As the steel industry collapses around us and people bemoan that we have lost coal and all sorts of manufacturing to cheap imports, I ask if we have brought this upon ourselves.
Over the last few years we have demanded cheaper and cheaper goods in our stores.
Supermarkets are in competition with each other to sell cheaper food, at a cost to the farmer or producer. We moan about cheap labour being brought in to pick fruit grown here, but we won’t work for that rate ourselves, yet we want the fruit as cheaply as possible. And we want everything, now! Gone are seasonal products. Gone is the joy of waiting until summer to have strawberries for tea, you can have them at Christmas if you want. But only if they are cheap enough.
We want cheap clothes and shoes, so shops bring stuff in from places where labour is cheap, because we can’t make things for the same price.
Fifty years ago my mum used to work in a London sweatshop (you couldn’t call it anything else) and made dresses for Marks & Spencer. Everything was made to the highest quality, all the dresses had proper hems not just a running stitch around the bottom. Even in those days competition was stiff for the cheapest products. Even in those days the skills needed for making clothes was being forgotten.
Once upon a time, not long ago, the area in which I now live was the centre of the UK hosiery and shoe business. Both industries lost out to cheap imports. You can probably buy tights and pop socks at the same price as you could ten years ago.
Where wages are reasonably high we have become a throw-away society. Cheap clothes that are worn a couple of times are easily replaced instead of treasured for years. Too much food is bought because it was cheap and didn’t really break the bank, so it doesn’t matter if it is thrown away; except it does because it has cost farmers and fruit pickers money to produce it in the first place. Gadgets are bought and replaced with a click of a button on the internet. Shipped in from China, Japan, India or Korea. Nothing is made in the UK.
The mantra of “Go compare” has replaced value for money. And there is a difference between those two even if they sound the same. We are encouraged to seek the cheapest rates/deals/products in every walk of life. To some extent this has always been so, but now it has become so intense it risks wiping out the profits of every industry on which we depend. Business is simply that. Business. It is there to make a profit for its shareholders and for future development and although that has become a dirty word to some, without profit there can be no tax gathered from it. Without tax the infrastructure of the country is dented. Without infrastructure the country cannot survive. Pensions depend on profits from shares and investments. The future of our food and welfare depends on being prepared to pay the correct price for the things we need and allowing business to make a profit instead of a loss.
Our future also depends on said businesses paying their dues, too. Stop all the legal tax avoidance that has been going on for years.