Friday, 19 November 2010




Ah the self service checkout, the speed, the technology, the anonymity... Magic machines which talk electronically, checking your loyalty with every scan. But where do our loyalties lie?

Irrespective of politics, not one of us revels in the loss of half a million public sector jobs because we are all too aware of their impact on our economy and the need for the private sector to deliver new jobs. How, then, can any of us justify the use of a machine which threatens yet more jobs, as we herd our way through these contactless cashiers at supermarkets across the country?

Taking one in every three pounds spent in UK supermarkets and making £6000 a minute, Tesco opened its first cashier-free supermarket in June this year - an Express store In Kingsley, Northampton, with five self-service tills. Doubtless you have seen the introduction of similar during your weekly shop, for Tesco is not alone in this phenomenon.

Some 750,000 people work on the shop floor of the 50,000 or so supermarkets in the UK, providing an average of 15 jobs per outlet. An Express store, which to all intents and purposes is a corner shop, might employ two or three staff of which at least one would be lost to these machines. Rolling such proportions out across the spectrum, it is therefore not unreasonable to assume that two thirds of supermarket cashier jobs could be lost to self-service checkouts.

Assuming that cashiers earn the minimum wage and work a 40 hour week for an annual income of £11,385.60, £623.22 is paid to the Government in National Insurance and a further £982.12 in Income Tax. Now, add this loss of revenue to an annual payment of £3403.40 in unemployment benefit and the loss of an employer's National Insurance contribution at £791.76 and we have a cost of some £5800 per redundant employee. Multiply that by the half a million jobs lost and the cost to the taxpayer reaches an astronomical £2,900,250,000, whilst the supermarkets are saving themselves more than twice that.

What is more, our calculations do not take into account the likely costs of associated Housing or Council Tax benefits, nor indeed the impact of lost pension contributions on the Welfare costs for this workforce as it retires. Our calculations ignore the administrative costs of processing all these benefits too - probably because we're debtors and there's something else which concerns us...

Contactless transactions are a critical component of the move to eliminate cash: smart cards, prepaid cards - you name it - are designed to eliminate the expense of producing notes and coins. And yet, every major debt counselling agency in the UK will tell you that you are far more likely to stay within budget when you use cash. So why, when only the other day Mervyn King said that half of UK families are struggling to pay their debts, are we queueing up for a service which will cost jobs, taxes, personal solvency and the recovery?

If you share our view that companies which earn up to £6000 a minute should not be exploiting the Welfare State and putting our economy at risk, then join us by wearing a tee shirt to raise awareness of our "jobs for people" campaign and for goodness sake, shop with your feet! 

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