The new Ken Loach movie “Sorry We Missed You” takes a scathing look at the life of the new gig-economy self-employed who are now a part of the service sector that we all use. Instantly you will sense that this is a political piece and you are probably right. Loach makes yet another bleak, grey but good little movie about the daily struggle to make ends meet. This story may jog your memory about snippets of information that you have picked up over the last couple of years. I can assure you that it will have an impact on your thinking for any online orders you make before Christmas.
Confession – I quite like Ken Loach. I have a great deal of empathy for what he seems to be trying to do. As far as I can gather, this is little more than calling to account a system that is simply not working for lots of very “ordinary people”. This movie is clear that some employers are abusive. I suspect you know this already to be true. Whilst one would argue that “workers rights” are largely the diet of the left-leaning, I haven’t met anyone that believes people should be treated as commodities, perhaps I don’t get out enough though.
Masters of the Universe
Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is fed up with being told what to do, a friend suggests he become a self-employed delivery driver. He can be his own boss. I may have misheard, but I think the deal is £150 a day for deliveries completed to satisfaction. The problem being that Ricky doesn’t have a van, he can rent one from his new sole customer (at £60 a day) or make his own arrangements. Ricky also has a tight schedule (set by others) which means he doesn’t have time for anything more than a 10-minute break in his 12-14 hour day. Worse still, he can only “not work” if he has arranged a driver to cover him or it’s a £100 fine and a “penalty”. The parcel tracking device is provided (it’s a requirement) but if lost must be paid for at £1,000. The parcels, once taken by the driver become a personal liability.
Return to sender
The benefits of self-employment quickly evaporate with a sense that in practice, Ricky is not in control of very much at all, yet has agreed to offer his services at guaranteed rates for guaranteed results. This is really the crux of the story and the resulting pressure. The employer has waived all responsibility and has rented labour at a lower cost than having proper employees.
Technology that liberates?
Amazon and other delivery drivers spring to mind. However Ricky’s wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) is a carer that is employed at arm’s length to care for (clean, bathe, feed) infirm people on set 30 minute slots (or less) and invariably this isn’t enough time to do the job properly or with any care, let alone get to the next “client” on time. As you may imagine, the fact that both husband and wife are running around working long hours attempting to keep to someone else’s schedule has a knock-on effect for their family and relationship.
I’m not a fan of “zero hours” contracts or the gig economy. I don’t like “internships” or unpaid labour with the hope/promise of better things. I think its abusive and I have little time for those that use it as their business model. That covers almost the entire media industry.
Sorry but I have a few questions…
I do have some questions for Loach. If Ricky earns £150 a day and is working 6 days a week. That’s £900 a week or £46,800 a year. Abbie also earns and so I wonder what is happening to their income. They missed out on buying a home in 2008 due to loss of his job, but quite what that was is unclear. However the inference is that the failure of Northern Rock and the credit crunch are partly to blame. There may well be some debt, but this is not explained. Teenage son Seb (Rhys Stone) goes from being “top of his class” to a truant, violent, petty thief – what happened there? When he and younger sister Lisa (Katie Proctor) state that they want things to return to “how they were” what does that mean? When?
To my mind Ricky and Abbie are taken advantage of. They may or may not be good with money and sums, frankly its impossible to say. They certainly care and seem like “decent people”. Even with the abusive employment, why don’t the drivers have rota for a shared replacement driver, so that they can actually take time off for important things? There is simply not enough to convince me that any of them really understand what “self-employment” is. Perhaps because everything about the work has the feel of employment without the reality.
The problem I have as a financial planner is that I suspect that some of the financial problems that Ricky and Abbie have could probably be easily addressed, but nobody has the time to stop to think, assuming they are able to do so. Perhaps “the job” could work for some but it certainly doesn’t for this family. I was moved by the story but left with questions about the how and why. Whilst Loach has a specific working-class focus, in practice the same stresses of post-modern life and inability to see the bigger picture can negatively impact any of us. Sadly, I suspect that this will be seen as little more than a critique of “big business” and “Government policy” yet the problems are far deeper than that, issues that need facing before any significant change can occur.
Anyway, here is the trailer. The movie is out now.
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