The Labour Farce Survey

call on at the docks

Waiting for casual work – before mobile phones

If you are so inclined, the Labour Force Survey statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are always interesting reading. Even more interesting is how those statistics are collected and manipulated.

One recent rumour we heard was that if you work for an hour a week, you are officially classed as employed. The ONS recently confirmed to the BBC that this was indeed the case. However, the BBC go on to state that “The ONS data shows that the number of people usually working six hours or fewer a week is just 1.4% of the UK working population – or just over 400,000 people, which compares with a total of 32.4 million people in work.” (BBC NEWS, 21/11/2018).

Of course, the fact that a ‘mere’ 400,000 people are working less than 6 hours a week says nothing about those worker’s needs or intentions.  It says nothing about how many of those people would work more hours if they had the opportunity. There is also the wider issue of part time working in general. Even those working part time for 16 hours a week, may desire more hours, where none are available.

Another problem with the statistics is that they do not include those on disability benefits. These are classed as ‘Economically Inactive’. Such people are not included in the figure for the ‘unemployed’. To quote the ONS: “Economic inactivity measures people without a job but who are not classed as unemployed because they have not been actively seeking work within the last four weeks and/or they are unable to start work within the next two weeks.” Again, this says nothing about the reality of workers in this position.  We in the SUWN are completely against attempts to force the disabled and ill off meagre benefits and into work; but we have come across many people claiming sickness benefits who would love to be able to work if suitable jobs were available – and if trying out a return to work could be done without risking the loss of disability benefit.

The self-employed also present a similar problem. We know from personal experience that many who are freelancing, or self-employed, would love more work, or to be contracted by a formal employer. These formal jobs are not always available, or where they are available, are not located in the right areas.

Finally, another piece of food for thought: The March 2019 bulletin claims that there were 1.34 million unemployed between November 2018 and January 2019, (using the narrow definition of the ONS). There were 854,000 vacancies between December and February. Even if those vacancies were magically filled, that leaves a deficit of 465,000 jobless.


BBC NEWS, 21/11/2018. Reality Check: Can you be ’employed’ for one hour’s work? []

Office for National Statistics. Labour Force Survey, March 2019. []


The birdman of Dundee buroo (when boredom is good)

Last week’s stall passed almost completely without incident, which is such a rare occurrence we thought it merited a headline. The blustery spring weather undoubtedly contributed to keeping business to a minimum: the breeze was so bitter that a guy I spoke to complained it was ‘stripping the skin affa my puss’, and driving hailstones forced us, on a couple of occasions, to cover up the stall and seek out corners of the buroo that offered any kind of shelter, however minimal. It is little wonder that folk, rushing by with hoods up and heads down, were reluctant to stop and chat.

However, there are some who, irrespective of the weather, conspicuously ignore us when we ask them if they’re having any problems. They pass quickly by staring fixedly into the middle distance, often with a muffled tune emanating from their headphones. Whilst this annoys some of our activists, being ignored is actually a good sign, as the folk that are guilty of it are unlikely to have any pressing issues that need to be addressed. Others answer us with another question, ‘why should I hae problems when meh work coach is braw and ahm daen ahin ahm supposed tae’.

There has, indeed, been a marked improvement in the attitude of many Dundee Jobcentre staff towards welfare claimants – which we would claim some credit for – but, despite doing everything required of them, many claimants can still end up entangled in the UC spider web.

We also meet some folk who pointedly refuse to take the ‘Know Your Rights’ leaflet that we offer them when going into the buroo (including staff, who, as we often remind them, can also be sanctioned). On more than one occasion we have had guys (it’s always young guys) informing us, ‘I ken mah rights, pal, ahll well soart them if they gie me ony shite’, only to have them re-appear fifteen or twenty minutes later complaining bitterly and loudly that ‘ahv jist been bloody sanctioned’. Other folk tell us that they already have a leaflet pinned on their fridge, but take one to pass on to friends and/or relations. And, it is always gratifying to hear, as happens regularly, that the leaflets have helped folk sort out problems on their own, without our aid.

So, what do welfare activists do on the stalls when it is quiet? Firstly, few of our stalls can be described as ‘quiet’: familiar faces and freends and comrades often stop by for a bit of advice or simply for the craic and to pass the time. The stalls can often become a debating forum, sometimes involving dodgy conspiracy theories that passing ‘local worthies’ insist on regaling us with. Debates often develop amongst us activists as well, covering a wide diversity of subjects from Brexit to the mating habits of herring. And, of course there’s always the doos’ to feed, courtesy of the birdman of Dundee buroo.

Duncan, Jock, Norma, Tony, Gary, Jonathan and Katie were on this weeks stall.