Friday 6 April 2018

Hired by James Bloodworth @J_Bloodworth @AtlanticBooks #Hired Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain @theotherkirsty

We all define ourselves by our profession. But what if our job was demeaning, poorly paid, and tedious? Cracking open Britain's divisions journalist James Bloodworth spends six months living and working across Britain, taking on the country's most gruelling jobs. He lives on the meagre proceeds and discovers the anxieties and hopes of those he encounters, including working-class British, young students striving to make ends meet, and Eastern European immigrants. 

From the Staffordshire Amazon warehouse to the taxi-cabs of Uber, Bloodworth narrates how traditional working-class communities have been decimated by the move to soulless service jobs with no security, advancement or satisfaction. This is a gripping examination of Brexit Britain, a divided nation which needs to understand the true reality of how other people live and work before it can heal.

Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain by James Bloodwith was published by Atlantic Books on 1 March 2018.  My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Many years ago I read Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain by Polly Toynbee and more recently Getting By: Estates, Class & Culture in Austerity Britain by Lisa McKenzie, and now having read James Bloodwith's Hired, I am saddened once more by the inequalities and social injustices that have become an accepted part of everyday life for so many people living in Britain. When I read Polly Toynbee all those years ago, I really didn't imagine that fifteen years later I would still be reading about how badly the working classes are treated in this country.

James Bloodwith writes very well. Hired is his story of spending six months undercover. Working in the lowest paid jobs, with no contract of employment, no rights and all dignity stripped away. Living amongst the people who have to contend with this every day, with no hope of ever getting out, with no hope of owning their own home, or of feeling valued.

He travelled to four parts of Britain; Rugeley, Blackpool, the South Wales Valleys and London. In Rugely he became part of the world of Amazon; the biggest employer in a town that was once filled with manufacturing firms, where coal mining was big business and where nobody was ashamed of 'going down the pit'. Nowadays, the men that are left tell James that they 'just work at Amazon' - they would never have said that they 'just worked down the pit'. The employment practices operated by this huge firm have stripped the dignity from the locals, and whilst many of them did get work with Amazon, very few stayed. Now the workforce is mainly Eastern Europeans; working long shifts, often not getting paid properly. Being searched as they leave for their lunch break, being shouted at and humiliated and asking James why he, an English bloke was working there.

James also went undercover as a care worker in Blackpool, a call centre operator in Wales and as an Uber driver in London. Each and every one of these jobs was sold to him as wonderful employment, where he could earn a fortune and become skilled. Not one of those jobs were anything like that.

This book angered me, but also made me question some of my beliefs. I've worked as a Community Development Worker, usually with rurally isolated communities for many years. I've worked with Youth Offending Teams and with Advice Services and I've seen the people in this book time and time again. I've been angry on their behalf, I've tried to help, but I've always felt like a small fish swimming against the strongest of tides. I'll admit that there have been times when I've wondered why some British people don't take the jobs that Eastern European nationals are doing, and here in Lincolnshire that's a big thing. I've thought that maybe British people are not prepared to work as hard, or lower themselves. After reading Hired, I've realised that James is right, and it's not always down to laziness or ineptitude, it's often because British workers are not prepared to be treated so badly. Lets be honest here, why the hell should they?

Hired is a thought-provoking book that made me angry. It also made me desperately sad and helpless, and wondering just what is going to happen next. The gig economy is getting bigger all of the time, despite the bad press and despite people knowing that they have no rights. Every time I open my door to a delivery driver, I get a twinge ... of guilt that I'm contributing to this, of horror that the guy handing over the parcel is probably making a loss, yet still goes out every day, to try to make an honest living.

For me, that's the whole issue here. The majority of us want to make an honest living. We want to work, we want to feel valued and we want to know that we've contributed.

Hired is an incredible read and James Bloodworth's writing is engaging and very human. His personality shone through and his honesty is welcome. James doesn't have the answers, nor do I - does anyone? Even so, this is a very worthwhile read, getting to the underbelly of low-wage Britain, concentrating on those who are at the heart of it. Bringing them to life, making us realise that they are not just statistics.

James Bloodworth is an English writer and the author of two books, The Myth of Meritocracy and Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain. 

His work has appeared in the Guardian, the Times, New York Review of Books, New Statesman and elsewhere. 

He is on Twitter as @J_Bloodworth.

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