The precariat is an emerging underclass of people who lack security and certainty in their employed lives. Naturally, this has a large impact on a person’s ability to provide for their families and to keep a roof over their head. Given the increasing coverage of the “gig-economy”, we decided we wanted to research this growing group of people and the way in which precariousness impacts them.
Precarity comes in numerous forms, particularly hyper-precarity and the precarity found in the creative sector. It can have both benefits and drawbacks to the people who live such lives. On the one hand, living in a precarious way can give you more freedom as a creative person and allows you to dictate your own working hours. But the other side of the tale is an unstable life with no guaranteed hours, little workers rights and not knowing how you’re going to pay your rent the next month.
When discussing precarity we need to look beyond the small picture of the much known cases of Uber and Deliveroo, and instead look at the bigger picture of how precarity has a very real impact on people’s lives and how this class of people manages to survive.
This is where this project comes into play. We have looked into all areas of precarity, both creative and hyper, and we have presented our findings here in the form of articles, photographs, videos and audio. You will also be able to view our precarity survival guide, hopefully giving you a researched insight into how you can best survive this precarious world we have found ourselves in.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Many people don’t know the meaning of word “precarity” but have experienced the meaning of it at least once in the lifetime. Here are the definitions of the word in different forms of use.
Definition of “The Precariat” [noun [ S, + sing/pl verb ]]
UK Pronunciation: /prɪˈkeə.ri.ət/ /-ˈker.i-/
The class of people who are poor, and do not have secure jobs, and are likely to work in this way for a long time.
The word precariat is a hybrid of precarious, meaning unstable, and proletariat, the formal term for the working class. It was first used in this way in 2011 by the sociologist Guy Standing in his eponymous work, subtitled “the new dangerous class”.
Example: After 20 years in the same job, I entered the precariat.
Definition of “Precarity” [mass noun]
UK Pronunciation: /prɪˈkɛːrɪti/
The state of having insecure employment or income.
Example: Growing economic precarity.
Origin: 1920s: from precarious + -ity, in modern use after precariat.
Definition of “Precarious” [adjective]
UK Pronunciation: /prɪˈkeə.ri.əs/
In a dangerous state because of not being safe or not being held in place firmly.
A precarious situation is likely to get worse.
Examples: The lorry was lodged in a very precarious way, with its front wheels hanging over the cliff.
Many borrowers now find themselves caught in a precarious financial position.
Nonetheless, he continued to live a precarious life, being promoted and demoted constantly, depending on palace intrigues.
Freelancing was a precarious and inherently risky form of employment for all freelancers, but the risks were experienced unequally.
The situation of some schools is quite precarious.
Word Origin and History:
From Latin precārius obtained by begging (hence, dependent on another’s will), from prex-prayer.
1640s, a legal word, “held through the favor of another,” from Latin precarius “obtained by asking or praying,” from prex (genitive precis) “entreaty, prayer”. Notion of “dependent on the will of another” led to extended sense “risky, dangerous, uncertain” (1680s). “No word is more unskillfully used than this with its derivatives. It is used for uncertain in all its senses; but it only means uncertain, as dependent on others …”
Freelancers and Creative
Sally – Artist
Over the course of the project we posed some questions about precarity to varying people working in the creative sector. Here is what Sally had to say.
Please could you introduce yourself in 1 sentence?
I am a 31 year old artist living in Poplar, London, and I work various part time jobs in order to support my practice and pay the bills.
In what ways do you find yourself dealing with precarity?
Being an artist is incredibly precarious as generally the opportunities that come your way are poorly paid, unclear in terms and conditions, and very time consuming for the amount of money being offered. Renting a studio is expensive but if I didn’t I’d have to throw everything I made in the bin, so that adds to living costs.
As I don’t earn enough money from my practice alone, I work part time. I’ve found this difficult in recent years as employers are trying to cut costs and keep people on casual/zero hours contracts, or even classing us as “self employed” (the most extreme/puzzling example of this being a receptionist job I was recently offered with a photography studio!). So even my “day job” side of life has become as unstable as my “art” side, with no stability or regularity in of my weekly or monthly income, or my rights as an employee.
I feel overqualified, underemployed and constantly busy with little to show for it.
What are the best/worst aspects of your current situation as a precarious worker?
The best aspect is that I love my artistic practice and some degree of flexibility helps me pursue this work and develop strange and exciting projects. The worst aspect is not being able to plan anything from week to week as I rarely know my work schedule or how much money is coming in; never being able to save any money; and living on whatever income I have week to week. In a city like London, this is stressful as any surprise expense could cause a massive problem.
