Impact of the Credit Crunch on the Workplace and Politics
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The credit crunch in 2008 is swiftly being followed by an imminent global recession, perhaps the worst recession for many decades. Irresponsible lending, mis-management by the banks, the pay freezes in industry and the general economic climate means that we can no longer take for granted our jobs, homes and financial security. In 2009 the tide is turning from boom, very probably to bust in just a few months, although it was claimed by some analysts that the recession started proper half way through 2008.
The situation does not look to improve any time soon either, as Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England was cited in the Daily Telegraph of 26th October, 2008:
“The combination of a squeeze on real take-home pay and a decline in the availability of credit poses the risk of a sharp and prolonged slowdown in domestic demand. It now seems likely that the UK economy is entering a recession.” (Jonathan Sibun, Daily Telegraph, 2008).
So we see that there can be a number of factors which provide the root cause of a recession. The end result of a recession is not only the loss of business, jobs, reduced cash flow and tightening of financial belts; the social, economic and political impact this has on employers, employees and the government. Employer and employee relationships are also a “side effect” of the environment within a recession. Does the balance of power change? Do employees become resentful? Do managers become more fearful and does this affect their judgement in the workplace? Many happy and productive workplaces are suddenly “not so happy” when a credit crunch hits. This paper investigates the implications of a credit crunch on relationships both at the workplace and in the political arena.
From a social perspective, the effects of the credit crunch are already being evidenced. Housing repossessions are on the increase in the UK and people are having difficulty keeping up with their mortgages. Another factor is that the number of job losses is on the increase and this is expected to continue in 2009.
The social impact this has on people is very often not reported by the media. For instance, people who would normally go on holiday with their friends and attend social outings may no longer do so after losing their job. The impact of a credit crunch and recession is inevitably job losses. This affects the person being laid off not only financially, but in terms of self confidence and a feeling of hopelessness for some. Some people after being made redundant may never work again, due to their age or the industry they have worked in, which may be something they have been involved in all their life.
The credit crunch affects relationships generally, but also marriages. Husbands try to hold off telling their partners when they lose there jobs. The feeling of failure abounds and it also becomes a shock when it is not possible to find another job immediately. The credit crunch seems to hit men particularly hard, as pride and status play their parts when he has to rely solely on his wife for their main income: "Traditionally, the man 'provides' and for a man to lose his job, it's not just about money, it's loss of status, which can be a huge knock to his confidence.” Steve Miller, cited in (Becky Howard, 2008).
It can cause relationship breakdowns as: "There is also a real danger that the woman may become angry and resentful" (Becky Howard, 2008). This may be due to women become the main breadwinner and also the need to perform duties at home, like cleaning, ironing and other household chores. The Times article points out a number of ways to assist couples through a crisis such as the credit crunch and the loss of a job.
The balance of power can shift from an even situation, in a relationship to a dominant partner, when both partners have jobs or in the case of the sole breadwinner, it can cause even more difficulty.
The economic effects are also being seen, as employers are trying to emphasise the importance of pay restraints as companies try to avoid job losses:
"If employees understand the competitive pressures facing their organisation, they are more likely to understand why pay restraint in the current economic environment is critical. " (CIPD, 2008)
However, pay is only one of a number of issues. Mortgage repossessions are on the increasing by 40% in the last 12 months (Economics Help, 2008). It is claimed that this is only a small proportion of the total mortgage market in the UK however. In the US loans to sub-prime mortgage markets proved highly risky, and these loans were then embedded into the whole financial system (Economics Help, 2008). This in turn affected the whole of the global capital markets. Hence the world economy is currently in very poor shape. Each country is trying to solve the crisis in their own way, but some countries in Europe are following the UK lead were VAT is concerned, in that they aim to reduce it.
On a world level, the economy has probably been in downturn since December 2007. They were predicting then that the economy would have forthcoming problems and so it has been proved. For instance, this report by World Economic Update (2008) states for the US economy:
"'The U.S. economy is already in a recession -- it started in December '07 and it will last four to six quarters. Negative growth starts in the first quarter of 2008.' The former -- the latter may, I guess, or may not end up being true, but surely it's going to be unimpressive."
The same article also suggests the economy of the US will be severe and protracted rather than mild. The US is the richest economy in the world, and when something happens on the scale of the current credit crunch it affects the world economy.
It is also stated that many emerging markets are not directly affected by the US economy, and these should provide a cushion for the overall world economy, even though the banks of the emerging economies are also "tightening their belts". It is stated that countries, such as Brazil, China, Russia, Peru, Poland and Hungary are all in growth stages and not directly affected by the US as they mainly deal with commodities. There has also been a shift away from the US in terms of the commodities markets (World Economic Update, 2008).
The question we need to ask are the emerging markets enough to help stave off the imminent recession? The way that emerging markets can assist the global economy is through cheap commodity prices such as metals and agricultural products. Unfortunately however, the price of oil continues to escalate in the light of a world oil shortage.
