Everyone loves late-stage capitalism
With seven series and 368 pithy episodes, Peppa Pig has impacted the lives and outlooks of countless children and parents alike. But what can our porcine heroine and her pals tell us about the world of work? Let’s look at five of our favourite characters.
Miss Rabbit and the gig economy
No analysis of work in Peppa Pig would be complete without a focus on the hardest working person in the country (Series 4, Episode 27: The Queen). Over the seven series, Miss Rabbit has had no fewer than 28 different jobs, from supermarket cashier to rescue helicopter pilot.
Besides the obvious safety concerns of having an overworked helicopter pilot, we need to address the question of why Miss Rabbit feels the need to take on so many positions.
The so-called gig economy, in which workers usually operate on a self-employed or contract basis and without employee protections and benefits, has grown enormously over the past five years. An estimated 4.4 million people in England and Wales now work at least once a week for the likes of Uber, Deliveroo and Upwork. Gig workers often work for multiple gig platforms and many do so to supplement insufficient full-time pay from formalised work.
Some might argue that Miss Rabbit isn’t part of the gig economy, rather that she’s simply entrepreneurial with a number of ‘side hustles’. But even this suggests a warped idea about the role work plays in our lives.
Mr Bull and government spending
In his seminal 1936 work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes advocated government intervention to counter economic recession, including but not limited to public works. His suggestion that the Treasury bury bank notes in coal mines and employ people to dig them up has become commonly known as the “dig holes and fill them up” theory. Keynes argued that putting money in people’s pockets by guaranteeing full employment is what keeps the cogs of the economy greased, especially in times of crisis.
Construction worker, Mr Bull, seems to be well-acquainted with Keynesian economics, as demonstrated by his unbridled enthusiasm for “digging up the road”. Unlike an employee of a cash-strapped local council, Mr Bull will not only put shovel to asphalt to mend potholes. He and his colleagues, Messrs Rhino and Labrador, will, with minimal invitation, excavate large chasms in public highways, even going so far as to destroy a local beauty spot to keep the economy going (Series 4, Episode 18: Lost Keys).
Today, as Europe slides closer to recession, expect Mr Bull to ramp up his commitment to Keynesian theory. Just watch your step.
Mummy Pig and the reproductive economy
Long before Covid (though not before swine flu), Mummy Pig began working from home. It’s not clear what she does exactly except that it involves a computer.
What we do know is that her husband, Daddy Pig, is employed as a structural engineer. We must presume therefore that this position requires him to spend many hours in the office or on building sites, leaving Mummy Pig to work on her computer and simultaneously care for Peppa’s brother George, who is too young to join her at playgroup.
Mummy Pig is in good company. A recent report has found that almost half of working age women in the UK perform 45 hours of unpaid care work per week, while twenty five per cent of men undertake 17 hours per week. These 45 hours represent £382bn of care work in the UK per year, value that is vital but absent in national economic calculations.
Generalised incompetence aside, Daddy Pig is portrayed as a doting father. But Mummy Pig isn’t oblivious to the skew in their caring responsibilities. When the identity of the hardest working person in the country is about to be announced, she notes drily, ‘well, it won’t be you, darling’. (Series 4, Episode 27: The Queen).
Mummy Sheep and the welfare state
Although the fate of Susie Sheep’s father is still the subject of internet speculation, he is widely believed to be deceased (looking at you, Alexander Armstrong).
Barring generational wealth or a hefty widow’s pension, Mummy Sheep, an apparently unemployed single parent, must, we presume, be in receipt of some degree of welfare.
In the UK, 22.7 per cent of families with dependent children are headed by a lone parent, and half of all children in lone-parent families live in relative poverty. According to the single parent charity, Gingerbread, ‘benefits are a lifeline for many single parents, whether in work or not. Barriers to entering and progressing in work, high living costs and unpaid child maintenance all add to the financial strain on single parent families, which means state support is often vital.’
Fortunately, Mummy Sheep and Susie appear to be living in comparative comfort (Series 3, Episode 1: Work and Play), suggesting that wherever it is that Peppa Pig is set is not beneath the shadow of Tory austerity.
Madame Gazelle and the pensions crisis
At 79, Madame Gazelle is the oldest formally employed character of the series. She works as the town’s school teacher and has taught not only Peppa and her contemporaries, but all the mummies and daddies of the town before them. While attempts to get her to retire have so far failed (Series 4, Episode 26: Madame Gazelle’s Leaving Party), Madame Gazelle is setting an important example.
With a rapidly aging population, Europe is walking into a potential pensions crisis. According to the OECD, ‘the dependence ratio of older people (i.e. those aged 65+ as a proportion of those aged 20-64) will rise from the current figure of 22 per cent to 46 per cent in 2050’. Reforms to pension systems across Europe, such as those proposed in Madame Gazelle’s native France, may be unpopular. But finding a solution to ensure that younger people do not endure the burden of providing for an aging population will be key. This may include increasing the retirement age.
Not that this is likely to bother Madame Gazelle, who seems content to spend many more years chastising Pedro Pony and singing the Bing Bong Song. How many years depends, of course, on whether she really is a vampire.