As Sally demonstrated through the interview, life as a precarious worker in the creative industry is filled with challenges. Precarious workers often find themselves living hand to mouth and struggling to pay the bills each month. Precarious workers in the creative industries often find themselves delving into hyper-precarious jobs just so they can get enough money to cover the costs of living. It isn’t all doom and gloom however, precarious living also allows for greater freedom and the opportunities to pursue other projects that are of interest to the worker.
Asha – Artist/DJ
In a further interview with a creative worker, we posed the same questions to Asha. Once again we found similar answers in that precarious workers in the creative sector contend with both the benefits and negative aspects of precarity.
Please could you introduce yourself in 1 sentence?
I’m an Afro-Asian artist and DJ. I am also an Art teacher teaching to secondary school children. More sporadically, I get invited to teach on BA and MA Fine Art programmes.
In what ways do you find yourself dealing with precarity?
My activities as an artist and DJ aren’t lucrative enough; and for this reason I have to teach to get by. Although I love teaching, I would rather spend more time in the studio working on producing artworks, musical tracks and practicing my DJ sets. Wait…I don’t have a studio, I can’t afford it! For this reason, my artistic and musical career is going very slowly. So yes, it is going, as I do spend time on it, alongside the teaching.
As I have to teach too, I end up exhausted all the time, sometimes even defeated. For example, I’ve been working on a video for a year and a half now. I would have finished it 6 months ago, if I didn’t have to work as a teacher alongside my artistic practice. Also, note that the video is self-funded. It was initially commissioned for a large symposium and they didn’t have any budget for artist’s fees.
What are the best/worst aspects of your current situation as a precarious worker?
The best part is developing new and valuable skills, initially as a default plan. I ended up teaching as it was more lucrative than being an art producer. And I love teaching. Also, the DJing seems financially more promising too and I love doing it.
The worst aspect is how it (precarity) affects my physical and mental health.
Olga – Freelancer
TWO CHEERS FOR PRECARITY
Olga Savic voices mixed opinions about the “creative freedom” of being a casual worker.
“Being a precarious worker doesn’t have to be a bad choice of career after all. Sometimes you need to work precariously in order to do what you really enjoy and love. People misunderstand the meaning of the word for so many many reasons and one of the biggest is money. Maybe people who are precariat workers like their jobs and wouldn’t change it for anything else?
“For me for example being a precariat worker is pretty useful and it fits very well with my studies because I choose when I want to work, where I want to work and what I want to do. In one way I am my own boss, my own manager. The jobs I choose are mostly fun events and promotional jobs. I get to keep so many freebies and I get to see most amazing places in London for free (because I work there). It can’t really get boring because I always work somewhere else. I get to meet so many new and interesting people and friends.
“People who work as precarious workers are mostly open minded and understand the struggles in the world. They are much more approachable and have no prejudice against others.
“Honestly, I believe that being a precarious worker can help you in so many ways. Even if that is not something you want to do forever it can help you to reach your goals by teaching you what you need to know about working. You get to know how to manage your jobs. You learn to appreciate yourself much more than ever before because in order to get a job you need to be tough and that’s because there are so many people seeking jobs. It teaches you skills you had no idea you were even capable of. It helps you to build your confidence.
“The thing with precarious jobs is that they are unstable, you can’t trust the employers completely and you don’t know if they will pay you. But that’s something you need to realise before accepting the job. And that’s when you start building trust not in the employers but in yourself because sometimes you just have to trust your own guts.
“The fun thing is that sometimes you get paid after three months which isn’t really funny, but for me, it is because by then I’ve already forgotten about the money and then suddenly out of nowhere there it is in the bank account. It feels like free money that allows me to splash out.
“It’s great to be so flexible with work time because in times of exams I don’t have to work and can completely focus on my studies. Also if I feel tired or just want to relax I don’t need to work. I can choose my own holidays and that helps to release all the stress and anxiety usually caused by jobs. There is just enough time for everything from hobbies, spending time with family and friends to travelling to other side of the world.
“Money is not everything that counts in this kind of job. Mostly it’s the experience, the people you meet, the skills you gain. It all comes to one point to enjoy yourself and do what fulfils you and gives you the opportunity to grow as a person. People will always make judgements but it really doesn’t matter if you do what you like!”
Precarity: glass half empty or glass half full?
Precarity is a very subjective condition. Some people think it is a good way to keep yourself motivated and excited, although it can be frustrating sometimes, while other people think it is a too unstable condition to
Shaun Raviv and Tom Dale are two freelancing journalists who have different views on the precarity condition they experienced themselves through their career.
