Sorry We Missed You: a sword-like depiction of the gig economy
Mar 19, 2020
By Michael Weatherhead
I cannot remember the last time I saw a Ken Loach film. His latest offering is a timely reminder of the power of this film maker. The story makes you want to grab hold of the family it features and hug them close…and it also makes you angry as hell.
Fairness and dignity – two of a wellbeing economy’s key five needs – have been important to me all my life. I remember learning about them early when I learned about fair trade – selling dried apricots on my Dad’s traidcraft stall at church. But you don’t need to apply Christian guilt to selling apricots to know these needs are important. They are part of our DNA and all children intrinsically understand the concept of fairness.
Ken Loach’s ‘Sorry We Missed You’ is sword-like in its depiction of the precariousness and unfairness of the world of zero hours contracts. The film’s protagonists – a family, with mum a care worker on agency piece work and dad an enforced self-employed ‘warrior of the road’ delivering parcels with only enough time to piss in a bottle in the back of his van between deliveries.
It is impossible not to feel empathy when viewing a family lacking any form of economic security. A degree of certainty and security is something we all need but less and less of us get from our work. New analysis by the TUC shows that at least 3.7 million workers in the UK, around one in nine of the workforce, are in insecure work. In every region of England and in Wales and Scotland, insecure workers make up at least 10 per cent of the workforce’ (see more stats from the TUC here).
What went wrong with the economic system meaning that the majority of users of foodbanks are ‘employed’? What went wrong when the hours you have to work mean you cannot spend any time with your family? What went wrong that so many have so little control over their economic lives?
The film perfectly encapsulates the systemic effects and the false economy of a business model that extracts profits to shareholders at the expense of the workers of a firm. Of course, the invention of zero hours contracts is a rational and logical next step for businesses on the treadmill of continuous cost cutting/profit maximising. And it is a winner as it ‘offshores’ all the negative social effects of that model to the state.
An immediate reaction to the realities laid bare by this film must be an elimination of employment approaches such as zero-hour contracts. A second would be an increase in the minimum wage. However, these will not address the systemic effects of a system that looks to extract profits from areas of life that were once key sources of wellbeing – an affordable roof over one’s head, a job that gives meaning and purpose and provides for your family.
In the world of work, nothing short of a mass expansion of business models that have wellbeing at their heart will eradicate this virus of in-work poverty.