Blog and news
June 9, 2019

Insights from the #UKFutureWork conference

The ‘future of work’ is mostly cut into bite-sized chunks: future skills, predicting automation, measurements for job quality, for example. Mostly, this is right - or at least useful. But if we always take this approach, we risk the repeat of a lazy narrative. Sometimes we should embrace the bigger picture: take stock of where we are, call for fresh perspectives and review our priorities.

That’s why we hosted a boldly timed conference with APPG on Inclusive Growth, supported by Health Foundation, on 21 May: ‘Setting the Vision: The Future of Work in Britain.’ With the UK at a crossroads and the pace of technological change increasing, we aimed to explore the connections between good work and healthy lives, communities and the economy and identify the foundations needed to help shape the best and most sustainable #UKFutureWork.

The Attlee Suite was bursting with people from all parties, three  government departments, business, unions and academia who shared our thirst for fresh thinking and action. Participants, speakers and panelists included IFOW Co-Chair Naomi Climer, Tom Watson MP, Liam Byrne MP, Head of Employment at the CBI Matthew Percival, Chair of Unions 21 Sue Ferns, Chair of the AI Council Tabitha Goldstaub, and many brilliant others. Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh from our Youth Steering Group led a dialogue about youth voice and priorities.

You can see the full programme here.

Public and live polling

Opinium generously provided public polling for the conference. Results show that optimism about future job prospects is falling, although there’s significant variation by industry, region and contract type. The variation doesn’t correlate with the risk of automation, suggesting that information and dialogue is thin on the ground. Notably, less than half of workers say they are being equipped for the future of work by their employers - and those most at risk of automation are receiving the least training.

The Opinium slide deck is set out here.

In conversation with Alston and Deaton

We supplemented this with live polling and video conversations with two stars who’ve made waves in the UK and nationally: UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty Philip Alston and Nobel laureate in economic science Professor Angus Deaton. The headlines are: good work creates good health and future work policy must be grounded in current challenges.

Insights and action

Here are three insights from the conference, structured around the IFOW’s Good Work Charter. We used the Charter as a tool to support (i) dialogue about a values-led approach to shaping a future of good work and (ii) fresh-thinking about how to develop practical pathways to get there through the 4IR. This doubled-up as a consultation about next steps and target audiences. Our insights and action points are:

1. There is appetite to broaden the ‘good work’ debate settled around the Taylor Review and Good Work Plan. This ambition is multi-dimensional and crosses party political divisions. There is widespread agreement that we must look beyond predictions about automation and focus on the underlying conditions necessary for the creation of good work.

This means grounding future work planning in present challenges and extending the remit and terms of the debate: to competition law and local job creation; support for investment in people as well as technology; tackling in-work poverty head on; and taking a more holistic approach to shaping #UKFutureWork with regard to the dynamics between good work and good health at an individual, community and systems level.

This calls for new topics and new tools. Tom Watson MP announced that Labour would be calling for a review of competition law, including past mergers. Impact of proposed mergers on the creation and quality of good local jobs should be a key part of a new public interest test. Mergers should create, not destroy or diminish jobs in the UK. This significant move builds on a recommendation of the Future of Work Commission to review the adequacy and enforcement of competition law principles in digital markets. Tom argues ‘we cannot leave the future of work to market forces alone’ here. There was cross-party interest in this proposal, which extends the good work debate in one swoop.

Broadening the debate demands in-depth public dialogue too. So, we’re delighted to hear that Matt Hancock - who was held up in Cabinet on the 21st May - is to launch a consultation on good work and good health. The consultation will be a joint initiative between the Departments of Health and Social Care, and Work and Pensions. We think this excellent initiative will act as a timely vehicle to pick up and develop the important theme of good work and healthy lives. We’ll be contributing to the consultation - and hope you do too.

Building on insights from the conference, we’re also designing a conditions of good work monitor with partners at the UCL Global Health Institute, the APPG, Opinium and JRF. The monitor is targeted at helping national and local government focus resources and transformation packages to support those that most need help - but it should be useful to local business and social entrepreneurs too. Watch this space!

2. There is an increasingly urgent need for dialogue and co-operation between social partners. This need has been brought to the fore as the UK undergoes the double disruption of Brexit and 4IR. Isolated, top-led policy solutions will not adequately meet present or future challenges. For meaningful co-operation and action, we must question who is making decisions, and we’ll need new relationships, structures and processes to ensure workers are at the table. Private-public-third sector partnerships - stakeholders coming together to co-create solutions - will determine the shape of future work in the UK.

In a small way, our panel discussions helped. In particular, there was a surprisingly wide measure of agreement between the CBI, AI Council and Unions21 that involving workers more in the introduction of technology by business - and within Government’s new advisory bodies - was good for people and business. This sort of dialogue is a start - but it’s not enough.

To help drive this forward, we’re developing a new 6-stage social policy innovation accelerator. This is a model for an inclusive type of design thinking, involving diverse stakeholders as participants, not just subjects. The process is grounded in cross-disciplinary academic evidence synthesis and centred around the worker experience of change. It should facilitate the speedy development of practical policy solutions so that - for example - Tabitha, Matthew and Sue could agree and trial ways to embed worker voice in the AI Council.

3. Employers are keen to engage with the development of practical - but non prescriptive - guidance about introducing technology at work. Our live poll revealed that one focus area should be working with business. So the Charter is likely to be most useful if we use it as a framework to co-create practical guidance and codes for businesses, especially when they are introducing technology at work. This will help businesses think through wider implications and maximise the potential of technology to improve work, wellbeing and productivity together.

To kick this off, we’re delighted to be exploring options for a guidance and a code of conduct with the Institution of Engineering and Technology, in consultation with the APPGs on Inclusive Growth and AI, and our MP task-force.

At the opening of Cog X Festival of AI today, our Trustee Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon launched the public consultation on our Good Work Charter in conversation with Andy Haldane, Chair of the Industrial Strategy Council and Chief Economist of the Bank of England. We’re delighted that Andy will be making a submission to the consultation -  please join in and let us know what you think too.

This blog was first uploaded in June 2019. We have since moved to a new website meaning some of the links may no longer work. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.


Anna Thomas MBE


Sign up to our newsletter

We would love to stay in touch.

Our newsletters and updates let you know what we’ve been up to, what’s in the pipeline, and give you the chance to sign up for our events.

You can unsubscribe at anytime by clicking the link at the bottom of our emails or by emailing Read our full privacy policy including how your information will be stored by clicking the link below.