“Precariat is what I like most about being a freelance journalist”
Shaun Raviv is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta. Although precarity made Shaun’s life busier, he chose to have it in his life. “Precariat is what I like most about being a freelance journalist”, he admits.
Precarity allowed him to write for a remarkable range of publications, such as Smithsonian, The Intercept, BuzzFeed, Mosaic and Deadspin. For example, he wrote “Fast, precise, and deadly – how police use a dangerous anti-terrorism tactic to end pursuits” for The Intercept, which seems to be very different to Ninja Sex Party Wants to Make You Smile – How two musical comedy nerds conquered the internet.
In 1997, he applied to University for an engineering course. However, he quickly switched to an English course. He did not study journalism, a part of one class, but he admired that world going on around him.
When Shaun was 30, he moved to Swaziland after getting a Fulbright Grant for playwriting. After that, he decided to freelance while he was doing different jobs in various countries.
In 2015, he moved to Atlanta, where he decided to become a full-time long-term freelancer. This is when precarity arrives in Shaun’s life. Precarity is what makes the journalist’s day a challenge every day. “Unless I have a very tight deadline, I never know exactly what my day will be like.” He always has to be ready for a long interview because everyone could call in every moment.
“Precariat also means I never know when I’ll get my next paycheck”. This means every paycheck get more exciting every time.
As a freelance journalist, Shaun wants to give some advice to younger journalists who aim to have a secure employment in their lives.
“If you’re looking for steady pay and good benefits and a set schedule, don’t become a freelance journalist.” What you should do, instead, is aiming “to become a staff editor or writer.”
However, Shaun thinks for that small number of people who are not looking for this in their lives, “freelancing is fun, often frustrating”. So, according to Shaun, precariat is hard, but is an “exciting way to get paid to learn, meet people, and write.”
“I’ve never really had the resources, security or freedom to do really worthwhile work
Tom Dale was a freelance journalist who was willing to share his path through the precariat world. After an intense career, he left journalism because he found it too unstable. “I’ve never really had the resources, security or freedom to do really worthwhile work.” According to Tom, generally, the standard salary does not allow most of the people to support themselves financially without having a frenetic and stressful amount of work.
People who I’ve seen have made it work have generally had a near immunity to setbacks of any kind”, he notices. “They are generally extremely competent, but also often (not quite always) lucky, well connected or have some form of financial security or backing from their parents”. Therefore, at the moment, he works as a risk analyst and he focuses on the Yemen conflict. He, also, consults about strategic communications for the third sector.
Tom’s journey from university into a journalistic work was both complex and fascinating. Going back in time, after finishing University, he worked for the trade union for four years. Coincidentally, we found someone who was trying to go to Libya to do a documentary film during the civil war in 2011. Unfortunately, the documentary was not been produced because of funding.
“In retrospect, if I’d known how unique our opportunity and access were, we should have stayed out there, or gone back by ourselves”.
However, he wrote some articles about it and he decided to move to Egypt to freelance and study the Arabic language. Since that, he dedicated himself to various activities, such as producing some films, being a correspondent for The Independent, being a desk producer for Reuters in Cairo, he visited northern Syria for Vice News, road features and he did sub-editing for an Africa focused specialist journal.
In general, Tom is really proud of what he did. “When I’ve got to do the job properly, it has been the most fascinating and enjoyable thing I could ever imagine doing.”
However, he does not recommend this route. Tom thinks that because is such an enjoyable job, the competition is very high. “It has been extremely draining and stressful”, he admits. “I do not think there are any positives unless you are doing particularly high-value kinds of work financially”. This is one of the reasons why Tom decided to leave journalism.
“For most people, the dream is to freelance their way into a staff job for a credible outlet.”According to Tom, for a minority of people, this happens, whereas for a majority of them it will lead to stress and eventually for some of them, like for Tom, it will lead to quitting.
Also, as a foreign correspondent, he thinks the risk you take is too high. From his own experience, he believes that “the large majority of staff foreign correspondents are recruited from people who have worked their way into a graduate scheme or some other route into the editorial office, rather than people who have been freelancing in the field”.
I asked Tom what advice he would give to younger journalists who are trying to move into secure employment. “Have a hard think about the compromises that you are willing to make”, he affirmed.
“I do not recommend seeing freelance journalism as a goal, but as a stopgap whilst you apply for other work.”
He would not work for Daily Mail or The Sun, but he knows some people who did because they did not have other choices and he does not condemn them for that. “These are choices that you will have to make, but regardless I would recommend seeing the first stage of your career as an opportunity to learn the craft in practice, develop specialist knowledge and gain an initial platform of security to form the launchpad for whatever it is that you do next – that may entail working within the institution does not fully align well with your values, or which does not seem exciting.
