Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Hard Work: Life In Low Pay Britain” as Want to Read:
Hard Work: Life In Low Pay Britain
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Hard Work: Life In Low Pay Britain

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  296 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Could you live on the minimum wage? Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee took up the challenge, living in one of the worst council estates in Britain and taking whatever was on offer at the job centre. What she discovered shocked even her. In telesales and cake factories, as a hospital porter or a dinner-lady, she worked at breakneck pace for cut-rate wages, alongside working ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 14th 2003 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Hard Work, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Hard Work

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  296 ratings  ·  23 reviews

More filters
Sort order
I'd read Nickled and Dimed but that's very American, so I was really pleased when I realised that there was something similar based in the UK. This was just as shocking as Barbra Ehrenreich's book - but no, actually it is more shocking. And the reason is that in the USA we know there is a very very barely there social welfare safety net to catch people when they fall out of the bottom of society. But in the UK, that social welfare paradise where the shamelessly unemployed all watch their Sky cha ...more
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a very readable account of some of the problems people can face on benefits in the UK, in a system that makes it very hard for people to succeed.

I admire the author for writing this book as few people with such a comfortable life as she has would seriously attempt to live in the world she describes. That she has such a comfortable life has benefits for the narrative as she is able to draw parallels and comparisons with her own existence against many people's more difficult lives and sho
Tito Quiling, Jr.
Jun 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: donated
This was a fast read, and considering the bulk of the chapters focusing on different low-paying jobs that the author went into and got a glimpse, I found the experiences quite helpful especially if one tries to make it in such an expensive city. While it wasn't explicitly stated, the author embarked on a social and economic experiment treading on housing loans and social security welfare, even ways for some non-natives to look and get jobs. I liked how the narrative steps right away into the pre ...more
Sarah u
Not for a long time has a book held my attention like this one has these past 48 hours. I would like to say I enjoyed it, but then I'm not sure that is the right word. A self-confessed well-off Guardian journalist lives on the minimum wage in a council flat to see what things are really like on the other side of the fence.

Perhaps this book should be read by the ministers who set the minimum wage or work in the department for work and pensions. Even better, perhaps they should spend a couple of m
Matthew Hurst
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Though written in the early part of the Labour years the book still resonates and the issues raise are still there. Many of the paltry safety nets have been taken away and the scandals the book raises are even more acute today, though thankfully the Minimum wage has seen an increase.
Oct 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
In 'Hard Work', Polly Toynbee a middle-class Guardian journalist takes up the challenge thrown to her to live life as one of the many 'working poor'. She adopts the lifestyle of an ordinary, middle-aged woman from a run-down council estate in East London.

Polly doesnt find it difficult to get employment, but the jobs are thankless, jobs that few people will lower themselves to do and the wages are so low that she is in debt from day one. Even getting to interviews, getting to work, supplying hers
Mark Hebden
Feb 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
This is a devastating portrayal of the way those who earn minimum wage are leading a life of enforced poverty. The Guardian journalist, Polly Toynbee lives for a month on minimum wage/benefits and makes some startling discoveries.

The minimum wage is a lot lower than the European “living wage” (although the book is now several years old, this is still true). There is no value or self worth given to staff working through agencies or contractors, whether they are based in the private or public sect
Clare Macdonald
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Though this was written in 2002, it could easily apply today. Polly Toynbee took a variety of low paid jobs (cake factory, cleaner, dinner lady, care home, call centre) and tried to live on below the minimum wage. The cost of actually getting a job to these lowest paid workers is astronomical - asked to make return journeys countless times for application and interviews - and puts them in debt before they even start. All this at the same time that the highest paid in our rich society, get even r ...more
Brett Hetherington
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Toynbee spent time in various jobs where, amongst many other shocking discoveries, she found that all across their National Health Service, private agencies were originally used to solve short term staffing but quickly became dependent on them.

