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December 1, 2022

IFOW Newsletter December 2022 | The view from IFOW

Dear friends of IFOW,

As our last newsletter was sent out we were waiting for the Autumn Statement, hoping that Jeremy Hunt would be listening to the call for sustained investment in ‘good work’. Our new Prime Minister had been making promising noises around this idea, affirming that “our future prosperity depends on people, capital and ideas”. Our belief is that the best way to deliver on these three areas would have been to use the Autumn Statement to put good work at the heart of the UK’s economic rebuild.

We’d hoped to celebrate some Christmas cheer in our last newsletter of the year, but — as I wrote in a blog post last week -- narrowly avoiding Austerity 2.0 hasn’t done it for us. Read on for more. 

This makes our work on AI regulation more pressing, especially where the Chancellor acknowledges that “21st-century economies will be defined by new developments in AI, quantum technologies and robotics”. Yesterday we hosted an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Future of Work at Westminster, where speakers Felicity Burch, Florian Ostmann and Rebecca Thomas gathered with members for a rich discussion on how to govern these technologies in ways that promote good work through transition. Key themes included  the importance of collaboration and partnership working; how transparency and explainability underpin good governance; the need to anticipate both negative and positive impacts; and the significance of pilots and sandboxes, alongside other levers, to inform the development of better practice and regulation. 

Promoting good work through transition is also a driving force behind our Future of Work and Wellbeing Conference, generously supported by the Nuffield Foundation, which will be held on Wednesday 25 January 2023. We  hope that you will join us for this full-day conference to explore the latest perspectives on the implications of how automation technologies are transforming work, society and the economy. The roll-out of these technologies has been accelerated by Covid-19, but with uneven impacts, so our conference offers a superb opportunity to dig down into policy, practice and the latest research. 

All best for the festive season, 

Anna and the IFOW team

Deep Dive – What does the Autumn Statement mean for the future of work?

In the blog post from last week mentioned above, Anna Thomas examined how Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement impacts the future of work.

The picture turns out to be a mixed one. Despite the Chancellor’s recognition that investment in people, infrastructure and innovation is essential for sustainable economic growth, commitments were varied. Education and the NHS secured increases in budgets, but FE colleges and vocational education received no uplift and, while R&D budgets were protected, targets for R&D were reduced on current measures.

That said, putting cash to one side, there were announcements on the appointment of Sir Michael Barber to advise on skills and Sir Patrick Vallance to advise on the regulation of emerging technologies, with a view to making the UK ‘the next Silicon Valley.’ Both of these appointments suggest that Hunt understands that more needs to be done to promote responsible technology and good work together.

With Hunt also introducing ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands Combined Authorities, and with the creation of new Mayoral roles in Cornwall, Norfolk and Suffolk, there were encouraging signs of policy levers being pulled to allow local and context-sensitive planning.

The Autumn Statement was delivered to a country facing crises on multiple levels. As Anna concludes, “Our research, so far, suggests that the single best way to tackle these many problems — as well as align competing objectives and pivot the country towards future prosperity and wellbeing — is through investment in future good work and the conditions across the country that promote it.”

Interesting reads

Fairwork – Fairwork AI

Concerns around AI have often focused on the wider impact of society as a whole but, as Fairwork warns, “the risks associated with AI in the workplace range from reductions in job quality and spikes in work intensity to workplace discrimination and  ubiquitous surveillance. For many workers, the introduction of AI systems to their workplaces leads to extremely unfair outcomes”.

To tackle this, Fairwork is developing ‘Fairwork AI’ — a set of ethical principles and associated benchmarks to guide deployment in the workplace that build on the 2019 OECD Recommendations on Artificial Intelligence, in collaboration with the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). 

The first output towards this is the publication of an open-access research article laying out the team’s critique of the existing AI ethics literature in relation to work, which can be found here.

Ada Lovelace Institute – Rethinking data and rebalancing digital power

The Ada Lovelace Institute has a major new report out that aims to set out a vision of a future where digital power is rebalanced in favour of people and society.  The report proposes four multidisciplinary interventions that have the potential to improve the digital ecosystem for people over profit: 

  • Transforming infrastructure into open and interoperable ecosystems.
  • Reclaiming control of data from dominant companies.
  • Rebalancing the centres of power with new (non-commercial) institutions.
  • Ensuring public participation as an essential component of technology policymaking. 

The Institute also has a launch event for the report on 6th December - details below.

Work Foundation - Why Insecure Work is a Barrier to Levelling Up 

In 2021, an estimated 6.2 million UK workers (19.8%) experienced severe insecurity in the labour market. It is likely that this ‘great risk shift’ will continue as employers adopt more flexible labour practices in response to ongoing global economic instability. For many workers, however, this will mean increased financial uncertainty and anxiety about how to make ends meet. Read more in this blog published by Lancaster University.

Digit Research has a new piece entitled “Disability, neurodivergence and remote working: what employers need to know…”. Interviewing 24 employees with disability and/or neurodivergence, five employers and eight stakeholders, the writers have sought to better understand the pros and cons of remote working for those who have too often been left out of research thus far; and come up with four ways in which employers can make work ‘Remote4All’. 

Adopt, Adapt and Improve - Rui Costa and Yuanhang Yu

Worries that jobs will be lost to automation have been heightened since the release of Frey and Osborne’s 2013 study, which warned that nearly half of jobs in the US were at ‘high risk’ of automation. Nearly a decade on, this short briefing note as part of the Economy 2030 Inquiry looks at both the current and longer-term picture of the relationship between technology and jobs and pay. IFOW Postdoc Researcher, Bertha Rohkenhol, and Co-Founder and Chair, Professor Chris Pissarides, are thanked in the document for their support. Stay tuned for our own sub-national automation analysis in 2023.

Algorithmic precarity and metric power: Managing the affective measures and customers in the gig economy - Ngai Keung Chan

For this study, the writer undertook in-depth interviews with 50 gig workers about their efforts to interpret and manage metrics in their everyday work. His analysis reveals that participants’ anxieties about metrics centred primarily on the risks of facing disciplinary outcomes, including loss of work and valued job features. He also found that “information asymmetries and the perceived lack of control also intensified a sense of powerlessness among participants”.

 

Events and updates

Our Future of Work and Wellbeing Conference, generously supported by the Nuffield Foundation, will be held on Wednesday 25 January 2023. This is a full-day event being held at IET in Central London.

Thursday 8th December - Responsible People Analytics 

Hosted by Holistic AI and featuring our Head of Research, Abby Gilbert, this event will discuss the expanding use of people analytics in talent management and emerging global policy responses.

Tuesday 6th December 2022 - Launch event for Ada Lovelace Institute’s report, “Rethinking data and rebalancing power: building a digital ecosystem that works for people and society”.

A virtual event to launch this report from the Ada Lovelace Institute, aiming to catalyse discussion by convening organisations to share their reflections on building a more positive future for data, based on principles set out in their new report. 

Thursday 8th December 2022 - The Experts Strike Back?

The Resolution Foundation and Political Quarterly are hosting this free launch event (virtual and in-person) for Anna Killick’s new book, “Politicians and Economic Experts: the Limits of Technocracy”. In it, Killick asks to what extent politicians and economists have lost faith in one another, and how the relationship between them is as important as ever.

Announced Research Centres/Partnerships

Economics Observatory: new data source, with visualisations, pulling directly from the ONS and other reliable sources.

Thank you for your time and interest. If you enjoyed this newsletter and know someone else that might benefit from it, please do share it with them. Or you can subscribe here If you have any suggestions for, or comments on, our round-up, do drop us a line at team@ifow.org.

Author

Anna Thomas

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