“You will already all of had lots of advice about finding a niche for yourself, being very clear about what you do and ideally allying your journalism with a hard skill, such as data or knowledge of financial markets.”
In conclusion, Tom and Shaun showed us both sides of precarity and offered useful advice to people who would like to follow the same path.
Young and hopeful.
I met up with Shyra Roshane and had an interview with her about passion for fashion and making it into a living. Shyra is a 21-year- old who currently works in a betting shop. She had let me know that working in a betting shop is very difficult as the customers that come into the betting shop act differently to the ones who shop at Tesco’s. Fashion has been a part of her life since she was 9-years- old, but she decided to pursue it at the age of 21.
Shy has been working for multiple companies such as McDonalds, Marks and Spencer’s and Toys ’R’ Us, just to get money anyway that’s possible. I had asked shy about what she does in her spare time and she responded, “I don’t really go out that much, but summertime soon come so my spare time will consist of partying and promoting the clothes I make.” She also, made it clear that she’s doing an online course on psychology and most of the time as she states, “my time really consist of working, sewing and studying.” This is such a heavy load for a student, so I was curious to know how she balances out her life. Shyra mentions that it was hard to balance out everything, but she worked towards finding strategies that worked out her. “At first it was hard to balance everything out but, now almost a year later, I found that if I set specific days in the week which I’m going to sew my life becomes a little bit easier to balance.”
As we spoke further, I was interested to know about the brand she’s working towards. Not only how she’s able to balance her life and brand but what is her brand? Where does she get her ideas from? Does she make the clothes herself? And who are her target audience? “TwentyOneTwelve is my brand. I had TwentyOneTwelve for 11 months and I work for myself. I hand make all the clothes excluding the t-shirts, hoodies and jumpers which I get manufactured with my logo.” Her target audience is womenswear for now but she’s willing to expand as she mentions, “I will be expanding to men’s and children’s wear within the next 12 months. I also, make all sorts from swimwear to evening wear and 2 pieces to soft lingerie (meaning lingerie without underwiring)”. During our interview we took a break and had refreshments. I was yet to ask Shyra about the financial side of business, but she beat me to it. Shyra as a young adult knows how tough this could be and how easily you could hit rock bottom but, with what Shyra said that really lifted me was the positivity. “At this moment in time running this business is expensive, I put all my savings into it and haven’t really got anything back. I am determined to make a living from this.” As we go back to the interview Shyra had a lot to say and it’s evident that her passion doesn’t stop here. So, I went on to ask her progress, regrets, improvements and where she sees herself in the next five years. Shyra responded, “I am happy with where I am in life. I’m giving myself two years to fully quit employment and become self-employed. In the next five years I wish to see myself with a shop and finishing my degree.”
All of Shyra’s dreams and wishes seemed very pure and positive but I wanted to know if they were anything she could improve on. She just looked at me and laughed and said:
“the biggest improvement I need to make is staying focused even at my age. I can still get easily distracted, I am my biggest enemy.”
“They are always on the edge of unsustainable debt. One mistake, one accident, one bad decision – they could be out on the streets. That is the reality of the Precariat.” – Guy Standing
‘What is the Precariat | Guy Standing | TEDxPrague’
Bleak but lacking in falsity. These are the words of Guy Standing, esteemed British economist & current a professor of Developmental Studies at SOAS, University of London, taken from his TedTalk entitled ‘What is the Precariat?’ in Prague last year.
Guy has a long-standing (pun-intended) history of works pertaining to labour economics, labour market policy, unemployment, labour market flexibility, structural adjustment policies and social protection – drawing people’s attentions to the crucial relationships between economics and behavioural patterns in society.
More recently, Standing has diverted his efforts and attentions towards investigating and educating people on ‘The Precariat’ a new social class, one Standing believes to be predominantly made up of immigrants, young educated people and the old, industrial working-class.
His best-known book to date is called ‘The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class’ and was published in 2011, the book breaks down the emerging class and analyses the effects precarity has on individuals highlighting side-effects such as job security, identity security and a lack of time control before proposing possible solutions such as a universal basic income.
One quote from his book reads – “We are in an era of chronic insecurity and growing inequality. We need to have new mechanisms for income distribution”.
The TedTalk below provides valuable context to the subject of precarity as Standing accurately dissects the emerging class – speaking about the differing factions in the precariat class as well as the Precariat’s current position in society, one he believes isn’t far from that of a homeless individual.
“British Fashion Design
Rag Trade or Image Industry?
