Martin Charlesworth
Sorry we missed you...

WARNING: Contains spoilers.

It is not often that I come out of the cinema in tears, but it happened last week. And I am not ashamed of those tears...

Significantly, the last time it happened was when I saw I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach.

His latest film, Sorry We Missed You, is similarly gut-wrenching. It focuses on the gig economy and the alarming rise of in-work poverty caused, largely, by zero-hours contracts at the lower end of the income range.

In the film, a typical working class family in the north-east faces a tough uphill struggle to make ends meet and build economic security. Ricky was a builder but lost his job in the financial crash of 2008 and has never been able to get a decent long-term job in the building trade since then. His wife, Abby, is an agency care-worker. Significantly, they were just about to buy a house when their bank, Northern Rock, went bust in 2007. They lost their mortgage offer. Since then they have been renting. Their two children, Seb and Liza Jane, have their own issues and get caught up in an ever more difficult family situation.

The key event is Ricky’s decision to take up work as a self-employed courier for a parcel delivery company. “You don’t get hired here,” says Maloney, the hard-nosed delivery-depot boss, “You come on board. We call it on-boarding. You don’t work for us – you work with us.”

Led on by these fateful words, Ricky takes up the offer in the hope of building a stronger financial future for his family. However, in that moment he has unwittingly given up all his worker’s rights and entered into the slippery world of 'zero-hour' contracts. Yes, he can make money. However, there is a price to pay: no sick leave, punishingly long hours to work, no paid holidays, and the ever-present possibility of fines if he fails to meet his delivery targets.

The story unfolds in painful detail as the family gradually unravels under the extreme pressure of two parents working very long hours under exacting conditions. Abby has to sell her car so that Ricky can buy his delivery van. Her agency puts her under increasing pressure as she travels by bus to make her calls across the city. Then the family enters into melt down as Seb gets into trouble with the police while Ricky fails to meet his targets and ends up in A&E after being robbed while out on deliveries.

The film is open-ended. There is no conclusive finish. It looks like Ricky is going to be sacked. Debts are mounting. Family tension has escalated...

Ken Loach has successfully and accurately portrayed the dangers and injustices of the gig economy. He has also shown how it has developed since the financial crash.

This film must be seen.

At Jubilee+ one of our focuses is on the rising problem of in-work poverty. At my own local foodbank we have seen a significant rise of referrals relating to in-work poverty. This is a familiar story around the country. The gig economy needs to be challenged and reformed.