Work is more than simply a factor in the process of production, like capital or land. It isn’t just something people do in between leisure, family life and sleep, or just to pay the bills. Good work is part of people’s identities. It enriches our lives, and enables us to be fuller and better citizens. It reminds us that we – as individuals, communities, and a society – build our own future.
That means that questions about the future of work – questions about how work is changing – are political questions as well as economic ones. Changes to work cannot be left for market forces alone to shape, or thought of purely as business decisions. They affect all of us. And the governments we elect have a responsibility to make sure that the work and lives of the citizens they represent are enhanced, rather than diminished, by technological innovation.
The technological revolution is behind some of the most challenging social and economic trends which bear on work in Britain. These trends describe reality now for many people across the UK: falling real wages, increasing inequality and the growth of a vulnerable workforce. These are not the inevitable consequences of technological change, but of the failure of governments to face up to this responsibility.
New technology has vast potential to change the work and lives of all our citizens for the better. A sharper and more consistent focus on good work is the best way to generate and spread the benefits of technological innovation and build a genuinely inclusive economy. Now, more than ever, this is a moral, social and economic imperative.
At present, productivity is falling and the benefits of technological innovation are not fairly shared. We need bold, integrated and consistent policy action to grasp opportunities, buck trends, and avoid pitfalls. We need to shape the industries of the future and create good, fairly-paid work for our citizens. We can be optimistic about the future of work in Britain, but we must act now.
The independent Future of Work Commission was convened by Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, in September 2016. It is co-chaired by Helen Mountfield QC.
This report aims to support policy development. It is independent of the Labour Party and does not represent Labour Party policy. Individual Commissioners are not responsible for specific facts or recommendations.