bakery, school kitchen and nursing home, she even moved into one of south London's dreary council estates (what Americans call housing projects).

What Toynbee saw in the jobs she took on and in state-sponsored housing is the stuff of nightmares. She describes grueling physical labor, inhuman work rules, long and unpaid commutes by bus and tube, and wages too low to live decently on. Almost all the service jobs she took were with contract agencies that have no interest in their employees' welfare, and whose profit margin, she says, depends on squeezing the most work for the least possible pay out of the long-term, dead-end temps they hire out.

Despite Toynbee's Marxist leanings, I'm willing to take her word for it that conditions in Britain's minimum-wage jobs are as dire as she asserts. She is a good writer, and her descriptions offer a painfully fascinating picture of exploitation and blighted lives. One chapter toward the end of the book, about her stint in a nursing home for victims of senile dementia who inhabit a twilight mental world, is a heartbreaking look at both the elderly patients who have outlived themselves and the ill-treated carers who tend them.

Polly Toynbee comes through in her writing as genuinely empathetic and caring, and she makes some good points along the way. She is particularly scathing about the effects of contract employers who are equally indifferent to their own hired hands and to the best interests of the companies they sell labor to. She sensibly points out the absurdity of a National Health Service whose hospital managers no longer directly hire employees, which might provide the employees with career paths upward, but can only choose among outside contractors who supply worker units like so many parts.

Toynbee, however, cannot seem to think past her assumption that the only hope for amelioration is in more government regulation. But Britain had a near-Socialist economy for many years and still goes far beyond the United States in its nanny-state mentality. How is it, then, that in what Toynbee perceives as the savagely competitive, cowboy-capitalist economy of the United States, we have so much more job mobility? Why is it that in the United States working behind the counter or in the cleaning crew isn't widely thought to be a life sentence? How come in the cradle-to-grave welfare state that is Britain such a large percentage of people are living in awful public housing compared with the infinitesimal percentage who do so in the United States?

Toynbee can be perceptive on small points, but I think she's so in love with the welfare state that she can't see the role it plays in the "root causes" (beloved Guardian-writer phrase) of the desperation of so many of the poor in Britain. She doesn't consider how the state's allegedly benign guiding hand in almost every aspect of life -- its assurance that all will be taken care of by The Government -- tends to infantilize people, making them disinclined to be responsible for their own lives.

Toynbee's heart bleeds for the single woman who can't support her three kids on the salary she makes, and I'm sympathetic too, but this woman has been told by the state since she was a teenager (which is probably when she had her first child) that being a single mother was a perfectly acceptable "lifestyle choice," and that the government would see to it that she and her offspring would never be in need. A lie, to be sure, but the prevailing ideology that is pounded into the heads of the country's most vulnerable and naive.

Toynbee harps on the appalling working conditions that rightly make her angry as evidence that "market forces" don't work for the benefit of the poor. But market forces have been distorted by the multi-culti welfare state that is modern Britain, which has seen to it, through mass immigration, that sellers of labor are in large supply and buyers are in comparatively short supply. I expect Toynbee would throw up her hands in horror at the idea of closing the U.K.'s pliant borders, currently open to any joker who claims asylum, but the mess that she sees in the labor market is one result of the immigration welcome wagon.

Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain is a useful reminder, for those more fortunate, of the misery of many who perform society's unpleasant but necessary tasks. They should have better working and living conditions. I do not think they will get them from a stronger dosage of the government social engineering that has been largely responsible for putting them in the fix they're in.
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