Shock! Gig Economy Is Not The Only Show In Town


The future workforce of Britain – where the jobs of the future are  going to be and what they are like – has been spotlighted by new research. And the findings will surprise you.

The Changing World of Work, by NIESR’s Jonny Runge (edited by Becky Wright), will be premiered at the Unions21 conference tomorrow.  In a landscape over-populated by talk of robotics, artificial intelligence and the use of technology, one universal truth is that certain industries will rise, and others will begin or continue their descent in the labour market.

This gives three inescapable questions:

  • Where will workers of the near future be?
  • How will they be represented at work?
  • What changes will we need to make in light of the future of work?

For trade unions, the questions are all the more pressing – existential really, given the low levels of union membership amongst the young and also amongst certain sectors pf the economy – retail, hospitality, and social care – especially when the predominant form of employment is precarious.

There are challenges to an “establishment” view that unions are technophobes and laggards when it comes to connecting with the so-called “Young Core Workers”. There is excellent work being done by the TUC and the Good Innovations outfit.  But a key point of the new research is that crucial as it is, we should not put all our eggs in the one Gig economy basket.

This is interesting and innovative territory, and it seems to me to be well-founded.  Runge and Wright have identified and tried to extrapolate  five key  influences on the labour market – demography (growing and ageing population will lead to increase demand/consumption in particular sectors), technology (automation of certain human-only occupations will take place,  but  the extent is arguable), productivity (and what is the post-crash stagnation  become entrenched in the short  to medium term), globalisation (certainly a factor,  but its impact now obscured by resurgent nationalism and protectionism), and changing contractual arrangements of certain services (from, yes,  worker-status contracts (as opposed to employee status), demands  for  a better work-life balance, and  the rise of the “collaborative economy”).

Clearly there is a degree of uncertainty about some of these influences, but using data from the estimable UKCES, Runge and Wright have identified three industries with expected high employment growth – the retail trade (surprised?) hospitality and management services.

Collectively, these three sectors will see employment growth by an estimated 900,000 jobs in the period to 2024, accounting for half of all the new jobs in the UK economy is this period.  There is a noticeable decline in self-employment, a growth in those in workers in these sectors with at least a first degree, and  no dramatic change in the balance between part-time and full-time working, or between percentages of men and women employed.

Three “ones to watch” are also suggested – Construction, Social Work and Information Technology, who between them are projected to add over 600,000 jobs between now and 2024.

The report concludes with a brief over view of UKCES employment projections for over 70 industries, with a preliminary view on the likely impact of Brexit.

From the perspective or worker representation and employee voice, this analysis – with its detailed demographic, hours-worked and occupational breakdown – is very helpful indeed.  The snapshots of the level of  union membership and collective bargaining  give grounds for cautions optimism  that there is a platform for trade union growth in each sector.

Runge and Wright give us the answer to the first of our three questions, and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics and challenges of union organising in these sectors.

Whether it is the overall constructive engagement with workforces that is part of the Taylor review, or practical questions of the extent to which unions focus on particular sectors, geographies and roles, the Changing World of Work is an important contribution.

The Changing World of Work can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure:  I am a board member of Unions21, on whose website this piece also appears

Friend or Foe? Truth or Dare? Social Care Tax Row Takes New Twist.

This Daily Express article poses many more questions than answers (Credit: Author)

Recently, I called for a grown-up discussion on tax as a remedy to the funding crisis in health and social care. Seems, fortunately, I wasn’t the only one, for now Surrey County Council has announced plans for a referendum of its residents on this very issue.

There are no half measures here – agreement is being sought for a 15% increase in Council Tax.

This is neither a surprise nor rocket science. Social care costs. Central government grants have been cost. Demand is rising. It seems to me entirely right and proper that the question is posed. Indeed, for those who see devolution as a way to revitalise our politics and re-connect with voters, it is surely something of an exemplar.

So what’s not to like? Quite a lot it seems.

The Daily Express went large on this. A big story devoted to excoriating the council, the decision and the concept of local democracy.  The ‘paper called in the Tax Payer’s Alliance in support.  The language used was “fruity”, you might say. “Bananas “might be more accurate – the TPA told councillors to “hang their heads in shame” at ripping off poor old Mr and Mrs Resident yet again.  Council Tax is a “huge burden” – well, try personally funding social care for your adult and aged relatives.  That seems quite burdensome to me.

UKIP (who hold 2 seats on the 78 member Surrey County Council) weighed in to say the referendum itself would cost a £1m that could be better spent – and why does government not take more from the International Aid budget.