– Angela McRobbie”
Book summary by Benne Sukama
Angela McRobbie has written a book on the fashion industry and how young graduates handle the pressures of leaving school and making their way to the big names. It also highlights the way the UK handle British fashion and the growth of it. The welcoming of designers in the UK such as, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano allows them to be scouted for major fashion designers such as Givenchy and Dior. The British fashion industry is big but not that big. It takes a toll on international young designers who are most likely to be penniless and who are trying to make a name for themselves. These young designers are either graduating from art school or fashion school and they are most likely creating their own fashion lines or doing apprenticeships for big names in fashion. But, this is in different city’s such as Milan, Paris or New York. In this book it’s able to explore whether fashion is seen as part of an art form or the look on the ‘commercial industry’ look as some young designers get their looks and inspiration from the ‘youth street culture’.
Many questions arise as people always think how can you teach art and design in education? How can you separate it from art and how should the students learning, how to design be taught?
Art and design should not be separated and should be combined as the minds of these young designers can be so creative and allow them to think outside the box and not restrict them of their ideas. Being a woman in fashion was even harder as when they went to art school they were learning to draw and paint and not felling the real experience of sewing however, they did practise later on embroidery or needlework. This was how students were being exploited and taught in the UK, even in the late 19th century fashion production technology didn’t even develop from sewing machines and electric cutters. It was hard in the industry even when it came to fabrics. Fabrics like silk and chiffon meant that it had to be made hand made. With this material it and the image it portrays it meant low pay and because it’s in a feminised market this meant that it never got the correct attention of the upper class such as politicians or economists like the way the other sectors did.
When students in fashion wanted to get set up in life there was no actually real guidance.
There wasn’t a clear picture to show what the industry actually entails or what employment and self-employment may look like. Also, how they can access opportunities when it came along or even to find any opportunities available. Why do so many young talented designers go broke after leaving college? There are less opportunities in the Britain and it’s so much harder to get into the industry with the high, competitive standards. This is ones of the reasons why students go abroad to learn more about fashion because here it’s exploited and there’s not enough government support in this field. Money is only invested in students who are able to find work in the UK but, then they are later offered jobs by foreign companies and work in major cities such as Paris, Milan, Tokyo and New York. However, any investments made on their training the foreign companies benefit from it rather than the UK. It is also viewed that company managers believe that these young designers are ‘too creative and unrealistic’ when it comes to actually designing the products which makes it more difficult because these young designers cannot be themselves and have to limit their talents.
The UK compared to other European countries and America spend less on fashion. British consumers want cheaper clothes even if the quality of the clothing is not the best material. This creates a problem for the young designers as it makes it harder to make a real living off cheap products.
What about an example of other country?
Italy: the factory of precarity
Talking about precarity, Italy seems to be the original candidate. In fact, it is known for something more than tasty food and warm people. It is, also, considered “the factory of precarity”.
Italy’s employment rate is among the lowest in Europe.
At the end of 2017, according to the Eurostat, Italy reached a new record in terms of precarity with 2.9 million people on temporary contracts. Unfortunately, for a large group of people in Italy, security and certainty are unattainable hopes.
Precarity can be either a threat and an opportunity.
According to Trading Economics, the unemployment figures felt from an 11.5% in March 2017 to a 10.9% in February 2018.
However, if the number of the job went up, the quality went down. Indeed, the extension of the number of workplaces is due to the growth of temporary contracts for underpaid jobs. The situation is alarming because not only fixed-term contracts are increasing, but, also, the period of time of those is getting shorter. Mostly, they are from one month to six months. After the contract comes to an end, you do not know what your future will be like and, you may find another fixed-term job, only if you are lucky.
Overall, the precariat in Italy is more unstable than ever before.
If for some people precarity is a choice, in Italy is another story. It is a survival struggle. You’d better take an underpaid 3 months-contract job because you do not know when it will come up again. This happens especially among the younger generations. Generally, employers take advantage of young people who would not be hired otherwise because of lack of experience. As a consequence, young people see precarious work as the only way to be involved in the labour market and gain experience after studying.
Young people are the future of their country. Therefore, they should have the opportunity to gain experience without the constant threat of losing their income.
Compounding the weak economy, the arrival of immigrants has had an impact. “Italy has announced a new record of 171,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year”, the BBC reported. It is said that many refugees are willing to work in even more precarious ways in order to survive. Armed with this knowledge, it is hard to say “precarity is what I like most about my job”.
The right approach would be to reinforce the quality of the job as well as the number of the job available. Precarity may have some advantages for some people, but it should not be the only option.