Living on a budget, scraping together the pennies to put clothes on your back, and working to the bone. When was the last time you heard that expression? Recently? People say it every day and Labour have consistently used it as a stick to hit us with over the last 7 years of our Tory Government.
It’s the real life for a large proportion of the UK, in every corner on every street, and we need to focus on it if we have any chance of winning back the working class voters. Zero hour contracts were created to help people into work and create more jobs, but what if zero hour contracts have created a marginalised section of society? Ministers will say that they allow flexibility but charities will say they put people into poverty - which is it? The fact is both but that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution to the issues of thousands of 'on-the-breadline' families.
I joined the Conservatives 6 months after the June 2017 General Election with a vision to help us progress in the area of social equality whilst maintaining our strong economy. Living in London and on the edge of in-work poverty, I have managed to live here a year after graduating and have had many zero hour contracts. They work for the short, they can buy you clothes, they can allow you to buy food but what they can’t do is guarantee financial security and stability.
I eventually had to leave these contracts because of a lack of stability. If a set of low but guaranteed hour contracts were offered to me instead, I might have been more inclined to stay in those jobs and go on their training programmes to increase and better my skill sets - whilst still keeping a roof over my head and food in my stomach.
So, in keeping with the flexibility of work, I had the radical idea of changing the zero to low: Low hour contracts. With 2 or maybe 5 hours secure work a week or fortnight, it would allow people to build a routine and have a regular income whilst maintaining flexibility.
It could create pressure on companies who would need to assess hours vs budgets, but with the economy in a stronger place and businesses feeling more buoyant, companies want to build strong, competent work forces.
The Conservatives are the working party and believe strongly that work pays meaning you can progress in society with the foundation of employment - so a voter knowing that they are certain to get £30 for 3 hours work in that supermarket they’ve worked at for 6 months on a zero hour contract, with the new low hour contract, means they can budget that £30 for food. They can guarantee food on their plate and can survive.
This stability can also help people pay for their rent, lessening the chance of rent arrears, eviction and potential homelessness - also sticks Labour hit us with. Along with security on hours and wages, low hour contracts will also enforce workplace regulations like holiday pay and sick pay - giving them peace of mind when times get tough.
We have to be realistic: In-work poverty exists in the real world. When Theresa May talked about the “burning injustices” on the steps of Downing Street, she was talking about the most vulnerable. It’s evident after June’s Election that most vulnerable aren’t always Conservative voters and that Labour have empowered people to their socially forward agenda.
But we know Labour can’t manage the economy and that they haven’t proposed an alternative to zero hour contracts except ‘get rid of them’. Getting rid will cripple the workforce which rely on them and force more people into homelessness, debt and poverty - instead we need to step forward and target the ‘little person’ who need the Government to notice them.
Countries like Spain haven’t worked it out yet: They have huge youth unemployment figures and fixed, long term contracts in a crippling Eurozone economy. We have the freedom to create jobs and get the youth into employment, and we have record employment numbers of all ages. This being said, the Conservatives need to take a step further and help convince people that we are the Party of the strong economy. With our exit from the EU, we will be able to create more jobs and give companies more flexibility: something Labour would bundle the moment they take power.
Equality rightly doesn’t mean the same for everyone, it means everyone has the same opportunities. Labour lambast us with the poverty rhetoric over and over again and they will until we start to look after the traditional and newly franchised Labour voters, and make work really pay with all the security that should, but doesn’t, come with it.
The majority of people on zero hour contracts don’t have just one job, they have a multitude which means they can work 60 or 70 hour, 7 day weeks to scrape by, with the possibility of that being the last pay cheque they’re getting for a few weeks.
I hereby ask the whole Conservative Party: Is it ok for people to work this quantity of hours and not have a sustainable, profitable balance between work and life, whilst we have people working 25 hours over 3 days and earning £1,500 a week and living comfortably? If the answer is yes, we will only seek to push these potential voters to Labour. If the answer is no then we need to have a conversation and a serious think about introducing a policy that has the potential to secure our much-needed majority in the next General Election.
Hugo Sugg is an anti-homelessness activist You can find more information about his work @HugosEarthquake