Saskia Murphy puts in
the overtime on the Tory
leadership contest

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The person most likely to be our next prime minister thinks British workers are lazy. We heard it with our own ears last week. In a recording obtained by the Guardian, Tory leadership favourite Liz Truss claims British workers lack skill, application, attitude and mindset, particularly those of us outside London.

We just need more graft, claims Truss in the recording from five years ago, comparing productivity levels in the UK to those in the beacon of workers’ rights, China.

Truss’s disdain for working people doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. She set out similar views in the 2012 book Britannia Unchained, which she co-authored with Rishi Sunak, among others. But it’s nice to have it on record.

According to Truss, we need to work harder. We should apply ourselves more. Our lack of skills means we just don’t quite cut it in comparison to workers in foreign countries. How very patriotic.

It’s funny because, if anything, I’d say most of us probably work too much. According to official statistics, as of June 2022 the average weekly number of hours worked by full-time workers in the UK was 36.4 hours, compared with 35 hours in the same period of 2021.

When you factor in commuting time, trying to prepare three healthy meals a day, attempting to exercise a few times a week, all while keeping your living space clean, it really is a lot.

I often go months without seeing close friends and family members because of our clashing work schedules. The thought of a pending prime minister who thinks we should all be working more sends shivers down my spine.

And as the Truss recording went viral, another story hit the headlines. Last Tuesday labour market figures published by the ONS showed real wages have fallen by 4.1 per cent (using the CPI measure of inflation). As the cost of living crisis intensifies, our wages simply aren’t stretching as far. For many, our shrinking pay packets will mean less money for the things that make work worth it.

The gloomy headlines keep coming. According to a study by York University two-thirds of all UK households will be trapped in fuel poverty by January, with planned government support leaving even middle-income households struggling to pay their bills.

Of course there will be many voting in the upcoming Conservative leadership ballot who subscribe to the belief that those on lower incomes should simply scrimp and save to get through a winter of soaring prices. Remember Tory minister George Eustice’s advice to cash-strapped families? Buy value food products in the supermarket.

Last week a comment from a forum that sums up the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality was posted on Twitter. “No holidays,” is the commenter’s number one piece of advice. “No consumption of food or drink outside the house, unless it is a packed lunch. No pubs. No restaurants. Offal. Tinned pilchards. No household internet.”

Offal? Did the last 50 years not happen?

Our future PM and her followers may well think we should all work harder to generate more wealth for those at the top, while cutting back on so-called luxuries ourselves. But if we can’t eat out every now and then, and if we can’t meet friends in the pub for a few drinks, and if we can’t afford to take our children to the cinema or buy them an ice cream at the park, what are we working for?

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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