Joanna Biggs has interview people across the country about work to try to form a portrait of working life in modern Britain. This book contains 30 or so of these interviews with a few facts and figures and opinion of the author thrown in.
It’s very readable and varied with some interesting facts about how work has changed in recent decades. I was particularly interested in how Britain has changed from a manufacturing to service economy and how this has effected working lives – also the facts about falling unemployment rates but rising low paid and insecure work really made you think about ‘progress’. I was also struck by (a fact most of us are already aware of) that hard work and high pay don’t always go hand in hand i.e. the best paid workers in the book aren’t not necessarily the most hard working.
The interviews deal with a typical working day of the interviewee and then a bit of information about their work history, general background, lifestyle, and hopes and aspirations. I found some parts of the book more interesting than others depending on who she was interviewing, some sections I found rather dull. She does like to go into a lot of detail, for example finding out what people have for lunch and what they do on their tea break – in the first half of the book I found these details boring and unnecessary but as I read on and got used to the rhythm of the book I didn’t mind so much and started to appreciate the little details and how they help us get a real sense of how people live.
It’s quite a political book and the author makes it clear she does not approve of Workfare schemes or zero hours contracts (I think a more right wing writer would have given them a more positive spin). It also paints a generally bleak view of Britain at work, I read it while on Christmas leave and it did not make me keen to return to the daily grind in January with its questioning of issues like ‘Is there any real point to work?’ ‘Does work really enhance our lives?’ – the conclusion to both these questions seemed a pretty firm ‘no’!