Imagine you’re running the country. Imagine some parts of the country are poorer than others – not exactly a stretch of the imagination.
Imagine that many of those areas had been decimated by the collapse of manufacturing industries, coal mines, steel works and shipyards. By a coordinated assault on British manufacturing that in these areas was a way of life.
Imagine that these areas were some of the worst affected by a global financial firestorm. One that started in America but soon swept through the financial sector necessitating billions in bailouts. Imagine that the recession this caused triggered surging unemployment in these areas.
Imagine that one area in particular saw their local bank at the epicentre of the crisis, costing more jobs still.
And imagine saying to those people, in those areas, who have suffered some of the worst effects of slash and burn economics, that you want to cut further. And cut specifically in those areas. You want to take money OUT of the local economies of some of the most deprived areas in the country. You want to slash the wages of some of the few stable and decent paid jobs available to these people.
Imagine that cruelty. Imagine the impact. Imagine no more. Welcome to Cameron’s Britain.
Welcome to the pay postcode lottery.
Under government plans announced in the budget, “regional pay” looks set to become a reality, with public sector pay being determined in part by the cost of living (or to put it another way – wealth) of the local area – as if the solution to balancing the books in Britain is to pay a teacher in York less than one in Plymouth…
An opinion poll released by the TUC and Survation today shows that 65% believe that lower pay in poorer areas will make it harder to employ and retain teachers in schools in those areas. That stands to reason. It’s shocking that it’s only 65%. Of course if you’re paying teachers less to work in poorer areas they’re less likely to want to work there.
It’s almost enough to make you question the sanity (or at least the numeracy skills) of the other 35%…
Education, as the West Wing character Sam Seaborne once memorably intoned is “the silver bullet”. Having good teachers and good schools can make a huge difference to life chances – especially in poorer areas. And yet we’re now faced with a policy that would mean schools in poor areas find it harder, not easier, to even hire or retain the staff they need at all.
Sadly and inevitably these plans are going to be discussed in terms of North vs South, and it is almost too easy to play the game that the Tories want to play, dividing working people geographically, setting teacher against teacher and nurse against nurse. But if anything regional pay will have even more perverse consequences than that. Two teachers could live on the same street, but by teaching in different areas could receive markedly different salaries.
A brand new workplace postcode lottery.
A one that will divide our country rather than unite it.
A one that will leave behind regional economies further decimated even than they already might be. Regenerated towns across Britain blighted by a lack of growth, a loss of demand, and a retreat from regeneration back to decline and decay.
A few years ago, Policy Exchange – the favourite think tank of the Tory leadership – argued that Northern cities were “beyond revival”. Let me tell you that’s nonsense. But try as they might this government are trying to make it a reality by stealth. And regional pay looks like a weapon in that fight.