The repercussions of the current financial crisis were discussed by Andrew Watt (2008) when he states that there will be a combination of:
- Share-price collapse
- Blockages with the banking system
- Reduced access to bank loans, and
- More expensive bond financing
resulting in a reduction in corporate investment, which in turn will have knock-on effects elsewhere.
Much can be gleaned from the current crisis for future generations however. Andrew Watt has identified a number of other possible factors which have a bearing on the world economy and the UK. For instance, he points out that there has been a lack of regulatory institutions required for global finance, throughout the world and in Europe. He also claims that income at the national level has moved in that the poor borrow more, and speculation by the rich has made them wealthier. This really is a case of the poor getting poorer, and the rich getting richer. Lack of low interest rates, lack of regulation in the financial sector, risk taking and tax competition; including the EU have also contributed, in his opinion (Andrew Watt, 2008).
From this we can assume that although the US crisis was the initial spark, that the petrol was already ready to light in the world economy and so we are all affected by the end result.
The following figure from this report shows a summary of the events of the last 12 months or so, resulting in the credit crunch and imminent recession:
One affect of the economy the credit crunch has had in the UK is the reduction of house prices and the price of goods in the shops, which have reduced dramatically in the last few months; in order to keep consumers interested thus keeping the finances flowing in the shops.
The credit crunch has been blamed on a number of factors, and some unusual ideas emerge from various parts of the world, who all deal with the situation in a different manner. For instance, President Sarkozy has made calls to end foreign ownership (David Charter, 2008). The concern is that key industries will fall into foreign hands. The ideas are that each country should use sovereign wealth funds to take stakes in key industries:
“Nicolas Sarkozy risked blowing apart the European consensus over how to deal with the financial crisis by proposing today that each country launch sovereign wealth funds to take stakes in key industries to stop them falling into foreign hands. “ (David Charter, 2008)
The theory is that non-EU countries may take advantage of the current crisis, who are not affected by it and therefore it would enable them to have an advantage in investing in shares within EU industries when they were at their cheapest. Not all the EU countries agree with this approach as stated, but even during his EU presidential year it is debatable if he can win approval from his EU partners.
From a political perspective, some people will leave the original credit crunch was caused in the US, and this has had a knock-on effect on global economy. One definition of a credit crunch is rapid decline of credit that it is unusually large for a given stage of the business cycle (Bernanke and Lown, 1991).
However, one of the key causes of the current credit crunch is said to be irresponsible lending in the US. However, it is fair to say that although the credit crunch originally emanated from the US, that irresponsible lending has also been occuring in the Uk and in Europe, but not on as large a scale.
From a political perspective it is being stated that the UK government could have done more to regulate banks who were lending irresponsibly, and that the "credit crunch has shown that financial institutions can easily abuse systems of self-regulation." (Economics Help, 2008)
A few years ago, house prices were going through the roof, and this bubble would eventually burst, as it inevitably did. Gordon Brown the current prime minister, did identify that this would happen, and as Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time thought the issue had been addressed and avoided a "boom and bust" scenario, but this was obviously not the case (Alex Barker, 2008).
Now that Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister, some of the earlier issues have come back to haunt him. Politically, a credit crunch and recession is always good for the opposition, as they can claim that the current government of the day is to blame for the current economic climate in this country. David Cameron, the leader of the opposition has made this point often, and has stated that the current labour government could have done more to avoid the consequences.
Gordon Brown points out that the current crisis is global and has recently instigated a number of steps to avoid the crisis becoming even more serious in 2009. Banks all over the world have been in difficulty all over the world. The collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank in the US was soon followed by a crisis of one of the largest banks in the UK, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). A recent merger between Lloyds and HBOS will provide a "super bank" and will avoid HBOS going the same way as Lehman Brothers. The government has supported the merger.
Another recent, but risky step is to plough public money in the banking system, and by doing so the government hopes the banks will continue to lend to each other and at least keep the financial syste fluid. Along with this, there has been a reduction in VAT to 15% from 17.5% so that consumers will continue to spend and keep business operating. These are risky measures, and longer term it has been pointed out by David Cameron, that the UK tax payer will have to pay back an increased deficit. Only time time will tell if Gordon Brown's policies will enable a swifter recovery or take the UK further into debt. As some analysts point out, this is not a normal situation and extreme situations call for extreme measures. This is certainly the case for Gordon Brown on a political level.
One thing is certain in 2009, relationships between employer and employer are sure to be tense in 2009. A survey report was commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in September, 2008 around this subject. The following table from this report summarises the main issues around employer/employee relationships:
So what are the anticipated changes in regard to the effects of the Credit Crunch to employer/employee relations?
The following table from the same reports highlights the expected changes:
On the face of it, if we analyse the two tables we can see that although most agree that there will be problems in the current credit crisis, that the only potential benefit longer term is that the employers will engage with their employees on an increasing level.
