Christmas is a tough time for those living from paycheque to paycheque, writes RABBIL SIKDAR
ALL I want for Christmas is you. Well, actually, no. I’d like life in London to be a little less expensive.
Christmas shopping lists don’t mean much for the low-paid except the bare minimum. If there’s shame in that there’s reason in that too.
If you’re earning below £10,000, then it’s not a life of opportunity that you’re leading as the Tories would have you believe, particularly in London.
It’s an abject struggle against the daily grind of travel costs, rent, bills and other necessities.
Inequality has never been more starkly portrayed within this bustling city than in Canary Wharf where the iconic towers, a district seemingly enriched with an abundance of wealth, overlooks neighbours of grim poverty, unemployment and lack of economic opportunity.
As someone earning substantially below £10,000, I understand this all too well. This is a great city, but an expensive one, and an infuriating one too.
As private property developers ransack working-class communities by developing expensive and unaffordable properties, parachuting in the rich and pushing out the poor, the rest of the low-paid are forced to turn to private rent in the absence of council homes.
That eats away massively at the budgets of those earning around £5k-10k. Workers earning somewhere in this region might be estimated to earn £400-700 a month, but £100 of that is invested in travel alone if you work in zone 1.
Those in the extortionate private rental sector are likely to be charged almost their entire monthly salary. What happens then? These people are either driven into homelessness or forced to turn to housing benefit to top up their salary and simply survive.
If you’re a student then you are inevitably expected to pay for your studies. If you’re in an unpaid internship, how are you supposed to survive?
The current cost of living in London is a huge squeeze on the working class, draining morale and energy.
Then Christmas comes and you realise you can’t really buy anything for anyone. Even as this communal atmosphere of family, generosity and sharing that comes with Christmas arrives, you realise you cannot partake in this festive mood. Walking past the homeless shivering in the cold, you have to be careful with your budget otherwise you might find yourself shivering on those streets you once walked past too.
This has come during a time when the rights and dignity of the worker have been subject to an unrelenting assault.
Critics daring to deviate even moderately from the politics of the status quo have been brutally crushed.
Dissent is snuffed out ruthlessly as wealth within London is shovelled rapidly at an increasing rate into the pockets of foreign investors, oligarchs and sheikhs, buying up luxury homes that they then never use. This at a time of a mass housing crisis when Londoners are seeing the value of property rise exponentially.
The struggles of the low-income worker are not a symptom of deficient budgeting skills as the government has tried to repeatedly persuade us but the failure of a deeply flawed and collapsing economic model revived repeatedly by state intervention at the expense of investment in public infrastructure.
Grotesque inequality and poverty have resulted from the promotion of ruthless greed and London is the epitome of that — where property rights are valued above human lives and homes are seen as assets and not as natural rights.
Jobs are now not paying well enough to cover the cost of rip-off rents and painful travel charges. Employers are conscious of the state’s grudging willingness to intervene and cover the costs that they refuse to pay.
Imagine if more companies followed in the footsteps of Lidl and actually paid a genuine living wage.
They would not collapse as rightwingers warn, but ensure that an economic model where sustainable prosperity is maintained through creating a happy and well-paid workforce, rather than simply trying to deliver profits that only satisfy the bank accounts of the shareholder.
Most people who are low-paid are not going to react in a political way. They are aware of the injustice but are stripped of the agency to do anything about it.
That passive tolerance of injustice is born in workplaces where the nature of low-paid, insecure job contracts in a world thriving on hopelessness means workers are less likely to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
They are expendable and therefore feel they have to stay silent. Similarly, what can tenants complaining about their landlords achieve except expecting a quick boot-out?
It’s this sense of hopelessness in the face of grim injustice that pervades much of the lives of the low-paid. Rationing monthly budgets into what needs to be covered and what is left is a truly grim and unhappy way to live. It’s payslip-to-payslip survival, a lifestyle of uncertainty and insecurity.