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The Conservative Party cannot lecture the public on hard work

Welfare recipients are once again on the receiving end of the Tory’s Party attack lines. In the run up to the local elections, Sunak called for an end to ‘sicknote’ Britain. Too many people are supposedly lazy idlers who’d rather sit around cashing cheques than get a job. Aside from this attack stigmatising the poor and fuelling classism, it’s the hollowness of the Tory Party calling for people to work harder which is annoying me. When we look at the Conservative Party today, the policies they promote discourage entrepreneurship. They discourage risk taking and investment. They discourage hard work. It is a party of rent extractors not wealth creators. 

Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives talk a big game about being the party of business, entrepreneurship, and hard work. Yet, they have presided over a stagnating economy where wages for many are still below 2008 levels. More fundamentally, as Elizbeth Anderson points in her latest book, conservatives’ attitudes to hard work remain contradictory. Ever since the days of feudalism conservative thinkers, such as Edmund Burke, have advocated the value of hard work for common people whilst protecting the capital/landowners who live off the wealth others produce. Although child labour and the workhouses are gone, the contradiction remains in the Tory Party today. 

Examine the housing market. House prices in the UK have grown faster than incomes over the last 40 years (see chart below). The windfall homeowners are sitting on, however is not the result of their own enterprise. The complete reverse in fact. It is leaching off the productive enterprise of businesses and workers. In feudalism, working people would farm the land only for some fortunate heir to take half of it away. Today, young graduates (and many others) work professional jobs, only for half their pay to get eaten up by landlords. 200 years later and nothing much has changed. 

House prices have risen more than wages

The rise in house prices, represents a direct transfer of wealth from productive activity to unproductive landowners. London is by far the most egregious example. Our most successful city, home to a large number of our world-leading industries. Who deserves to keep the gains from this? In my mind, and to most people, the workers and businesses should be rewarded. You know, those doing the work, investing in our country should keep the gains. No, instead the UK is now a country which rewards idleness so long as the idleness comes from owning a house or land. 

Should young people or workers in general invest to go to university or upskill themselves or should they buy property. This is the very choice we have given every person in the country. You can slog your guts out for 40 years or buy a house? I am very much doubtful that young people are any more idle than previous generations. However, even if this indeed the case, it is a perfectly rational response. Stagnating returns to work and rising returns to housing will drive people away from the labour market and production and into housing speculation. 

This is why the Tory Party’s lectures on hard work are so fatuous. Their economic model is one of extracting wealth from workers and businesses and transferring it to landlords and pensioners. It is not only in housing their disregard for everyday work is evident. Civil servants and striking workers have faced persistent abuse from the Tory party for daring to ask for more compensation for a hard day’s work. 

Last week the UK suffered a cyber-attack. On twitter a job posting for the head of cyber security at the UK treasury reported the salary was £57,000. This salary for someone who should be world leading in their field is embarrassing. The successful applicant you’d like to think would have at least 10-15 of experience, be educated to postgraduate level. They are most likely raising a family. Asking them to run cyber security for a top government department for £57,000 is insulting. Expecting them to live in London on top of this is comical. 

Anyone truly skilled in cyber security, who has spent their life training and developing their skills, is not going to work at the Treasury for £57,000 a year. The same logic is true for many other civil servants, doctors, carers, and any other profession. Unless they are paid more, they will not work here. Yet, what’s more the Tory Party does not even pretend to care about these workers. Instead of providing a comfortable dignified environment where workers may feel valued outside of their pay packet, Tory MPs have ridiculed striking workers and doctors for exercising market power. What was the Conservative Party’s message to these workers asking for pay rises? It’s shut up and get back to work. 

Few in the Tory party seem to think if you want people to work hard you may have to pay them more. A party supposedly committed to ‘free markets’ don’t seem understand if the price is too low, there will be under supply. And here we arrive at the crux of it. The Tory Party is hitting the poorest the hardest. High skilled workers and graduates from can move abroad. They have leverage. Doctors can leave for Australia (I urge them to do so). Wealthy people can invest in property and hand it down to their children. Who is left bearing the brunt? The poorest, who cannot leave. These people have to accept being told to work harder only to be paid less and less.   

So, as well as being insulting to the workers of the UK, Rishi Sunak’s policy of cutting benefits and telling people to get off their arse isn’t the solution to the UK’s problem. To get people to work hard one must ensure working hard is rewarded. Unless the Tory Party present an economic plan, which compensates workers for hard work, their rhetoric on welfare recipients will ring hollow.  

Image: Conservative Party

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