AMID all of the constitutional doom-and-gloom stories, one item in Tuesday’s National made me laugh out loud: Greg Russell’s report on the business pages about David Alexander’s reaction to the UK Labour party’s proposal for a right to buy for private rented housing tenants.

Mr Alexander’s concerns are a mirror image of those which were directed at the right to buy for council tenants – a right which was mysteriously subject to little such vehement criticism from property professionals at the time or subsequently. Try interpreting the report’s acronym “PRS” as meaning public rather than private rented sector to see what I mean.

Prices determined by the state (market value but minus huge – state-defined – discounts in council right-to-buy)? Check.

Number of available (council) properties decreasing and rise in the number of homeless? Check.

Discouraging investment in housing stock (right-to-buy receipts a fraction of replacement costs, and shrinking rent income having to be concentrated on maintenance of hardest-to-sell homes, nothing to spare for new build even if the government would permit it)? Check.

Need to spend huge sums to replace lost (council) stock? Check.

It has always puzzled me why council tenants should have the right to dispossess the community of a property asset but private tenants wishing to widen property ownership by taking title to their landlord’s property did not have the same right, even at non-discounted prices.

Mr Alexander describes one of the “fundamental tenets of society in the UK” as owning property – not one’s home; a clever distinction for his purposes. Wanting to own one’s own home is understandable and laudable; wanting to own property can be, and often is, a means of exploiting people’s needs and vulnerabilities..

The biggest irony is of course that many private rented sector homes are former council houses and that some of the small businesses idealised by right-wing commentators are property letting companies with portfolios which includes ex-council houses. I look forward to Michael Fry explaining how and why the rentier class contributes positively to GDP...

Andrew McCracken

MICHAEL Fry states that, “Clearly, it is better for people to be employed than unemployed” (At last, one SNP minister has begun to talk sense about the economy, September 3). It’s a commonly held assumption that any job is better than no job, but this is demonstrably not the case.

A study carried out by the University of Manchester in 2017 showed that having a poor-quality or “bad” job may be even worse for a person’s health than being unemployed. Poor-quality employment includes that which is low-paid, insecure, has low job satisfaction, involves severe work-related anxiety, etc.

The research found that there was no improvement in the mental health of unemployed people who started working in poor-quality jobs: their levels of mental health were very similar to those who remained unemployed; moreover, the levels of chronic stress-related biomarkers, based on elevated levels of hormones and inflammatory, metabolic and cardiovascular levels such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, were actually much higher than those of their unemployed peers. Other studies in countries such as Australia have made similar findings.

In addition, research has been carried out by economists David G. Blanchflower and David Bell into the extent of underemployment and the impact of this on people’s well-being. Using Labour Force surveys, they found that depression in the UK rose from 1.6% in 2010 to 3.6% in 2018, and that the increase was especially apparent among the under-employed; crucially, this rise was bigger, proportionately, than that experienced by unemployed people.

I find myself growing rather tired of the regular trumpeting of headline low unemployment and record-high employment figures when underemployment in particular barely earns a mention. When we exclude the latter from much of our discourse on the economy etc, we exclude the people who are having to suffer it.

Mo Maclean

MICHAEL Fry, plugging his favourite theme of productivity, once again fails to mention the real root of the problem. UK companies would rather give their shareholders big dividends and their CEOs fat pay packets than invest in plant, machinery and re-skilling their workforce to increase productivity. A problem that goes back to the 1960s and before.

He also mentions increased productivity raising wages. It doesn’t work that way. Cheap labour removes the incetive for companies to invest, and in a downturn it’s cheaper to get rid of labour than expensive machinery. While we have such a deregulated labour market and are in thrall to neoliberal economics nothing will change.

Cliff Uney, Clydebank
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