The New Victorians

One of the ways we can start making changes today that will help everyone in the future, is to stop turning a blind eye to unfairness. We put up with so much by normalising it, whether it be sexism, racism or seeing some small act somewhere that is just blatantly mean or wrong. We often shrug our shoulders and accept that ‘it’s just how it is.’ If we do that, how can we ever expect things to change?

It’s time to stop that stuff, even if it makes us feel a bit hot and sweaty, or embarrassed about making a scene. As my ex husband used to say. ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ Well, almost all of the time, not much really and quite often, really good stuff can happen.

I’m setting the scene here for something that happened yesterday. A friend of mine has a thirteen year old son, who a few months ago decided he wanted a job. He went out on his own, did all the grunt work and got a job as a paperboy.

Regular readers will know what I think of paper rounds. I will resist going into my usual bitter rant about how it scarred me for life etc. What I will say is that it is a hard, thankless task, and you earn every penny you make.

This young man has been getting himself up every morning, cycling to the next town and doing his paper round before going to school. At this time of year it is particularly grim and it will get grimmer, but he’s been doing it with no complaints.

Yesterday when he went to get paid, he was short changed. He was only given £10 by the newsagent. The chap explained this by saying that he was docking money because he had received some complaints that people were not happy at the time their papers had arrived and he had taken money off for those papers. My friend’s son gets up at six to deliver the papers and apparently the newsagent thinks this is too late and is trying to get him to start work at six.

Some of you may be thinking, so what?

Here’s the thing. There are child labour laws in place to protect young people who want to work. Not just ones to do with not sending children up chimneys any more or being unable to force four year olds through the works of a spinning jenny. We’ve moved on from that, thankfully. These days there is clear legislation on when you can expect a child to start work and for how long. There are also laws about how much you can pay them, and this chap is breaking both those laws. I expect he, like many other people who offer this kind of ‘casual’ labour, think it’s alright, because there are lots of people desperate for jobs and this boy is replaceable. I expect he thinks its alright because other people are willing to turn a blind eye because any money is better than no money.

Except that what does this say about us when we let this happen? It’s easy, when we’re hungry and have bills to pay to accept shitty conditions, longer hours, zero hours contracts and being paid less than we should because we’re between a rock and a hard place, except that doing this emboldens employers and makes a mockery of legislation that is there to protect us. It’s part of the reason big businesses do what they do and get away with it. It’s part of the reason people work like dogs in hard jobs and still have to visit food banks. I know it’s not easy to stand on principle when we’re hungry. But sometimes this is where we have to start.

I’m not for one instant saying that my friend is going to allow his son to starve, by the way. I’m extrapolating this newsagent’s small acts of law breaking into the bigger picture. This is not acceptable. It is not  and never has been fair to exploit children and this applies to every other vulnerable group who is put in this kind of position by greedy people who are interested in profit over anything else.

This newsagent has made a big mistake doing this to my friend’s son, because my friend is not the type to let this rest, and nor should he. Now, more than ever, it is time to stand up, to call those who exploit people to account and to stop propagating the myth that the reason people do not have money or have to have help to survive is because they’re lazy or stupid or aren’t trying hard enough.

Look at where it starts. It starts when we bend the rules for thirteen year olds who work long hours doing shitty work for very little money and that money is docked illegally. It starts when they are pressured into working longer and harder hours for money they already have a right to because the person holding the purse strings believes nobody will hold them to account, because they’re desperate enough for the money to turn a blind eye, and because we as a society shrug and say ‘that’s just the way it is.’

It needs to end, and it ends when we stop shrugging and start being brave enough to call out greedy, unscrupulous people who think it’s ok to prey on vulnerable people who don’t always have the means or the voices to fight back. It ends when we stop looking away and speak for them.


18 responses to “The New Victorians

  1. Yes yes and yes. We have to say no to exploitation. We have to know we deserve better.

  2. Thanks for your blog, Katy. It’s helping me enormously in keeping to my own resolve not just to stand by and moan and vent. How ever small the ripples we can make, eventually there will be waves.

  3. I caught sight of an article in a Daily paper yesterday. Promted to read it by Jonathan Pie’s legitimate rant on You Tube about the left not engaging with the right enough and calling them all names as opposed to trying to,persuade them of our views…anyway as a result I thought I would scim the Daily Mail. Feeling quite ill afterwards! In there I saw an article on the owner of Sports Direct. Who is a billionaire not unlike Mr Trump ( I can not bring myself to give him his elected title yet…not until January and maybe not even then!) sorry Jonathan I just can’t! Anyway my point is….This man owns several multi million dollar houses across the world and allegedly pays his employees the least he can get away with and treats them worse than slaves. I suspect he wines and dines with the so called ‘elite’ and will be called a very smart entrepreneur! Now I have lost my point! Well it is Sunday and I got up late!

  4. My partner has argued with me on this! She believes the shop owner was correct in docking the money as the boy had entered into a business transaction and therefore needed to deliver the papers on time! Debate is so f****** dufficult when you are tired!

    • Under child employment legislation you cannot ask a child to begin work before 7.00 a.m. or after 7.00 p.m. The shop keeper is breaking the law. Many local councils now work with newsagents to mediate hours and payment to ensure child safety and that the children get the money they are owed rather than having to be subject to more unscrupulous employers who are looking for cheap labour.

      • Thank you! Apparently she had not read your article and was responding to my comments only! I think your explanation will rectify things! Anyway we went for a lovely long walk in the late autumn sunshine and the world seemed a better place for a while!🌞🍁🍂

      • That is very good to hear. x

  5. My step daughter, aged 15, had a two evenings a week after school job at a local, upmarket deli. The deli decided to sell alcohol and called all the kids in for a two hour training session on a Saturday morning. Without pay. Next time I saw the manager I asked how much they were being paid for that two hours. He looked both surprised and embarrassed and agreed to pay them. Four girls, all too young to sell alcohol anyway, were grateful. Not one of them had felt brave enough to ask about this and so the shop had arbitrarily decided they could get away with it. Bastards!

  6. No surprise that I totally agree with you. Please let us know what happens though – I hate not knowing how things turn out!

  7. I can see no excuses for this newsagent’s behaviour. Since the lad seems to have been doing the job for a while and on the basis that all the early commuters I know (having been one myself for many years) buy their paper en route to work, I can only guess the recent clock change has meant a few old folk finding they are awake at 5.30am instead of 6.30am and wanting their paper earlier than usual. Hence the complaints.

    My dog still demands to be fed an hour early so I’m forcing her body clock to adjust more quickly because it doesn’t work for me to fed her early for weeks on end. I suppose the newsagent can’t do that but he could understand that it’s not the paperboy’s fault and either risk losing a couple of customers or bear the cost for a bit or get out early himself until things settle down again.

    I don’t like to generalise – it does not make all employers bad and it doesn’t make all employees helpless victims. Calling out meanness one specific case at a time is a good thing and I hope we hear good news from your friend. X

  8. Thank you! I am wrestling with this very issue with a project I’ve got going, and you have said what I need to (and will) say in my argument. Keep it going girl, you are an inspiration!

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