Furlough: It’s said ‘we are all in the same boat’ – we are not

photo Creative Commons Zero - CC0

photo Creative Commons Zero – CC0   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A furloughed worker

The hospitality industry has been downsized. For some, the furlough scheme came too late and workers were already cut, or businesses had shut their doors for good. We are seeing the fallout of a system of exploited workers on precarious zero-hour and agency contracts for cheap, minimal rights-protected labour.

Many who have been severed from their source of income are sleeping rough, especially in London, and a disproportionate amount of those are non-UK citizens. I am one of the lucky ones.

For those of us in the industry who are still living under a roof, most of us are renters with little to no savings. Although, through furlough, pay has been docked by 20%, we are expected to pay our rent in full. The flow of money is heading one way, syphoned from our pockets and into the hands of the landlords, many of whom sit back as though its business as normal.

Early in May, the Institute for Public Policy Research published a paper titled ‘Who wins and who pays?’, which predicts that 45% of the money from Sunak’s furlough scheme will go to landlords. This epitomises what Karl Marx evokes when he describes capitalism as ‘vampire-like’.

Mortgage holders are safe, renters have been left in the lurch. Labour’s five-point plan for renters during the coronavirus crisis is tepid at best. On rent waiving, shadow housing minister Thangam Debbonaire called rent cancellations “un-Labour” and “really regressive”.

Debbonaire’s argument was predicated on the concern for the economy, and a concern for bankrupting landlords, rather than the poor people who live in these homes. She basically said that even if you signed a bad contract, then tough, because it is still legally binding. This has the putrid flavour of the age-old capitalist argument that owning property is a human right, and takes precedence over the very human right to sleep with a roof over your head.

It’s said that ‘we are all in the same boat.’ We are not. When we open back up, due to social distancing, venues will shrink capacity and space significantly. This means businesses will be floating on shallow water and it is uncertain how much buoyancy they will have with staff who have stayed on. There is no safety or security on this sinking ship.