The core idea of a meritocracy is that the harder you work the more successful you will be. That each individual is responsible for their own achievement and that society rewards according to how you use your ‘merit’. In theory, this refutes the idea that your position at birth, the wealth you inherit or the amount of money spent on your education makes any difference. We all have the same opportunity to do well in a meritocracy and if you don’t do well it’s your own fault.
It creates a system of winners and losers where those at the top are required to feel no compassion for those at the bottom as everyone had an equal chance – right? It confers an attitude of entitlement to the ‘winners’ who can sit back and say their rewards are down to their own hard work.
Problem 1. Who gets to choose the merit?
Who decides that a paramedic who saves lives is paid a minimum wage while a corporate lawyer who protects companies profits using legal loopholes earns a six figure salary plus bonus?
Who decides that a GCSE in Geography has more merit than an NVQ in hairdressing?
Who decides that selective education values the ability to regurgitate given facts over the ability to be creative and solve problems through teamwork?
Problem 2 – Hard work doesn’t equal reward
The people who work the hardest are quite often the people on the lowest pay. They have to work more hours to earn a living wage than those on higher hourly rates. Many on minimum pay or zero hour contracts work in more than one job and take on all the overtime they can get. They either neglect their families through long hours at work or they neglect their families by failing to provide basic food, warmth and clothing. Hard work, is not of itself, rewarded as ‘merit’. Ken Loach, the film-maker, has raised the question; why is it that bonuses are used to encourage those at the top to work harder, while those at the bottom are driven by sanctions?
Problem 3 – No accounting for luck or random events
Is it by merit that you can afford to take an unpaid internship to secure work in the professions?
Is it your fault that you contracted cancer, had a stroke, became paralysed from the neck down when a car hit you or you were born with a degenerative disease?
When certain positions in society depend upon the recommendation of others already holding those positions, is it your fault that you don’t own the right school tie?
Meritocracy is just an excuse to reward the rich without compassion for the poor.
Those at the top choose who will follow them and Oxbridge graduates, less than 1% of the population dominate.
Graduates of Oxford and Cambridge universities also continue to dominate the field, though they educate less than 1% of the population. In law, nearly three quarters (74%) of the top judiciary went to Oxbridge; 54% of the country’s leading journalists went to Oxbridge, and just under half (47%) of the cabinet attended Oxbridge, compared with 32% of the shadow cabinet.
When Theresa May states that they are ‘the party of the working people’ what experience do they have of real working lives?
Hard work only pays when working people group together to create collective bargaining unions. Individual whistleblowers and those who speak out for better conditions are unfairly persecuted then have to fund the high costs for Employment Tribunal and legal representation to clear their name. There are many examples where lives have been ruined when individuals have spoken out to protect others. A recent case concerns junior doctor Chris Day, who raised concerns that the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was understaffed causing risk to life. He informed his Duty Manager of his concerns when two locum doctors failed to turn up for the night shift leaving him in sole charge. Reporting a dangerous situation was the right thing to do but it cost him his job. He had unwittingly become a whistleblower. Large sums of public money were used by the government via Health Education England (HEE) to fight him in court as he tried to establish the right of all 54,000 junior doctors to be able to raise concerns and be protected by whistleblowing legislation. Against HEE publicly funded legal team, he had to fund all his own costs.
With a young family to support, Chris turned to crowdfunding, raising more than £140,000 from thousands of donors – including junior doctors – to fund a legal challenge, first in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, which failed, and then in the Court of Appeal. The case was also supported by the charity Public Concern At Work.
In February 2016, two days before one hearing, Chris claims HEE threatened his team with a costs application order for £24,084.50.
This doesn’t look like a government protecting working people and there are thousands more cases like this where individuals have spent years sacrificing their own lives in order to fight for justice at work.
The real agenda
In 2012 a Conservative right-wing group called ‘Free Enterprise’ produced ‘Britannia Unchained’ co-authored by our own MP Dominic Raab. This book gave an insight into the future of working lives under the ‘meritocracy’ banner and started from the premise that ‘British workers were the worst idlers in the world.’
The UK “rewards laziness”, does not encourage risk-taking and must strive to emulate the work ethic and low-tax culture in parts of Asia, the five MPs argue in a book due out next month.
Worker’s rights have continually been eroded by the Conservative government with an eye on bringing UK pay and conditions in line with those of the emerging economies. Liam Fox, Minister for International Trade and now leading the Brexit negotiations, gave a clear message that once free from EU working directives the Conservatives would deregulate the labour market in an aggressive manner.
In January 2017, Melanie Onn, Labour MP put forward a bill to ensure that following Brexit there would be legal protection for worker’s rights.
The final change that could occur after we have left the EU is European Court rulings no longer applying in this country. There are a huge number of rulings which have furthered rights and increased wages for British workers – from care workers who do sleep-in shifts being paid for the full shift, not just the hours they’re awake; to mobile workers being granted the right to be paid for their travel time. These rulings may no longer have legal basis in Britain after we’ve left.
The bill was not debated as Conservative MPs talked for four hours about ‘radios’ to filibuster the bill into the long grass. The Great Repeal Act will be used to put worker’s rights into secondary legislation, from here it can be altered using ‘statutory instruments’ which avoids parliamentary debate. The Labour party have promised to maintain worker’s rights in line with EU directives and to improve them when changes are made. The EU currently protects these fundamental rights; equal pay, agency worker protection, anti-discrimination, parental leave, maternity rights, limits to working hours, right to time off.
