Review: Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain. “Frank and uncomfortable reading for every political tribe”

"Hired is uncomfortable, but essential, reading for anyone who wants to think seriously about how we solve the problem of precarious work and bring about genuine equality."

On the face of it, James Bloodworth’s Hired provides an excellent excellent account of the growth of precarious work in modern Britain. It highlights the very human consequences impersonal buzzwords like “zero-hours contracts” and the “gig economy”. In his six month journey Bloodworth moves between Rugeley, Blackpool, the Valleys of South Wales and London. His geographic movement is matched by the variety of work he examines, as he shows how call-centres, Amazon warehouses and Uber cabs degrade and dehumanise their workers.

Bloodworth is at his most innovative covering the very real, but incalculable, human impact of this work. It is here that the book is its most shocking. Calculations of how little Uber drivers or care workers are paid may be outrageous, but they will never be as haunting as personal accounts of human beings crushed and tossed aside by this predatory capitalism.

Low-paid work does not just degrade individual workers, it transforms whole towns and sections of our country. This is where Bloodworth goes beyond a simple account, he manages to mix a systematic analysis with personal accounts and interviews and strikes a perfect balance between the two. He doesn’t go for easy answers in the form of an attack on individual CEO’s or an establishment elite. Instead, Bloodworth highlights something far more disturbing; there is something fundamentally wrong with how we all, as a society, treat and regard low-paid workers.

This fierce honesty is Bloodworth at his best. In a time when the left-wing commentariat is full of factional voices, he prioritises giving voice to his subjects and showing the complexity of an issue over creating a narrative to serve a singular purpose.

As a result, Bloodworth provides frank and uncomfortable reading for every political tribe.  He attacks those on the left and right who cast the “working class as either maligned caricatures or venerated saints”. Bloodworth also refuses to conform to the current ‘culture war’ which casts the ‘white working class’ against the metropolitan liberals. His interviews put paid to the view that the working class as “innately” xenophobic or “hopelessly unreconstructed on every social issue under the sun”. At the same time he is candid about the impacts of immigration in low-paid sectors. “It would have been easy to mock or dismiss” the concerns these workers raise about immigration, he says, but they present “real problems”. His call is not for the left to pander to those who really are xenophobic or to call for the return of a golden age, but to be “honest” about the “challenges that immigration can sometimes bring with it.” Issues caused by the increase in the supply of labour from immigration and the difficulties unionising migrant workers are very real and require a “different approach”.

Bloodworth succeeds in giving a voice to a Britain which some would rather we forget or ignored. Hired is uncomfortable, but essential, reading for anyone who wants to think seriously about how we solve the problem of precarious work and bring about genuine equality.


Noah Froud is a Young Fabian and Contributing writer. Follow him on Twitter at @papertrench

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