Blog and news
July 3, 2023

IFOW Newsletter July 2023 | The view from IFOW

Summer is a time for growth and we’re delighted to have collaborated with a host of future-focused forums and festivals, helping make sure that work is front and centre in a new wave of programmes to build a responsible tech ecosystem. We’ve contributed to the CIPD Festival of Work, London Tech Week, the AI Leadership Summit and the launch of the UK’s flagship Responsible AI programme. Meanwhile, the PM has announced the first global AI Summit in the UK. We look forward to further plans to involve civil society and researchers in this, which will be needed to create innovative solutions and build trust.

Internally, we’re growing too. We’d like to warmly welcome new team members Tamzin Ratcliffe, Head of Development, and Claddagh NicLochlainn, Policy Research Associate. We are also on the lookout for new members of our Board of Trustees. If you are interested in making a meaningful impact on the future of work, do read more about applying for the role here.

IFOW Strategy Document on blue background

Our updated Strategy, just published on our website, sharpens our focus but also accelerates our ambition. Documents like these can feel introspective, but our hope is that this will serve to help us grow, with our partners, as the leading UK hub for research and policy in the future of work space.

Part of this remit is our work as Strategic Research Partner for the APPG on the Future of Work. Our next session is this Wednesday at 5pm and focuses on the urgent issue of rethinking skills and capabilities - more of which is in our deep dive below. We will be welcoming Sir Michael Barber (lead on the government’s skills review), El Iza Mohamedou (Head of Skills, OECD), Professor Mark Stuart (Co-Director of DIGIT) and Professor Jolene Skordis (Director of the UCL Centre for Global Health Economics). Register for an in-person ticket, or webinar access, here. We look forward to seeing you there.

Anna and the IFOW team

Deep Dive: The Capability Approach in the age of automation

The ongoing technological transition is reshaping work and raising questions about recognising, developing, and rewarding skills. However, traditional narratives surrounding automation and skills training fall short in addressing the multiple challenges that the UK faces.As part of our Pissarides Review into the Future of Work and Wellbeing, we have been exploring how an application of Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach could offer a fresh perspective on skills and training  – something that we’ll be exploring in our APPG on the Future of Work session this Wednesday.

Challenging traditional narratives, the Capability Approach provides an organising framework to promote human flourishing centred on people’s agency and fulfilment of their potential. This is particularly appropriate at this critical juncture because automation can either augment or diminish job quality and — with an emphasis on our own autonomy — embracing a Capability Approach can steer us through this transition towards ‘good’ automation.

Applied to work and working lives, it expands our outlook in three key ways:

  1. Job quality as well as quantity: IFOW and others’ research shows that automation has the potential to either improve or diminish job quality. A Capability Approach prioritises job quality and — with increasing evidence that this is associated with multiple positive outcomes but is declining in major areas in the UK — embracing it could be key in our current tight labour market.
  2. Opportunity as well as efficiency: New research carried out as part of the Pissarides Review backs up earlier work by Acemoglu and Brynjolfsson that automation only increases productivity when other factors are in place to support its deployment. A Capability Approach ensures that this wider focus beyond raw productivity is sustained.
  3. High discretion automation as well as agency: The Capability Approach sees workers as active participants in transition rather than passive people subject to technological change. This empowerment leads to innovative job creation and enhanced job quality, supporting a future built on good work.

Supported by a strong evidence base, and broadening our understanding of this period of transition, taking a Capability Approach helps build towards a society where everyone can flourish. We will be publishing an 'explainer' on this very shortly, as well as a new paper, 'reframing automation', both of which set out the foundation for a significant part of our work in the Pissarides Review.

Interesting reads / watches / listens

Neurotechnology - ICO Report

The ICO has published a new report on the challenges posed by neurotechnologies. As the introduction outlines, “neurotechnologies have continued to proliferate in the health and research sector over the past decade and may soon become part of our daily life. Our workplaces, home entertainment and wellbeing services may use neurotechnology to provide more personalised services in the years to come.”

The report goes on to examine, through plausible scenarios, some of the privacy concerns and discrimination and regulatory risks that they pose.

ReWAGE - staffing problems in social care

ReWAGE has just published a new Policy Briefing entitled: Reversing the staffing problems in social care – the case for a new approach. It looks behind the numbers of the recruitment and retention crisis in social care to see how we can build on the actions set out in the government’s recently-published social care plan. It advocates the interrogation of existing data about the adult social care labour market to identify solutions that are affordable for society, that care workers can buy into, and that can be sustained in the long-term.

Amazon’s European chokehold

This research reveals the immense market power of Amazon in Europe and the revenue it derives from it. In most of Europe’s biggest economies, Amazon is the main route for independent businesses to access online shoppers, and their dominance opens the door to potential extractive and exploitative treatment.

Data and society report on 'wellness capitalism'

This primer presents a brief history and critical analysis of employee health and wellness programs in the United States. These programs come in many varieties, from “employee assistance programs” that address conditions such as alcoholism, to “employee wellness programmes” that provide incentives for employees to work toward aspirational forms of “wellness.”

Look out for an IFOW report on related issues coming very soon.

Creativity in the Age of AI: Introduction and Generative AI Privacy

A new video from Stanford HAI on how AI is impacting the arts and, in turn, the arts are impacting AI.

CIPD Good Work Index

Our friends at the CIPD have published their annual Good Work Index and found evidence that UK quality has declined in major areas. Five thousand workers were surveyed and the extrapolated results suggest that, despite most people liking their work and finding it satisfying, as many as six to nine million workers experienced poor-quality work. As we will be highlighting at our APPG on the Future of Work event on skills and capabilities, job quality is hugely important, and signs that it is being hit should be taken seriously.

Why is employee engagement in the UK so chronically low?

Raconteurs look into why the UK may be bumping along the bottom of global employee engagement surveys, and trace answers back to the early 1800s, “when the industrial revolution brought with it new technologies, working methods and more bureaucratic management practices.”

I have a book, nine eggs, a laptop, a bottle, and a nail. How can I stack them in a stable manner?

In which This American Life offers one of the best introductions to the power of Large Language Models, and what they might suggest about human intelligence.

Events / Opportunities

The Turing's Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas (6th July, 7-9:30pm, London)

What do you get if you combine top academics, contentious findings and a comedian compère? Ninety minutes of rapid-fire research from some of the finest minds in the country, challenging ideas around AI, data science and technology.

The Disability Insecurity Gap (12th July, 10-11am, online).

Over six million people are in severely insecure work in the UK. Latest research from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University has found that disabled people are more likely to be trapped in precarious and insecure forms of work than non-disabled people. In this event, researchers who carried out the study will look at the experiences of disabled people in severely insecure work, and the wider implications for the UK labour market and society.

Digitalisation and the future of the welfare state (12th July, 1-2pm)

Digit is hosting an online talk about digitalisation’s likely impact on work, welfare, and the distribution of income, transforming social risks in health, education and the labour market, but also the means by which these risks are addressed.

CogX Festival - How Do We Get The Next 10 Years Right? (Sept 12th-14th)

We are pleased to partner again with CogX, whose cross-disciplinary festival of ideas this September looks at the challenges that we need to get right over the next decade. We helped CogX develop their Future of Work stream, and look forward to the wide-ranging programme that they have on offer this year.

Thank you for your time and interest. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, please subscribe here.

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If you have any ideas, comments or suggestions for future round-ups, please drop us a line at


Anna Thomas


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