An open letter to Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children. I’ll post a reply if I ever get one.
Firstly, as an Uber driver may I commend you and, indeed, Uber for your recent initiative to support Syrian refugees. I was not asked to participate as a driver myself but I did receive an invite to donate to Save the Children from Uber. Unfortunately, I am unable to do so right now for reasons that will become apparent. However, I do question the timing and appropriateness of this particular partnership given Uber’s role in driving so many London families into poverty.
Our government has not exactly set the pace in Europe for a response to this humanitarian crisis so it’s important that non state actors step into the breach. While some question why we in Britain should help the Syrians when so many here are suffering economically I have no truck with that line of thinking. The refugees have been driven from their homes by war and atrocity and we must hold out a hand of welcome.
I’m aware that on the day of the Uber / Save the Children campaign you were in parliament appearing before the House of Commons Public Accounts committee with peers apologising for more aggressive fundraising practices of your sector now consigned to the past. It is curious then that you and your board of trustees (I understand your board of trustees sign off on all corporate partnerships) would approve a partnership with Uber at this particular time. While the behaviour of over aggressive chuggers & cold callers needs curbing, by your own definition, Uber is actively contributing to an acceleration in UK child poverty. This is something that surely must be entirely at odds with your organisation’s mission.
I’m a member of GMB and I’m very grateful for their support in a legal case I and colleagues are bringing against Uber to force the recognition of our worker rights. Last month I worked 53 hours per week for Uber and yet earned just £5.03 per hour. Currently there are approximately 15,000 Uber cars in London and the company has set a target to increase that to 45,000 by next spring thanks to a laissez faire approach taken by Transport for London in allowing the unlimited issue of licenses regardless of the human cost. Drivers are working increasing hours away from their families to make ends meet and battling fatigue is an ever present struggle. There is suffering too amongst London’s iconic Black Taxi fleet whose drivers report a decline in incomes in the range of 40% which must surely be already causing serious social difficulties.
Now, I don’t believe anyone is in favour of curbing the development of a fair and free market for taxi and private hire in London. Nor is anyone realistically calling for a roll back of technology. In fact, contrary to the prevailing media narrative, most drivers embrace these technologies as a welcome way to expand and serve our market. What is not welcome is the misuse of technology to offer consumers our services below a fair economic rate which is driving many into poverty. Your own website defines poverty as those earning £15,000 per year per household assuming a couple supporting two children. Similarly, the Child Poverty Action Group says a cause of poverty is:
Low paid work: many low wage jobs offer no prospect of progression (‘low pay, low prospects’); others are insecure, providing sporadic and unpredictable incomes (‘low pay, no pay’). As a result they are often nothing more than poverty traps.
My current annual Uber income based on August earnings is in the range of just £10,500, hence, I am unable to meet the requested donation to Save the Children circulated by Uber to its drivers. And the situation is about to get much worse for drivers, many of whom rely on working tax credits. Incomes will continue to decline as TfL issues more and more private hire licenses to meet Uber’s growth targets and meanwhile the government plans to cut working tax credits and free school meals. In addition, firms such as Uber process all transactions off shore which denies the HMRC of tax payments essential to support our education and NHS systems. It’s a perfect storm of deprivation and it’s hard to imagine a more powerful accelerator of poverty in the UK today than Uber.
So what is the solution? One of the policy solutions Save the Children proposes is:
Ensure that those in work are not being paid below the poverty line, by backing the living wage and increasing the minimum wage.
I couldn’t agree more and when our GMB backed legal action succeeds we will have some assurance that Uber drivers will at least earn the legal minimum wage and Uber would have greater responsibilities for operational safety. If TfL, as a government organised body, could be persuaded to take action now to limit the number of licenses issued so as to maintain reasonable income levels this would offer greater economic security for taxi and private hire drivers. It would also contribute to greater public safety with less risk of driver fatigue and cleaner air for London’s children.
Would you please lend your organisation’s support of our efforts for economic justice for private hire and taxi drivers and call on Transport for London and Uber to do the right thing? Uber drivers have selflessly helped Save the Children assist Syrian refugees. Black Taxi drivers have so often helped our war veterans and sick children. Now we need you to help all of us by speaking out in support of implementation of your own policy propositions. 100,000 London families are counting on you.