The agencies were quick to realise this relationship of dependency so colluded to keep pushing up their fees without paying staff any more than sub-living wage rates. As a result, public service ‘managers’ were completely unable to manage their teams beca
Oct 27, 2008 added it
Shelves: 2008
Toynbee is just a bit too annoying in this book and comes across as very sheltered and naive. Nickel and Dimed was better. Still, some interesting parts, like the agency work in the NHS, and she does a good job of exposing the "benefit trap" that stops people moving off benefit into work.
Jan 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting book and shows just how much things haven't changed (at least for the better) in 10+ years since the book was written. Gives a brief oversight and highlights some of the problems faced by people in low pay jobs but by its very nature doesn't go into any great detail. Great for raising awareness.
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book, despite being on a reading list! Toynbee writes articulately and interestingly, formulating arguments which are easy to understand and hard-hitting. You simply cannot read this book without your worldview changing somewhat, especially if you're from her target audience Guardian readers!
Alan Fricker
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
A depressing read but worth it. Makes you look again at the question of the working poor. Slightly irritated by the way the author kind of enters into the spirit of the exercise and then completely ignores things when a bit too inconvenient. All be it that she is straightforward and admits it.
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's now 10 years old so is a little outdated, but apart from that a very good look at surviviving on so little money and what it's like. Shocked she didn't know Crazy Georges though,maybe that's because we're totally different.
Carol Ferro
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Insightful and thoroughly researched, even a decade on this book has lessons for those who believe in meritocracy.
The living wage discussion is still pertinent, as is the lack of social mobility and workers rights.
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
A provocative narrative on the reality of living on minimum wage (circa 2003 at least). Toynbee's various jobs in the book added weight to the argument that for most people in bottom rate jobs, simply staying on the ladder is a struggle in itself- climbing up it is fantasy. Living Wage, anyone?
Nov 22, 2007 added it
this is the British equivalent of Barbara Ehreneich's Nickel and Dimed. it is interesting to read the part about working in a hospital, which outsources jobs so that they are non-union and low pay (so much for socialized medicine)
Bianca Moreira
Aug 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Depressing but very informative read.
Feb 04, 2011 rated it liked it
A lefty perspective but a well researched book that does a good job of making you question your perspective about the value of work, money and acquiring stuff.
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for anyone born in or who lived through the 19 90s a era when third world conditions became normalised in the United Kingdom
John Leach
Dec 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Shocking look into life for the low-paid. Polly Toynbee is a bit smug though.
Emily Moran
Jul 23, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, it was interesting to see what is was like to work certain jobs like working in a care home or dinner lady and more. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in society or the UK or what different low paid jobs are like :).
rated it really liked it
Sep 03, 2008
Dave Mills
rated it liked it
Jan 15, 2011
rated it really liked it
Feb 09, 2016
rated it liked it
Dec 10, 2012
rated it really liked it
May 22, 2013
Mrs Esinam
rated it really liked it
Jan 04, 2018
Bobbie Cowen
rated it really liked it
Jan 09, 2018
Richard Hare
rated it it was amazing
May 13, 2011
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism
  • Letters to my Grandchildren: Lessons for the Future
  • Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
  • Wage Labour and Capital
  • The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners
  • Estates: An Intimate History
  • False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
  • Shooting History
  • Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics
  • Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place
  • Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story About Women and Economics
  • The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City Life
  • Bring On The Apocalypse
  • Anatomy Of A Rose: Exploring The Secret Life Of Flowers
  • Economics for Dummies
  • The Equality Illusion: The Truth About Women And Men Today
  • Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth
  • Dial M for Murdoch
See similar books…
Polly Toynbee (born Mary Louisa Toynbee, 27 December 1946) is a British journalist and writer, and has been a columnist for The Guardian newspaper since 1998. She is a social democrat and broadly supports the Labour Party, while urging it in many areas to be more left-wing, though during the 2010 general election she urged a tactical vote in support of the Liberal Democrats in an attempt to bring ...more
“The strain of engaging emotionally with all that misery was exhausting. The kindness and hard work of the care assistants here was worth far more than they were paid. But this is unseen, unmentionable labour, hidden away in these human oubliettes we would rather not think about [...]. It is because caring is women's work. That attitude is embedded still in the values society apportions to the jobs people do. It is why there will never be equal pay until women's work is regarded with equal respect [...]. Women's work is still treated as if it should be given almost free, a natural function.” 0 likes
More quotes…