One of the consequences of the response to the pandemic and the disruption from Brexit is that labour shortages are appearing across the low-paid sectors of the economy. So much so that even the metropolitan liberal Guardian has begun to wonder whether the benefits of higher wages for the low-paid might outweigh the cost of having to pay more for a plumber or an au pair. As John Harris puts it:
“For decades, large swathes of the labour market have been run on the assumption that there will always be sufficient people prepared to work for precious little. But here and across the world, as parts of the economy have been shut down and furlough schemes have given people pause for thought, the idea that they need not stay in jobs that are exploitative and morale-sapping has evidently caught on.
“In the UK, meanwhile, Brexit remains a disastrous and chaotic project – but, among its endless and unpredictable consequences, leaving the EU has cut off employers’ access to a pool of people who were too often exploitable. Time has thereby been called on one of the ways that our dysfunctional labour market was prevented from imploding.”
Harris points to sectors of the economy – mostly low-paid – where employers have been obliged to increase wages in order to fill vacancies. And there is certainly some room for wage increases across the economy. But the emerging narrative is that this is a bad thing because it will create price increases. Much of the thinking around this issue though, is based on experiences and on economic models that last saw the light of day half a century ago. And with this in mind, we should take mainstream narratives with a pinch of salt.
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