What work is really worth

The UK budget, and the next five years of government policy, means to persuade, or force, the workless into work. A new study examines the value of work, not to a company or organisation, but to society as a whole.

Imagine for a moment we asked a crucial, and crucially different, economic question – not what are you paid, but what is the social return on the investment that is your pay? What do you contribute to society in exchange for your pay? It’s a reversed version of the usual monetary value question: what do you contribute to shareholders for your cost?

Three UK researchers, Eilis Lawlor, Helen Kersley and Susan Reed, overseen by the New Economic Foundation, did some original work on inequalities by comparing the remuneration of professions at the top and bottom of the pay scale with the social value of their jobs. They decided that a worker at a recycling plant, on £6.10 an hour, was quite valuable as “each pound spent as salary will generate £12 worth of value for the whole community”. But “while collecting salaries of between £500,000 and £10m, leading City bankers destroy £7 of social value for every pound in value they generate.” The trio foresaw that the global result of the best-paid activities can be negative.


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