Hugo Sugg is a youth and community worker. He stood as an Independent in Hackney South and Shoreditch in the 2017 General Election, and has since joined the Conservative Party.
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 seven years of our Conservative Government. Poverty and homelessness are issues that I campaign on after my own experiences, so I can offer working examples of how to get people away from these horrible situations.
That expression represents real life for a large proportion of people in the UK, in every corner on every street, and we need to focus on it and deal with it quickly, if we have any chance of winning back working class voters – like me. Zero hour contracts were created to help people into work and create more jobs. But what if they have created a marginalised section of society? Ministers will say that they allow flexibility. but charities will counter they put people into poverty – which is it? The fact is, both – but that doesn’t mean that they are the best solution to the problems of thousands of “on-the-breadline” families.
I joined the Conservatives six months after this year’s 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 myself, I have managed to live here a year after graduating, and have had many zero hour contracts – especially after my bout of homelessness ten years ago.
I eventually had to leave these contracts because of lack of stability. If a set of low-but-guaranteed hour contracts had been 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 two or maybe five hours secure work a week or fortnight, these would allow people to build a routine and have a regular income ,whilst maintaining flexibility. They 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 and competent workforces.
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 he or she is certain to get £30 for three hours work in the supermarket that they’ve worked at for six months on a zero hour contract, but with a new low hour contract instead, would means they can budget that £30 for food. They would be able to guarantee food on their plate, and can thus survive.
This stability would also help people pay for their rent, thus lessening the chance of rent arrears, eviction and potential homelessness – also sticks that Labour hit us with. Along with security on hours and wages, low hour contracts would also enforce workplace regulations such as holiday pay, sick pay and a termination notice period – giving them peace of mind when times get tough.
We have to be realistic: in-work poverty exists in the UK. 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 Eeection that most vulnerable aren’t always Conservative voters, and that Labour have attracted people to their agenda. But is that any surprise when zero hour contracts create transient workers who become disengaged with the Conservatives over employment issues?
We know Labour can’t manage the economy, and haven’t proposed an alternative to zero hour contracts – just ‘get rid of them’. This would 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 needs 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 young people into employment – and we have record employment numbers of all ages. That being said, we 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, which will allow more hours for “gig economy” workers.
Equality rightly doesn’t mean the same for everyone: it should mean that everyone has the same opportunities. Labour lambast us with the poverty rhetoric over and over again, and will continue to do so – until we start to look after traditional and new 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 hours, seven days a week. I ask the 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 three days and earning £1,500 a week, and living comfortably? If the answer is yes, we will only 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 a much-needed majority for us at the next election.