The latest to hit the headlines are the ENDIES – the Employed with No Disposable Income or Savings – sadly, not a happy bunch. They are described in Hollow Promise, a multidisciplinary research report by the Centre for London:
“…individuals and single parents earning between £20,000 and £33,000 and couples with dependent children earning as a household between £25,000 and £43,000. Around 20% of Londoners fall into this category. …the Endies are not just squeezed, they are trapped: they cannot see how to build up assets in London while earning incomes which each month barely cover getting to work and the essentials of life.”
Counter intuitively these people can be on good incomes: electricians, retail managers, nurses. It’s the cost of housing that renders them – in relative terms – poor. And whilst the report is centred on London the same issues apply nationwide. The majority of people in poverty are in work.
The case studies strongly communicate a sense of unfairness, frustration and even betrayal. Jayne for example:
“She commutes almost three hours a day to get to her job as a manager in an English language school on the other side of the city. Like many in London she feels overqualified for the job she is doing… By the time she gets home in the evening she is too tired to go out which is probably a good thing because she has no money… Her life is largely confined to an unremitting schedule of working, commuting and recovering in a flat, which she will never be able to call home.” (P33)
This frustration boils down to identity. These people are having trouble making sense of their lives as things simply aren’t panning out as they’d hoped. Their trajectories are broken.
From an economic perspective people are delaying settling down, getting married, having children. Rent swallows almost half of the monthly pay packet.
From a social perspective the accepted belief that qualifications led to a job, home and a better future for you and your family no longer seems to apply. The very notion of the social contract seems erased.
From a consumer perspective the choices Thatcher’s children had come to take for granted are being removed. Their very identity as consumers is being undermined. We shouldn’t underestimate how much this smarts.
Whilst their plight would not evoke sympathy from those living in Raqqa or bear comparison to people lining up at soup kitchens in the great depression, their existence points to troubling questions about what our economy delivers for a large proportion of society.
How did we get here?
Let’s rewind 25 years. In the late 80s people were talking about Yuppies – young, affluent and defining themselves through conspicuous consumption. The Endies now entering the labour market are the children of Yuppies, just as the Yuppies were the children of Baby Boomers.
Market forces, globalisation and the internet have radically altered the shape of the economy and how much we have to pay for things. Public policy has changed how we are educated. The table below – whilst an oversimplification – focuses the mind.
|Boomers – entering labour market late 60s aged 18||Yuppies– entering labour market late 80s aged 18||Endies– entering labour market now aged 18|
|Exam system||Examined at 16 & 18||Regular testing from primary school|
|Education||Grants, no tuition fees, but limited access – <10% went to university||Some university grants, no tuition fees, widening access||Tuition fees, wide access – approaching 50% attend university – leading to academic inflation|
|Jobs||Virtually full employment||Boom years into recession||Internships, wage stagnation, zero hours contracts|
|Housing||Buying accessible to majority||Buying accessible to many||Buying accessible to those with property owning parents|
|Pensions||Widespread final salary pensions||Some final salary pensions||Defined contribution schemes only|
|Health||Male life expectancy at birth of 66||Male life expectancy at birth of 69||Male life expectancy at birth of 74|
|Food||Some born when rationing was in place – many wished they could eat more||Eating out regularly becoming more normal||Cheap, abundant food – many wish they could eat less|
|Social class||Rigid class identity – manufacturing base strong||Class identities waning with deindustrialisation||Post class identities|
|Zeitgeist||Cooperation||Competition||Competition for survival|
It would be easy to descend into pessimism dwelling on this. The report suggests a range of possible remedies centred on raising incomes (wage rises, training, sharing tax allowances across family units), as well as government intervention to make housing and childcare more affordable. Whilst admirable, the obvious challenge is that they address the symptoms not the causes of these long term economic trends. Globalisation is eroding middle class jobs. Young people are less carefree as they feel the pressure to compete from an early age. If European electorates turn towards nationalism in a rejection of economic models which favour elites, more radical solutions might well emerge soon enough.