Whadda abaht the workers?

The Social Mobility Commission treats us to their new report on the problem of low paid workers. More specifically, on how people are able to move up out of low paid work over time or not. As ever with such things it pays not to read the reports on the, umm, report, nor the conclusions or recommendations, but the evidence itself. For often as not there's not all that much connection between that last and the rest.

Britain’s low pay culture traps people in poorly paid jobs and prevents them from escaping into full-time work with better pay, according to a major study by the government-backed body that tracks social mobility.

Only one in six workers on low pay managed in the last 10 years to push themselves up the pay ladder and stay there, while most remained stuck in a cycle of part-time and insecure jobs.

Oooh, disaster, eh? And they do quote from the findings accurately:

Alan Milburn, the former Labour MP and health minister who heads the commission, said the study showed that successive governments had failed to reduce inequality between rich and poor despite two decades of interventions.

He described the situation as “endemic” and warned that without “radical and urgent reform”, the social and economic divisions in British society will widen even further, threatening community cohesion and economic prosperity.

Our word!

We do, we admit, think there's a certain amusement in tracking how the low paid are doing in climbing the wage ladder over the period,. from 2006, that includes the largest recession in 80 years or so for the UK. We're really rather sure that it will be difficult to tease out the cyclical effects from the structural. However, what we find really interesting is this:

Our analysis finds that for most low-paid workers, poorly-paid positions are not acting as a first rung on the ladder – it is the only rung. Of all those low paid in 2006, by 2016 just one in six (17 per cent) were escapers. One in four (25 per cent) remained stuck throughout the period while just under half (48 per cent) were cyclers, moving onto higher wages at some point but not sustaining that progress. The remaining one in ten employees exited the data, meaning they were not an employee after the initial period.

Despite this negative overall picture, these figures represent progress over recent decades. For instance, 35 per cent of those who were low paid in 1981 were still stuck in 1991, the highest proportion in our data which stretches back to low paid workers in 1975. But while the share of low-paid employees escaping has risen slightly over the past quarter of century (from one in ten, or 11 per cent, for the 1981- 91 cohort), the falling share of people becoming stuck appears to have been replaced by a greater proportion of cyclers.

It's that second para there that interests. Things are improving, things are getting better by the very metric they use. That is, some to a large part of what needed to be one has already been done. You know, those structural changes to the labour market to make it one of the most flexible in Europe?

Which is why we supported them of course in the face of much shouting. The people who benefit from flexible labour markets are the workers.