Making the difference!
It is one of the most frustrating statements politicians hear from their electorate – “What difference does my vote make?”
I don’t agree with the sentiment or the statement, but I do share the sense of disenfranchisement. Let’s face it, when you have a family – mum, dad and two little infants running around, you are struggling to pay a bill or don’t know where your next earnings are coming from – why would you feel politics has any value to you?
Poverty isn’t new but according to Joseph Rowntree Foundation, after 20 years of falling poverty rates we are now seeing a trend upwards. Whilst I am no statistician and I am certainly not an academic, I am an employer and I can see around me in Salford more people on the streets living rough and more families struggling to survive. I wasn’t happy just dropping the odd tin of beans in for the foodbank at my local supermarket. As an employer I knew I had the power to change things even in my business of just 10 employees.
So, what can a small business like mine do to make a difference? Since 2016 we have paid the real living wage as a minimum and we don’t operate zero hours contracts. In effect all our team are salaried with the minimum 40-hour week currently earning £18,200 per year. It’s not a lot but when you compare it with the widely feted “gig” economy – it is a game changer!
So, what is the “gig” economic model? It is companies employing people as sub-contractors, so they are not directly employed by the company, therefore any equipment, resources, holidays, National Insurance contributions and taxes are managed by the employee not the employer. The terms of any Service Level Agreement (SLA) will often have punitive measures for the employee in the event of a failure to deliver the SLA, this can be as basic as a day off sick. It is also fair to say that many of these sub-contractors (whilst bright and effective operators in their specialist trade) are not trained or equipped as business owners and very often fail to understand the hidden costs of keeping account of the business expenses, tax and other requirements. This often drives people into poor health and welfare (long hours, no holidays and barely seeing the family) or debt and the employee must wait for work to come in, which can mean no income at all. You can’t claim benefits if you are classed as working or self-employed and this is getting much worse thanks to the welfare and reform work act 2016 where the benefits cap has been substantially reduced (but it is a commonly held belief that there are a large number of “gig” workers on less than the minimum wage).
The current government see the new ways of employing as “entrepreneurial” but as an entrepreneur myself, I object to the comparison. It is a dereliction of duty for employers when they know they can employ on a full-time basis but choose not to. The government instead of encouraging better wages and a more stable working environment for employees, chooses to use the stick of reduced benefits, forcing people into impossible life choices.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy being a good employer and it doesn’t guarantee you good employees. But it is no coincidence that in a small business like ours, staff turnover is very low. They love the company and they are proud of what we do!
The public and our customers want to see good practices like “fair trade”, and in our case fair employment terms. Overall, it produces happier staff and better customer service, society benefits with more people in the community employed, the government benefits from more taxes and the families of our employees benefit from less financial stress and regular working hours. The idea that you can’t make money is refuted by the fact that we have been a socially responsible, profit making business for 3 years now! Having spoken to many employers, they do see the benefits of what we are achieving but they look at what the bigger organisations in our industry are doing and they want to be competitive. However, it is worth noting that in 2017 small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) employed 16.1 million people; that is 60% of all private sector employment in the UK* and they constitute over half of all accredited Living Wage employers**