As the minister who brought in the Universal Credit and sowed misery among people with disabilities, there are millions of people who would see Iain Duncan Smith’s attempt to portray himself as a warrior for social justices as a bad joke.
However, while saying so involves being much fairer to him than he ever was to those who felt the impact of his policies while at the Department for Work & Pensions, the Centre for Social Justice he chairs has on occasion put out some moderately interesting ideas.
Its latest missive “The Great British Break Through” – did it really need the cheap attempt to hang off the coat-tails of The Great British Bake Off? – argues that the potential of the bottom 20 per cent of workers is being wasted, a situation it describes as “shameful” and a major contributor to the desultory productivity that constrains economic growth, not to mention wages, in the UK
“The message in this report is simple; investing in transport infrastructure, digital networks and technical skills is important, but unless you target policy to support the least advantaged in society, we cannot return productivity growth to pre-crisis levels,” says Mr Duncan Smith.
Who could disagree with that? Or with ideas such as rethinking professional and technical education to make it work better, and doing more to support further education (FE) colleges, for long seen as being the unloved stepchild of the British education system.
A call for greater investment? Give that man a hand!
However, when it comes to the report’s prescriptions for what ails UK plc, and its most disadvantaged people in particular, it’s hard to escape the fact that the report has a glaring blind spot. It fails to pay regard to the role modern trade unions could, and do play, in enhancing productivity, wages, and the life chances of those at the bottom of the workplace pile.
Research by the former Department for Trade & Industry in 2007, for example, found that union representatives saved up to 616,000 productive working days that might otherwise have been lost through work related injury.
Collective bargaining leads to improved wages, which also leads to improved productivity. There is a reason many employers – like the Centre – have adopted the voluntary National Living Wage, set by the Living Wage Foundation, and become accredited Living Wage employers. Paying it, as opposed to the Government’s lower minimum wage, leads to lower rates of…