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The financialization of low paid life: migrant workers in London

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  1. The financialization of low paid life: migrant workers in London Dr Kavita Datta Department of Geography, Queen Mary University of London

  2. Aims of presentation • Conceptually this paper seeks to trace the financialization of low paid migrant workers lives in London • It does this through an empirical investigation of the: • Permeation of finance into everyday life • Implications for the world of work • Strategies to access financial services

  3. The study • Migrants and their money aimed to explore low paid migrant workers transnational financial lives • Conducted in two stages, research included 11 different migrant communities with particular concentrations of Brazilian, Bulgarian, Polish, Turkish and Somali migrants • Mixed methods approach yielding 354 questionnaires, 91 in-depth interviews and 3 focus group discussions

  4. Conceptual debates: financialization, migration and work • Financialization defined as "the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of domestic and international economies.” (Epstein 2005: 3) • Dominant position of finance and growth of financial activities in terms of employment, profits, size of financial institutions and markets. • Facilitated by technological innovation, advanced economies are characterized as finance-led economic systems where finance dominates economic (re) production (Aglietta, 2000; Dore, 2000; French et al. 2008).

  5. Changing state, economy and society relations State and economy Independence and growing importance of Central Banks Deregulation of financial sector Proliferation of new financial instruments Liberalizing of international financial capital flows State and society Financialization of everyday - embedding of financial world in peoples’ everyday lives (Martin 2002) Financial citizenship refers to redrawing of contract between the individual and the state with expectations for citizens to become responsible neo-liberal financial subjects (French et al. 2008)

  6. Transnational migration • By 2010, 210 million people living outside of their country of birth (Fix et al. 2010) • Much of this originates and ends in Global South but also growth of migration to the Global North • Both voluntary but also involuntary

  7. Financialization and transnational migration? • SAPS and financial deregulation in Global South, demand for high profit margins • Increased ‘shareholder value’ orientation, both financial and non-financial firms are deriving a significant proportion of their profits from financial activities (Froud and Williams 2007) • Decoupling of financial sphere of the economy from the real sphere - money made out of ownership as opposed to investments in real return, growing importance of fictitious capital (Fine 2008)

  8. Link between wages, employment and working conditions is broken - high investment, high productivity, high employment, high wages replaced by low investment, low productivity, low wages and casualized employment. • Engenders internal, regional and transnational migration • ‘Migrant division of labour’ means that migrants emerge as ultimate flexible labour force (Wills et al. 2010)

  9. Financialisation of low paid life in London • ‘It is impossible to live in London without a bank account, I cannot imagine life here without an account’. (Anastas, Bulgarian man) • ‘It is necessary in life to have a bank account, I learnt quite fast that you cannot do anything in this country without having a bank account, so when I was here for two months I opened a bank account.’ (Abtee, Somali man)

  10. a. Banking and work • Electronic payment of wages and formal sector work • The first thing that you get asked when you find a job is a bank account, therefore it is very important that you have one, otherwise you can’t have the job. It is the first question you get asked do you have a bank [account]. (Abdi, Somali man) • You cannot find work without having a bank account – everybody asks if you have a bank account. (Lilly, Bulgarian woman) • You can find work without a valid passport but not without a bank account (Llander, Brazilian man)

  11. b. Banking and benefits • It is not possible to live without a bank account…even benefit needs an account, so if you cannot work for whatever reason still you need an account, including post office account. Even if you are old and cannot go to the toilet on your own you need an account. (Somali woman, Asha Abdillahi) • How is the government suppose to get hold of you or give you your money if you do not have an account? There will be no communication/link . It is my point of contact, if I don’t have a bank, I would not have a place to collect my money from, or for my money to go to, where would it go without an account? (Somali woman, Oraji)

  12. c. Everyday spending • Well if you don’t have a bank account, well, it makes it all much more difficult, to work, to buy, to travel, you want to buy a ticket on the internet then you need a debit card, so all depends on having an account. (Rosana Brazilian woman) • Similar sentiments were articulated by Ralitsa from Bulgaria who said that ‘it is the 21st century after all. When you want to pay in a shop, nobody pay with cash here, well we still pay in cash in Bulgaria, but I guess this will change soon’.

  13. d. Social standing, legitimacy and citizenship • ‘I like it, it is nice, when you are with your friends, getting your card out and taking your money out. If you don’t have an account you will be a little bit jealous’. (Ahmed Ahmed, Somali man) • Rosana, a Brazilian woman felt that banking inclusion was ‘very important because it makes you feel like a citizen, you can do a lot of things’.

