Blog and news
June 11, 2024

Building a future of better work: policy asks for a new government

We know that people’s experience of work, their fears, hopes and resilience to change bear on their voting behaviour. Work is a key to shaping living standards, prospects, and the ability of people to flourish. It’s the silver thread that connects the economic health and wellbeing of families and communities across the country to that of the nation.

It feels natural that when work or our dignity at work is threatened, or when the terms or quality of our work are eroded, this will affect factors that correlate with election outcomes, including economic and social insecurity, the ability to cope with uncertainty, and satisfaction with our quality of life and the status quo. But this isn’t yet part of mainstream policy and GE discourse. We explored this back in 2019; now, as the Manifestos are released, that IFOW report feels prescient.

However, in the middle of a major structural, and economic transformation it is technology that is the main driver of these changes to work and the ways that firms are organising it. It is therefore no surprise that periods of rapid technological change are associated with higher levels of social and economic insecurity, involving higher levels of uncertainty, the risk of social fragmentation, halting adjustment and new forms of polarisation. We are seeing some people and places emerge as winners - or ‘insiders’ -while others are being pushed to become ‘outsiders’. Often people, groups or places who have already lost out in past transitions are on the front line of new ones. They are likely to feel and fear change even more sharply now – its risks and the plethora of missed opportunities – unless they are reassured that they will be supported through this immense technological transition, and that their goals and aspirations are aligned with the new government’s.

Coinciding with the election, and this national focus on which direction we are going in, we are launching 3 new reports and an interactive ‘Disruption Index’. Together, they shed new light on areas which are key to shaping good transitions and better, fairer outcomes, including the creation of good jobs. They highlight ‘regional readiness’ for transition, and point to how to build well-functioning innovation ecosystems. They reveal the impacts of technology on job quality, and surface the changing skills landscape – both of which are becoming so pronounced that they signify the almost wholesale transformation of many everyday jobs, without even a murmur of ‘job displacement’. Addressing these impacts has cross-party appeal and clear policy implications. Strategies to deal with them should feature prominently in all of the Manifestos – but also live on beyond them, worked up into policies and legislation and implemented following the election of the new government. So far, they have not attracted enough attention  - but there is still a way to go before July 5th.

In their own way, each workstream of our Pissarides Review – funded by the Nuffield Foundation - shows why and how a mission-oriented, socio-technical approach is required to shape responsible innovation and governance of AI and other automation technologies, which drives the change we experience every day. Achieving this will also require careful attention and the monitoring of variable and often hidden social, economic and wellbeing impacts, design choices and policy mixes. Each report from the Review broadly tests and supports the IFOW hypothesis that a sustained focus on creating and protecting ‘Good Work’ serves to draw the attention of policymakers to some of the most important dimensions of this transition: the goals and roles, how to mitigate risks and spread the potential opportunities of the new technological revolution.

So, we are seeing that Good Work is a forerunner, mediator and consequence of ‘good’ transitions, and is therefore likely to break and convert cycles of stagnation, poor health and flailing social cohesion. In short, our research - and that we have done with our partners - shows that a focus on Good Work builds the capabilities of people, firms and regions and helps them all – at individual, corporate and communal levels – to be more resilient and flourish.

Importantly, a focus on building a future of good work ties together individual protections with a reorientation towards human over technological capabilities, a confident, innovative and responsible smaller British business culture, and regional innovation systems that do much more than meet pressing local challenges.  This integrated approach recognises that isolated measures or tweaks to existing policies are unlikely to cut through. Towards this, we have written to all of the leaders of the main parties and distilled our manifesto asks, covering mission-driven strategy, unleashing potential and new institutions. These policy buckets are aligned to support and drive each other, and are supported by the latest research. Four of the six asks do not entail additional spending, and the remaining two could be implemented by re-allocation and refinement of existing funding pots, combined with clear objectives, targets and rigorous evaluation, including review by the NAO and OBR. They might, however, be jeopardised by reducing taxes and cutting welfare spending.

  1. Embedding Good Work as a cross-cutting policy objective, served by a new Growth and Future of Work Unit that guides the remit and targets of the British Business Bank, National Audit Office and Office for Budget Responsibility, and mandates impact assessments on Good Work for new legislation passing through Parliament.
  2. Devolve power and funding to Combined Authorities to empower them to develop and implement 10-year strategies around growth and the future of work. It is vital that proper regional innovation ecosystems are created to maximise and mitigate risks and spread the benefits of technological transformation beyond the ‘golden triangle’.
  3. To support this, create a network of National Research and Innovation Laboratories across the country, focused on further interrogating and building firm-level, human and regional capabilities and knowledge sharing regionally, nationally and internationally. These institutions can spearhead and pilot socio-technical approaches with local partners in response to local challenges, starting with the identification and unblocking of innovation bottlenecks.
  4. Introduce a Responsible Innovation and AI Act to create a world-leading, principles-based framework for regulation, with dedicated sections on LLMs and high-risk areas, including work. Responsible innovation and governance must go hand in hand.
  5. Build on the Disruption Index to galvanise the government's responsibility to establish, run and make accessible a new public data infrastructure. This will allow agile, intelligent and collaborative tracking and response to new problems and opportunities. Government should also initiate a new Infrastructure and Jobs Act to ensure other essential infrastructure for supporting transitions is publicly owned and run, and a plan to generate new, good, local jobs is forefronted as part of it.
  6. Ensure a new Employment Act boosts rights for information, consultation and ongoing monitoring of ‘good work’ impacts so that workers, employers and their representatives are empowered to understand the wide-ranging implications of technological transformation and can respond to it, as well as anticipate and challenge any adverse impacts on existing labour, data and equality rights.

With the rapid changes we are seeing as AI and automation technologies transform labour markets and people’s experience of work, it is vital that a new government takes a bold and evidence-driven approach to policy developing new policy mixes, mission-focused to increase and share its benefits of it most widely.

This election may have been sprung upon us as a country, but it falls to each of us now to get beyond the noise of the campaigns and uncover the policy foundations that lie beneath. The next five years will be transformative – technologically, environmentally and economically. It is incumbent on all of us to make work better – for people and places across the country.


Anna Thomas MBE


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