Actions speak louder than words
Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 there has been;
- The raising of student fees to £9,000 (and the new proposal to lift this cap) making it more difficult for those without independent financial support to reach the potential of their ‘merit’. Equally the removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to support low-income students in further education and the conversion of grants to loans erodes opportunity. Labour have promised to restore these grants and end student fees.
- A rise in zero hours contracts
The results from the November 2016 survey of businesses indicated that there were 1.7 million contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours, where work had actually been carried out under those contracts. This represented 6% of all employment contracts. ONS May 2017
- A rise in self-employment where workers have no entitlement to sickness or holiday benefits.
The level of self-employment increased by around 730,000 between 2008 and 2015: rising from 3.8 million to 4.6 million. Around half of this absolute change was accounted for by full-time self-employment, and around half by part-time self-employment. ONS 2016
- A cap of 1% on public sector pay meaning loss in real earnings with no end in sight.
The trades union organisation calculated that midwives, teachers and social workers will see their real pay, which accounts for the impact of inflation, drop by more than £3,000 by 2020 if the government sticks to plans to limit salary increases to 1% a year. theguardian/2017/jan/18/public-sector-pay-tuc
- Increasing wage gap between top and bottom earners
Inequality is much higher amongst original incomes than disposable incomes with the poorest 10% having on average an original income of £4,436 whilst the top 10% have an original income 24 times larger (£107,937)1. The graph below from The Equality Trust demonstrates the vast difference in earnings for the top 10% and just how few people would be affected by the Labour promise to raise tax on those earning above £80,000 equalitytrust./economic-inequality-uk
- The introduction of Employment Tribunal Fees up to £1,200 which saw a drop of over 70% in claims.
In their article, Associate Professor Abigail Adams, from the Oxford Department of Economics, and Associate Professor Jeremias Prassl, from the Oxford Faculty of Law, argue that the 2013 Order introducing Employment Tribunal Fees is a ‘clear violation’ of long-established UK and EU law, as the cost of bringing a claim now outweighs the benefit of a potential win for many claimants.
- The passing of the Trade Union Act requiring 50% turnout to vote and 40% majority of all those eligible to vote to pass strike action plus making members opt in to pay the union levy rather than opt out.
If all votes were required to have such high thresholds it would be unlikely that many county councillors would be elected where turnout is regularly below 50%. Equally, shareholder meetings can pass on a majority show of hands provided the given quorum is present. This bill is a direct attack on union representation and the Labour party who are funded by the unions. theguardian./trade-union-bill-unprincipled-and-unnecessary
- Rise in the retirement age to 67 adversely affecting women born in the 50’s (WASPI)
Waspi argues the increase in women’s pension age to 67 has been poorly communicated and is unfair on those born in the 1950s, who are approaching the age of retirement but will have to wait longer than their predecessors..cityam./pensions-minister-ros-altmann-meet-campaigners-seeking
Tory Minister wanted UK pensioners to be low wage fruit pickers
A Conservative cabinet minister suggested getting pensioners to pick fruit and vegetables below the minimum wage instead of hiring Bulgarians and Romanians at the legal rate, a former Lib Dem coalition colleague has claimed.
David Laws, who lost his seat at last year’s general election, revealed the episode in a new book about his days in government, saying the plan was hatched by Owen Paterson, the then environment secretary. The account is disputed by Paterson but Laws alleges that his former Tory colleague came up with the idea after proposing to end a scheme bringing over migrants from Bulgaria and Romania to work in the fields of British farmers.
- Transfer of public sector jobs to private contractors weakening pay and conditions.
As a result of austerity cuts, many public service jobs have been contracted out to the private sector. Logic has it that if the private sector can ‘save money’ which is the purpose of the exercise it cannot be providing workers with the same pay and conditions. Basically, you can’t do more with less without someone feeling the pinch.
Just like Boxer in Animal Farm we are all being asked to work harder for less to play our part in reducing the deficit while the top 10% have been creaming off the top of the milk.
‘We are all in this together’
Dominic Raab has been the MP for Esher and Walton since 2010. Member of the Free Enterprise Group and co-author of Britannia Unchained he has proposed changing employment law so that ‘lack of productivity’ can be used to dismiss workers.
Raab wrote a paperfor the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) – since the birth of Thatcherism one of the radical right’s fiercest thinktanks – urging that “the definition of fair dismissal should be widened … to encompass inadequate performance … [This] would help employers get the best from their staff.” The paper also argued for exempting small businesses from paying the minimum wage for under-21s, the already less-than-lavish hourly sum of between £3.68 and £4.98.
In February 2017 in reference to the Budget Dominic wrote that he was keen to address ‘grey welfare’ and ‘middle class’ welfare.
Beyond structural changes, there is a compelling social case for addressing grey welfare. In his brilliant book, The Pinch, David Willetts urged Conservatives to address the inter-generational injustice of piling up national debt, based on current spending patterns. Right across the philosophical spectrum, from think tank Reform’s seminal 2009 report, to the Social Market Foundation’s 2012 report, there is enormous scope to overhaul grey (and wider middle class) welfare. Overall, Reform estimated there were £31 billion of savings to be made. From wider pensions reform to abolishing free bus passes and eye tests for the wealthy, the ground needs to be prepared for a more balanced approach that both reduces the burden on the taxpayer, and makes government spending fairer. We should make a start sooner rather than later.
He is no fan of the Human Rights Act and has campaigned for a British bill of Human Rights which he worked on for a time as Justice Minister. When human rights cease to be Universal, they become divisive, setting one group against another.
In 2009, before he entered parliament, he stood against government moves to use ‘security threats’ to impinge upon personal liberty. His stance at that time, as seen in the video below, didn’t prevent him from voting for the Investigatory Powers Act – ‘Snoopers Charter’ in 2016.