  14. If you don’t have a bank account, you won’t be able to work, because they won’t take you in without one, because if you don’t have a bank account, they will presume that you are here illegally or that your name is on a credit blacklist, that you don’t have credit to be able to have an account, and if you don’t have credit, you can’t have work. It is a little discriminatory, but it has got more weight than having your name in the police books, so it is really the bank that determines whether you are a person of good character or not. It is ridiculous, but that is how it is. (Marcia, Brazilian woman)

  15. BUT..... • Financialization also associated with surveillance and disciplining of migrants – and especially irregular migrants • Brazilian community – banks being patrolled by immigration authorities • Somalis and Turkish respondents spoke about the British state monitoring their post office benefit accounts

  16. Financialization and working on the margins • Work very important although varied across communities from 100% of Poles, 97% of Brazilians, 96% of all Bulgarians to 60% of Turkish and 50% of Somalis • “Do I work? Forgive me but I work like a dog. All I do is work. That is all I do. In this god forsaken country, that is all I have done.” (Ali, Turkish migrant man).

  17. Preponderance of low paid work in both formal (hospitality, cleaning, construction) and informal economies (all but 2 of employed Turkish migrants worked in Turkish ethnic enclave) • Exclusion from financial services such as banking one of the drivers behind cash in hand informal work • Exploitation by employers who assume irregularity

  18. Strategies to access banking services • 1. Use networks • I finally went to Halifax, there was an Asian lady at the Brixton branch. I think she met people like me before and I was told before by people in the community, when I told them the problems I had, to go there as there are understanding people, who will look at you as an individual and check what you have, your situation and then assist you. So I went to them, the lady just asked me why I wanted an account and when I told her [she needed a bank account to receive her benefits], she said okay, just get me proof of your income, utility bill and something with your photo. (Hafsa, Somali woman)

  19. Soraya, a Brazilian woman, opened an account in HSBC branch ‘in Streatham Hill there was this Portuguese staff that would open accounts, and there they accepted the letter and my passport and opened the account for me’. • Awaale, a Somali man, reported that a woman he knew had asked her friend to help her open an account only to find that he had added his name to the account and then subsequently withdrawn all the money that she had deposited in the account.

  20. Migrant financial services industry • As I managed to find my way in London relatively fast, I started work in the second week after my arrival, I managed to organise receiving all the needed documents. A person recommended by my brother helped me, I paid for that, of course. She took me to the interview for NiNO, and for a bank account. (Anastas, Bulgarian migrant) • Ela, a Polish journalist had her bank account opened by a financial advisor who charged her for £50 for this service • ‘I am not sure what the accountant does, I think they work with particular banks and have their own business with those banks’ (Pepa) and ‘I had no choice of bank, it was the bank they worked with’. (Kremena)

  21. Sharing accounts • A Somali man, Jibril Osman, who had a few friends who shared accounts, argued that they had to do so ‘we are mostly immigrants, asylum seekers and so on, we do not have all the papers needed’. • Soraye, a Brazilian woman, reported that she had ‘lent’ her account to three people ‘because they don’t have the papers, their visa have expired and they can’t open a bank account.’

  22. Joel, an irregular migrant from Brazil, was unable to open a bank account as his passport had been retained by immigration authorities. He started using one of his flatmate Arturo’s account in which his wages from three different jobs were deposited. One morning when Joel returned from his nightshift, he found that Arturo had left the flat without having given notice to anyone. He took £1700 of Joel’s savings with him. Two weeks after this incident, Joel was evicted as he could not afford to pay his rent of £50 a week. He also had to inform his employers to stop using Arturo’s account as well as find another ‘friend’ whose bank account he could use.

  23. Purchasing accounts • Celina, a Brazilian woman who had entered the UK on a tourist visa, bought a fake NiNO from a person who advertised his services in Leros. Then a few weeks later: • we met outside Holborn station for him to go to the bank with me, and I realised, from seeing the bank manager, that he was well aware of what was going on, even without being able to speak much English I could understand. I remember he asked me, when I showed him the NI I had bought, he asked whether it was mine, and I said ‘yes’, without knowing what I was supposed to say, but then he checked this info on his computer and I could see from his face that he could tell it was not mine, as if he was saying ‘well, it is not yours, were you not aware of that?’, so the paper I had on me had my name on it, but the number must belong to somebody else. But he opened the bank account all the same, I paid about £100 to the Brazilian guy who was the middleman, that is what he does for a living, and through him I opened the account, and I thought it great because I had a full current account [not basic].

  24. Marcia, a Brazilian woman, reported ‘Today [the cost of opening an account], it is around £200, £250, £150. It depends on the type of account that you want. They will ask you that, like ‘do you want an account with [ATM] card?’, and cost goes up according to what you want the account to have’. • Some of these accounts were then shut - Soraya, a Brazilian woman, explained this was due to the fact that: ‘all the documents used were false, and the person in the bank who opened the account knows that but then decides to remove the risk’.

  25. Conclusions • Financialization has significant consequences for migrants living and working in London • Exclusion from financial services such as banking can lead to poor labour market outcomes and exploitation • Inclusion is achieved through the pursuit of various strategies which have attached risks