Thriving, striving, or just about surviving?

Seven portraits of economic security and modern work in the UK

24 Jan 2018

As we usher in a new year, our optimism for 2018 is tempered by concern for workers in the UK. Employment may have reached a record high last year, but workers aren’t necessarily more secure. If anything, wider economic trends would suggest that workers are worse off as real wages fall and in-work poverty rises. Growth forecasts have been repeatedly revised down, and productivity remains low. Little progress has been made to resolve a lack of social mobility or persistent income inequality. The pay of black and minority ethnic (BME) workers and women still lags behind that of their white, male counterparts, and those who are unemployed are routinely denied support as the welfare state increasingly operates on the basis of targeting and conditionality.

Moreover, of the jobs that have been created, many are atypical in nature, meaning that workers have been shifting from full-time, permanent employment to zero-hour or temporary contracts, and are increasingly taking up self-employment or gig work.

The review sought to achieve more than the reform of labour law for atypical workers. Its ultimate conclusion – that, as a society, we should strive for all work to be ‘good work’ – is relevant to workers across the labour market, no matter what the job. Good work is described as work that is fair and decent, with realistic scope for development and fulfilment. It is, in essence, capturing the two most important considerations for many people when pursuing a job – the offer of economic security as well as a rewarding experience. This RSA report expands on these dimensions of good work, theoretically as well as practically.

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