UK — Full Employment?


This week on Facebook: In England the Statute of Labourers was issued in 1351 after the Black Death had reached England. Full employment¹ was welcomed by those labourers left alive, often leading to increases in salary and freedom from serfdom for some.

And because many sound beggars do refuse to labour so long as they can live from begging alms, giving themselves up to idleness and sins, and, at times, to robbery and other crimes-let no one, under the aforesaid pain of imprisonment presume, under colour of piety or alms to give anything to such as can very well labour, or to cherish them in their sloth, so that thus they may be compelled to labour for the necessaries of life. Statute of Labourers (1351)

I am coming to the conclusion that while the Statute of Labourers may have had an influence on The Peasants Revolt of 1381, the intervening thirty years leading up to it makes the views of a new generation speculation. It was more the beginning between those that were rich and the first recorded event of the poor attempting to achieve a better life. As John Ball was to preach to the crowd peasants at the time:

When Adam dalf [dug] and Eve span [spun],
Who was then a gentleman?

I was prompted to write the following about penury during the Tudor Age (1485 to 1603):

The lack of land to cultivate, on which some provision might be made to support a family, brought about destitution. Employment that provided a fixed maximum income and no minimum – when the price of food and shelter was continually rising – increased poverty. Escape from this rural trap in search of employment in a town or city, was more likely to exacerbate already dire circumstances. Beggars are coming to town

And as Shelley (1792 – 1822) was to put it in his ‘A Defence Of Poetry And Other Essays’:

The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the State is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Today, those seeking full employment have an influence the fiscal policies of the State while the issues remain much the same. Now it seems that everyone, except the unemployed and those (perhaps) on zero hours contracts, is in agreement with the 1351 Statute of Labourers.

The nub of modern employment problem seems to be in a political wish to statistically present high levels of employment in the economy and at the same time financially support the indigence of an ever increasing population from an ever decreasing fiscal revenue. Zero Hours Contracts

As a nation we can no longer afford the current level of Social Welfare Program. For example, the EU accounts for just 7% of the world’s population and a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP) but as much as half of its welfare spending. I make no claim to having an answer to this dilemma, but as I stated in my post of 2008:

This is yet another indication that this government cannot continue with its policy of welfare largesse. More significantly, we now have a national spend and debt repayment economy. Yet even here, the Government is using data manipulation to disguise the true size of the debt, while promising increased public expenditure. Welfare and Unemployment

The Beveridge Report promised full employment, universal welfare benefits and a ‘free NHS’, promising a welfare state that included equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. Views very dependant on the notions of full employment and the social welfare program that the UK would introduce when it implemented The Beveridge Report³.

In the late 1950s, an old friend recorded in his diary that Beveridge had met him for lunch in distress that ‘his original ideas had been mutilated, reversed and taken completely out of his hands although given his name; that he had come to loathe both the caption “Welfare State” and the title “Beveridge Plan” which had become like advertising slogans, which taken together had led many people hopelessly to misunderstand what he had truly worked for’. 10 things you may not know about The Beveridge Report


1. Why the road to full employment is lined with food banks: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week published employment figures for the three months to January which showed that more than 90% of new jobs were full-time. “That doesn’t mean they are high-quality jobs,” says Machin. “Many people say they would like to work more hours if they were available, strongly suggesting underemployment. Also, many solo self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts say they are doing the job because it was the only one they could get, not because it offered more flexibility.”.

2. Is employment up only because of zero hours contracts? This piece looks at whether there’s any truth in the critique that the rise in employment is down to a rise in insecure work—primarily an increase in the number of people on zero hours contracts. Zero hours contracts do not guarantee a worker a minimum number of hours, and the worker is “on call” to work as and when they are needed.

3. Explaining Zero Hours Contracts: This revision video explains the nature of zero hours contracts and looks at data on zero hours contracts in the UK labour market. What are the main advantages and disadvantages of zero hours contracts?

4. Can the UK reach full-employment? What are the main barriers in the way of getting to full employment? Most relate to the factors impeding the occupational and geographical mobility of labour. And there are deep-rooted issues with work incentives some of which reflect the complexity of the tax and benefit system whilst others flow from the ever-changing nature of work and the shift towards flexible employment (including zero-hours contracts) and the decline of trade union negotiating power than has led to a rise in in-work poverty.

5. What does “Full Employment” actually mean? Taken literally, ‘Full Employment’ would mean absolutely everyone in the country having a paid job. That would be quite a surprising situation and perhaps not a desirable one, so people usually take ‘full employment’ to mean something different: either a particularly low unemployment rate or a very high employment rate.


Referenced Articles Books & Definitions:

  • A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download url that is usually free.
  • Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular included article (1-5).
  • A link (url), which usually includes the title, are to an included source.
  • The intended context of words, idioms, phrases, have their links in italics.
  • A long read url* (when used below) is followed by a superscript asterisk.
  • Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
  • JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.

¹Setting the record straight (pdf): Now is a good time to take stock and ask how record employment has changed Britain. In doing so we chronicle not just how the UK jobs market is different now from when it was last at its peak, but because employment is the economy for most people, how the economy and indeed how the country has changed in this time.

²Different kinds of employment status: The different ways you can be employed make a big difference to how you pay tax and National Insurance, save for your retirement and your rights at work. In this guide you can find out more about the different kinds of employment.

³10 things you may not know about the Beveridge report (url+pdf):  Freedom from want cannot be forced on a democracy or given to a democracy. It must be won by them.

2 responses to “UK — Full Employment?

  1. Pingback: Global Covid-19 | Aasof’s Reflections

  2. Pingback: UK Fiscal Incompetence! | Aasof’s Reflections

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Martin Widlake's Yet Another Oracle Blog

Oracle performance, Oracle statistics and VLDBs

The Land Is Ours

a Landrights campaign for Britain

The Bulletin

This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

TCWG Short Stories

Join our monthly competition and share story ideas...

Public Law for Everyone

Professor Mark Elliott

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