Tuesday, 12 January 2010

In Search of the British Work Ethic, episode 2

This was a confused and rather annoying programme (Radio 4, 11 January 2010). Melanie Phillips joined immigrant workers in the catering and cleaning industries and came face to face with the reality of their lives. With the help of an academic she concluded that their dignity and work ethic were admirable, and were driven by the fact that there was no welfare state in the countries they come from. But they were undeniably exploited. Phillips is floundering by the end of the programme. She knows that when Jim Knight MP waffles about tax credits and joining trade unions he is not addressing the reality. But the work ethic has been destroyed in this country because there's no incentive to work hard and no penalty for not working. Frank Field MP pointed out that for many the rewards of working are too small. The head of the Low Pay Commission says that they can't make moral judgements, but Phillips has grasped that it is a moral issue. She ends by saying that compassion has to be reconciled with personal responsibility. The issues raised by this programme, and the first episode, are very important, and at least Phillips has challenged her own attitudes. Unfortunately, those attitudes haven't changed.

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