However, it is said that there is a contrast of opinion between the public and private services with regard to employee engagement, as:
"Looking at the results in more detail, however, there is a marked contrast in attitudes between private and public services. In private services, 51% of respondents identified employee engagement as the single most likely development, compared with only 29% in public services and an average across all sectors of 43%." (CIPD,2008)
It seems that partnerships with trade unions are very low on the agenda, but again it depends on the sector as:
"partnership is seen as among the three most likely developments by 46% of respondents in public services but only 11% in private services." (CIPD,2008).
The "wait and see" scenario was also a favourable option. This would make perfect sense seeing as no one yet has a clear picture of how the recession will develop in 2009.
So how will all this effect relationships on the shop floor and in the office? Well, cooperation is the key to a successful relationship for both employers and employees alike. It will be the case that in some organisations that job losses will be inevitable, and the unions and employees will be able to do very little as a result. In some cases, it will just be a case of management and unions working together to alleviate the impact as much as possible, and by providing assistance to those employees who will need to be looking for another job or training.
In fact, if you have been made unemployed during a recession and there is little likelihood that a new job in the same career will be practical (in some cases), then training during the downturn may be a very good option. The reasoning behind this is that when the economy returns to normal the employee will be better placed to get themselves back on to the job market.
Some people may be concerned about the safety of their jobs in 2009, and for very good reason. It is claimed that the indebted young people will be the hardest hit (Iain Macwhirter, 2008). It is claimed that the level of unemployment will have reached 3 million by 2010.
It is the “flexible” labour market which usually receives the initial job losses, such as freelancers and contractors (Iain Macwhirter, 2008). From a company management perspective it is financially sound to fire the expensive contractors first. There is also little complication in doing this legally as there is with permanent employees. However, the sign of a contractor being fired can cause panic amongst the permanent employees in the workplace, as they know that they could easily be next on the list.
Ironically, once the dust has settled and companies find themselves short staffed on the upturn it is contractors who are the first back in to assist. Unlike a redundancy situation based on “last in, first out” it could be said that with contractors and the credit crunch it is a case of “first out, first in”.
The effect of the credit crunch will not only affect the lower level employees, but jobs in banks, and professions i.e. the middle income groups. This will be a real blow to self esteem and confidence to some employees, and it is also something the employers and unions must take into account when wielding the axe in the name of survival. There is no longer a predictable future for anyone, anywhere as a result of the credit crunch. This is emphasised by:
“Certainly, the first to be hit will be those at the bottom. But they are likely to be joined by large numbers of articulate, middle-class individuals shaken out of the financial, media and peripheral service occupations - from aroma therapy to management consultancy - which have grown up during the long boom.” (Iain Macwhirter, 2008)
We have seen that the credit crunch affects everyone from the top down, including governments, large and small organisations and individuals. We have seen the ways in which people can be affected. Governments lose credibility, organisations lose valuable staff, and individuals lose their self esteem and confidence.
In analysing the credit crunch we see that although it seems the US problems was the initial spark, it was basically a financial accident waiting to happen, and on a. global scale. However, we have to ask ourselves if the rest of the world can be protected from the mistakes made in the US. Should we all insulate ourselves from this happening on such a large scale again?
In looking at possible solutions, we have many suggestions and some of these are risky, but possibly may work. In the UK only time will tell if Gordon Brown’s ideas of ploughing additional funds into the banking system and reducing VAT with lower interest rates will stimulate the economy enough to allow progress through what is sure to be a very difficult period in 2009 and beyond.
The surprising thing and perhaps most worrying is how quickly the economy turned from 2007 from what was a relatively economically sound period to its current state. For future generations, much will be learned and there are sure to be large scale changes, especially in the banking sector. More regulation is sure to follow and huge bonuses for some could be a thing of the past. Such is the effect of the current crisis.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Survey Report, 2008 World Economic Update, April 25 2008 available from: http://www.cfr.org/publication/16111/world_economic_update_rush_transcript_federal_news_service.html
Andrew Watt, The economic and financial crisis: dealing with the repercussions and the causes./ Presentation to ETUI Seminar ‘The economic and financial crisis: Elements to construct a new paradigm’ 8 December 2008
Bernanke, Ben S., and Cara S. Lown (1991), “The Credit Crunch,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, no. 2: 205-47.
Iain Macwhirter, New Statesman Economy, How safe is your job? Published 27 November 2008 available from: http://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2008/11/middle-class-labour-jobs
Jonathon Sibun, UK Recession is here to stay experts warn, Daily Telegraph Online, 10/2008 available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/3259483/UK-recession-is-here-to-stay-experts-warn.html
Becky Howard, The credit crunch hits relationships and marriages, Times Online, December 6, 2008 available from: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/body_and_soul/article5292365.ece
David Charter, From Times Online October 21, 2008, Sarkozy calls for halt to foreign ownership available from: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article4984670.ece
Economics Help, Who is to Blame for Credit Crunch? 2008, accessed on 03/01/2009 available from: http://www.economicshelp.org/2008/08/who-is-to-blame-for-credit-crunch.html
Alex Barker, Asleep at the Wheel? ,December 15th, 2008 by Alex Barker accessed on 03/01/2009 available from: http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/category/credit-crunch/
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