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October 13, 2020

The View from IFOW | June 2020 Monthly Update

The view from IFOW


Welcome to our third monthly Future of Work round-up.  To be the first to receive this update, subscribe here.

Since our last newsletter, we have had an active month – arguing the case for building back better to a future of work which puts people at its heart.

In this issue, you’ll hear about our opinion poll (carried out by our friends at Opinium) on people’s experience of change, their views about tech adoption, and their levels of optimism.

We reconvened the Future of Work Commission to identify new risks and challenges and start developing future-oriented policy solutions. The review led to this report, which is essential reading for policy-makers and anyone thinking seriously about how the UK can build a people-centred recovery.

On top of that, we co-hosted the Economy and Future of Work Stage at the CogX Festival of AI & Emerging Technology – 3 days of intelligent, incisive, and illuminating debate. We’re excited to share new videos of some our highlights below.

What we’ve been doing

As pubs are set to reopen in July, and airlines are offering ‘air bridges’ to the rest of the world, hope is creeping back into the consumer market.

However, as our new poll of 2000 adults across the UK shows, optimism about work is polarised. Optimism follows a clear income gradient as people who earn more, and work on stable contracts, present as most optimistic. The poll found clear links between ability to work from home and optimism about working futures, as reported in The Times.

The poll, conducted with Opinium, suggests that when government and employers offer people support and training, their optimism and sense of security increases. People are also more readily accepting of change when they are included in decision-making, which is important given that 1/3 workers are now seeking new jobs. We think these factors are likely to have profound implications for people’s mental health and well-being, in line with this Health Foundation blog, as well as the ability of workers and firms to adapt to future shocks.

The insights from the Opinium poll helped to illuminate the findings of the reconvened Future of Work Commission, a cross-disciplinary groups of experts, who met virtually to advise on the transformation of work and the lives of working people. They included our chairs, the engineer and technologist Naomi Climer CBE and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor Sir Christopher Pissarides, as well as the epidemiologist Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Chair of the AI Council Tabitha Goldstaub and philosopher Professor Michael Sandel.

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on systemic issues, reframed the conversation about work, and revealed new questions for business, unions, policy-makers and legislators as society wrestles with the challenge of lifting the lockdown, nurturing a recovery and building resilience for the future.

IFOW - A better future for work.jpg

The Commission’s conclusions were published earlier this month in this report written by IFOW.

Recommendations included co-developing a future good work strategy that will encourage people-centred use of technology, local entrepreneurialism, and tackling systemic inequalities at work. This should be at the heart of our economic rebuild. The report calls on ministers to consider ways to protect good work by embedding good work standards as a condition for government support, and enshrining a set of key rights for key workers.

In addition, the Commission suggests the government should announce a second wave of jobs support, with on-the-job training for new workers as a focus. Companies which hire people who need training after the pandemic should get a ‘baby furlough’ wage subsidy scheme to support essential skills development through transition.

Inspired by the politics of care, the report also recommends the creation of a Community Health and Work Corps, underwritten by government but developed and run locally, aimed at supporting the young and new unemployed through transition at the same time as meeting critical community health needs. This idea might fit well with new thinking from government about support for higher levels of devolution, local innovation and pilots.

Read the report: A Better Future for Work: the World after Covid-19.

This month we hosted 3 days of fantastic online debate at the Economy and Future of Work stage with our friends at CogX, the Global Leadership Summit and Festival of AI and Emerging Technology, convening policymakers, legislators, researchers and enthusiasts from across the planet. You can view our sessions for day 1 here, day 2 here and day 3 here.

Darren Jones MP, Chair of the BEIS Committee, shared his ambitions for his new ‘super’ parliamentary inquiry into Post Pandemic Economic Growth and importance of a new job creation and good work, with Helen Mountfield QC, Peter Cheese and Naomi Climer CBE. Everyone spoke of the importance of embedding a partnership model, involving unions and businesses working alongside policy-makers to solve new challenges, as the Future of Work Commission has modelled. And the panel agreed that we should harness socially-responsible AI to improve work and make the productivity gains on which a fairer, net-zero society can be built.

Darren Jones MP, Helen Mountfield QC, Naomi Climer CBE and Peter Cheese of the CIPD discuss the Future of Work Commission.

Speaking on our panel on the future of work and well-being, Future of Work Commissioner Sir Michael Marmot reminded viewers of the risks of long-term unemployment to health. Co-panellists Dr Jennifer Dixon and Tom Watson highlighted a pressing need to respect and reward care and other forms of key work which is often characterised by insecure contracts and low pay – a problem exacerbated by the squeeze on finances felt by local authorities because of the shock of Covid-19, as recently pointed out by the IFS.

Anna Thomas, Tom Watson, Professor Sir Michael Marmot and Dr Jennifer Dixon discuss the future of work and wellbeing.

Automation is the buzzword which frames most thinking and public dialogue about the use of technology at work. At IFOW, we argue that automation is a more expansive phenomenon and so there is a need to reframe it to focus more on its transformation of work than its displacement of it. The acceleration of automation was the focus of a lively debate featuring Dr Daniel Susskind, Professor Jaqueline O’Reilly and Professor Sir Chris Pissarides which explored how the pandemic has introduced new demands, restrictions and incentives leading to a frenzied but erratic expansion of technology adoption.

5 variables shape the extent nature and pace of technology adoption. Source: IFOW's rapid review with the Future of Work Commission | A better future for work: the world after Covid-19
5 variables shape the extent nature and pace of technology adoption. Source: IFOW's rapid review with the Future of Work Commission | A better future for work: the world after Covid-19

In their panel on social capital made digital, The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane told our trustee, Anne Marie Imafidon as reported in The Times, we are witnessing “a level of inactivity in the jobs market we haven’t seen, possibly ever”. As Andy noted, the crisis has highlighted the growth of social capital as physical capital is eroded; and the complete disconnection between what someone is paid and the value of work for society and the economy.

What to look out for

In the next month, stay tuned for a rapid evidence review on the way technology has and could continue to restructure labour markets, looking at skill-biased and routine-biased technological change. Our next ‘Spotlight’ report will build on our Opinium poll and outline some contrasting experiences of remote workers, the ways in which different tasks and types of work are suited to becoming effectively disembodied and what this means for work of the future.  

In April, we published research warning that companies must carefully and seriously examine the equality impacts of artificial intelligence on the treatment of their people. Now, we’re developing a tool (an ‘Equality Impact Assessment - 'EIA') to promote legal compliance, good governance and improve best practice standards. EIAs are aimed at helping employers help assess and address adverse impacts and actively promote equality when AI and automated systems determine access or terms of work, but they can also be used by others, for example engineers or platforms. We think this is one important part of the inequality challenges we face, as discussed in this panel here with experts Lillian Edwards, Andrew Pakes and Ivana Bartoletti.

Ivana Bartoletti, Andrew Pakes, Helen Mountfield QC and Professor Lilian Edwards discuss this and more on their panel.

There’s still time to join the conversation on Equality and AI by completing our 5-minute consultation here. Your responses will feed into the work of our Equality Task Force, chaired by Helen Mountfield QC, and which has brought together our regulators, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and will report in the autumn.

Our favourite external reads this month are: IFS’s Deaton Review paper on Covid-19, discussing inequalities across several domains of life; a Work Foundation-Lancaster paper on spacial inequalities in access to good work; and Unlocking the Power of Location, the government’s very own Geospacial Strategy.  


For more updates, please follow us on Twitter: @_futureofwork or we’d love to hear from you. Simply drop us an email here.


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