There’s much in Michael Orton’s report for Compass, Something’s not right, that I’d agree with. Orton collects evidence about the growing problems of insecurity and precarious lifestyles which have gone along with the development of a flexible labour market. It’s a problem I’ve frequently referred to in discussions about benefits. Our benefits system wants people to be clear and definite about their circumstances, their income and their lifestyles, and often they simply can’t answer the questions they’re faced with in those terms.
Where I’d part company with Orton, however, is in the claim that three-quarters of the population are now in this state. According to Orton, 5% are doing well, 75% are insecure and 20% are poor. He points to the decline in relative status of academics, architects, engineers and teachers.
This wee picture comes from a Scottish Government report about wealth and poverty:
The top third of the population are not necessarily rich, but they are relatively settled and far less vulnerable than others. We can argue about how many poor people are in a cycle of insecure and precarious incomes, but it’s not wild to talk about the bottom third. That means that the kind of figure we should be thinking about for the insecure middle is more like 30-40%. If we start claiming that comfortable middle-class professionals are insecure – people like me – we devalue the analysis.