The Tory conference, Michael Gove, and why hard work doesn’t always pay
In the aftermath of the Conservative party conference this week, something has been troubling me. It could have been one of many distasteful episodes: Theresa May’s incendiary speech on immigration, David Cameron’s personal attack on Jeremy Corbyn, or the rising profile of the Chancellor of Exchequer, described somewhat terrifyingly as the Osborne supremacy.
But it wasn’t any of these.
Instead, it was something Justice Secretary Michael Gove said in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, immediately after his party leader’s keynote speech:
‘We need to move away from a system where you have high levels of welfare, high levels of taxation, and low wages, to an economy where you have higher wages, and less welfare and lower taxes. We need to create a dynamic which rewards those who work hard, and that’s what we’ve done.’
What I find difficult to stomach here is the assumption that the harder you work, the higher your wages. For many this is simply not an equation they will recognise from their own experience. Take public sector employees for instance. You won’t find many of our 5.7 million teachers, carers, soldiers, refuse collectors, civil servants, social workers, firefighters, doctors or nurses (or, for that matter, politicians), who find that the harder they apply themselves to their work, the larger the pay packet they receive at the end of the month. In fact, the first budget of the new Conservative government in July enforced a four-year pay freeze on all public sector workers. No matter how hard these people work, often doing vital, even life-saving work, their pay will remain exactly the same.
What Michael Gove is forgetting is that lots of very important jobs are not associated with ever-increasing financial gain. What will carers who earn the minimum wage or teaching assistants on salaries of £12k do when the ‘new dynamic’ is upon us? The higher wages Gove talks of are unlikely to make their way to them. Even if they by some miracle they did, what use would they be to them and their families if lower taxes mean that the NHS has been dismantled, or that our education system has been taken apart.
I’d like to suggest an amendment to Gove’s words, which I feel expresses his disturbing message with greater clarity:
We need to create a dynamic which rewards those whose hard work leads them to accumulate wealth, regardless of whether or not their work has had a positive impact on society, and that’s what we’ve done.