Why are the low paid always with us?

Posted on 19 April 2012

Professor Carole Thornley, Keele School of Management, will ask: "Why are the low-paid always with us?", when she delivers the latest lecture in the University’s series of professorial Inaugural Lectures for 2011 – 2012, on Tuesday, 8 May, 2012.

She explains that mature capitalist economies are organized into pyramid hierarchies of earnings, income and wealth, which spill into political and economic power and social status. Earnings are an important flow into broader income and wealth inequalities. The system is viewed by some as a meritocracy (nascent or real) – of ability, of skills, of returns to risk and investment. Yet the distribution of earnings remains remarkably invariant, and parts of society are here stubbornly ‘losers’.

This lecture addresses the complex causation behind low pay and challenges a number of conventional views: that the low-paid are always ‘them’ not ‘us’ and are small in number, that they are concentrated in the private sector, that low-paid jobs equate readily with low ability or skill, and that the system itself is ‘rational’ or ‘meritocratic’. The lecture draws upon large-scale surveys and field research in the health service and local government, as well as a range of statistical sources, classic writing on equalities and personal experience. It also assesses the impact of the National Minimum Wage and realities of life for the ‘working poor’.

Carole Thornley had a working career before studying as a mature student in London, Cambridge and Warwick. Appointed to a Lectureship in Industrial Relations at Keele in 1992, and promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2000, during her time at Keele, Professor Thornley has contributed major advances to the discipline of industrial relations, as well as proving highly influential on the national and international policy stage. She has established an outstanding international reputation for research in the area of employment and public policy, developing particular expertise on issues concerning equality and problems relating to low pay, with a remarkable record assisting with official enquiries on equality and income-related issues, especially in the Health Service and Local Government.

She has an excellent record of research leadership in the international labour-relations community, built upon numerous peer-reviewed papers, research monographs and books – most recently Globalization and Varieties of Capitalism: New Labour, Economic Policy and the Abject State (2009, jointly with Dan Coffey), and Globalization and Precarious Forms of Production and Employment (2010, with Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay). Carole Thornley has been a key figure working on behalf of postgraduate research students, both as Director of Postgraduate Research and in moving into her latest role as Director of Postgraduate Research for the Research Institute for the Social Sciences.

Keele's programme of Inaugural Lectures are given by newly established professors within the University and aim to give an illuminating account of the speaker's own subject specialism. The lectures, which start at 6 pm in the Westminster Theatre, are chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Foskett. Admission is free; no ticket is required.

The last lecture in the series is:

Monday, 11 June, 2012, Professor Andy Hassell, Medicine, "The patient with arthritis, the medical student and the rheumatologist: influencing tomorrow's doctors".