With apparently no trace of irony, the Express ran a telephone poll on whether readers would pay more in council tax to fund social care.  After all, why back a real vote when a proxy poll would do just well.

We get the picture – this should be for central government, and they too should fund this at nil extra cost to the taxpayer.  The Express offed an editorial comment on this matter too – something along the lines of a half-hearted hand-wringing “something must be done”.

Whilst the ‘paper has sadly and predictably added a millimetre to its reputation and nothing to the debate, there are other concerns and objections to the Council’s plans.

These perhaps can be best summarised as acting in bad faith. No-one will vote for a 15% Council Tax hike and this is therefore grandiose buck-passing. The Councillors can then say “look, you didn’t want to pay for this care and that’s why haven’t prioritised it. There you are Government, you must do something.”

But I think we need to be indebted here to the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, who researched the  dynamics of this carefully for her detailed piece published today.

It turns out that all 11 MPs in this country are Conservative – as are 57 of the 78 county councillors.  Council leader David Hodge says (a) cuts and demand means he has no option, and (b)he has the support of most of his group. Local Government finance experts CIPFA say he has the numbers  spot on, but according to Toynbee, the DCLG Permanent Secretary offers what might be topically termed “alternative facts.”

David Hodge has grabbed our attention and deservedly so.  We know that social care needs to be better connected to health care. We know that government should take a lead in both encouraging integration and ensuring adequate funds are available.  But residents cannot wait for someone to blink first or be reshuffled/voted out of office.

This is more than “truth or dare.”  It is closer to life or death.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post

NHS and Social Care: A Political Constipation That Fails Us All

NHS hospitals have big and fundamental challenges, it is true.  It’s partly a regular-as-clockwork winter peak.  Partly desperate and wrong-headed underfunding. Partly a consequence of pressure on GP services, despite more money recently being promised.

But a huge and often overlooked factor is the impact of dreadful social care provision. This is what led the Red Cross to grab headlines and court controversy with claims of a humanitarian crisis.

The Red Cross have for many many years assisted hospitals look after patients when they are discharged and return home. It has always been a constructive and valuable partnership.  These trained volunteers are part of what used to be known by some as the “big society.”

There are some areas of our life where there is an argument for state provision, but actually, collectively, we are happier pitching in and doing it for ourselves.  The Red Cross is one such example, The RNLI is another. The National Trust is a third (though, of course, you’d have to pay to be a member).

So the Red Cross is not a replacement for the NHS, and nor is it an emergency relief.  And their concerns need to be seen in that context.  In the area of patient discharge and domestic return/resettlement, the Red Cross has hit the red button.

Patients medically ready for discharge but not being “signed out” for hours – thus blocking much needed beds. Care plans not being drawn up or properly supported so that when patients return home they are vulnerable.  Insufficient home support exacerbates that vulnerability. The chance of people in this position requiring re-hospitalisation is clearly and greatly increased as a result.

So we have a vicious circle of poor social care leading to stretched-to-breaking point medical care.

And of course this is not the only source of tension.  In amongst funding and seasonal spikes in ill-health, it is worth looking at the use of hospital services: 2m non-urgent visits to A & E in 2014.  So you can see why Jeremy Hunt is trying to filter these out of the wait-time statistics.  Partly it is because they are the only places open for health care on a 24 hour basis and, also unlike your GP, you don’t need to make an appointment.  The NHS “111” helpline seems to have a low thresh-hold for directing callers to hospital (and you can understand why). On-site, out of hours services, such as Walk-in Centres or Minor Injuries Units undoubtedly help (with  7m attendances a year, according to official  figures), but coverage is uneven and reducing.

As a society we have conspired to heap intense pressure on hospital services. Is it really a surprise when they threaten to fall over?

And it is an old trick – set something up to fail and then say it can’t work, and that we need an alternative.  And is this context we know what that private-sector, run-for-profit, alternative would be.  So we need to take great care in the language we use, lest we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, there is still a huge national consensus in favour of care provided free at the point of delivery and the principle of the NHS itself.  Why then the gap between what we say we want and what we are prepared to pay for?

Could it be that we simply do not want to acknowledge the fundamental economic importance of social care, or that it is an essential component of a functional society, not an optional add-on?  Politicians do not want to engage  with the unavoidable need  to  raise taxation and possibly we do not want  to embrace the inevitability  of  us and our families needing  care, especially as  we/they become older and more frail.

And that is why, serious as it is, it is not the NHS that is most exposed in this real and difficult set of circumstances.  It is society itself.  You can’t have a mantra of sharing when you’re in denial about what makes society work. You can’t provide leadership without having a grown up discussion about tax and social care. That’s the mother of all crises.