Making the UK fairer: How we work
December 20, 2019
Are there practical ways for government to make a difference?
With a new Conservative government in place after the general election, we’ve been reflecting on what we’ve been hearing from the public on priorities for building a fairer future for everyone in the UK. To do this, we commissioned an online pop-up community and a major national survey, the results of which formed the basis of our work for The Future of Government.
A clear message which surfaced from our latest research on how we work is the importance of everyone having access to good jobs and being able to earn a decent living. This aspiration is hardly new - but some of the barriers are. Increasingly, automation and digitisation are transforming many occupations. In fact, our survey found that a third (36%) of workers think that their job will be significantly impacted by automation in the next 10 years. This suggests a major shift in the skills and attributes that people need in order to have fair access to work in the future.
It’s important that new policies and proposals are developed to boost upskilling and provide fair work outcomes. This presents a major challenge to the government and employers - but we’re confident that the solutions exist. Using our five tests for fairness as a framework, we’ve come up with practical ideas to help the government shape a fairer future for the UK.
Our first test is about providing for fundamental needs, prioritising the vulnerable and those with the greatest requirements. Launching a national ‘Upskilling UK’ programme which prioritises industries that are most threatened by automation could close the skills gap between socio-economic groups.
Our second test aims to help people earn a decent living and prepare them for the future world of work. While the responsibility to upskill the workforce of the private sector primarily falls to employers, the government should consider supporting them by ensuring that transitional funding is available to help small businesses cover the costs of training, potentially subsidising costs for employers that would struggle to do so without support.
While an initiative to upskill the nation is a huge undertaking, taking a one-size-fits-all approach will only magnify the inequalities that exist between sections of society. Using our third test for fairness, which involves closing the opportunity gap that exists between places, we suggest that the government should establish a number of high priority ‘Upskilling Zones’ in the regions of the UK which are most prone to being negatively impacted by technological change.
More respondents see risks (40%) than opportunities (21%) arising from automation, with 38% feeling concerned and 26% feeling anxious. In order to make the public feel more comfortable in relation to automation, we need to make them feel that their voice is heard. To do this, it’s essential that we give people control over the services they will need to access - and this is the objective of our fourth test. The government and businesses should invite the emerging govtech sector to produce innovative ideas, developing online and mobile solutions to make courses accessible to everyone, and using AI to tailor the learning programme to suit the individual.
But giving the public a voice goes beyond allowing them to influence their access to services. Our fifth test calls for the government to empower communities to shape the places in which they live. Local leaders should assess the likely impact of automation in their areas and develop local and regional upskilling plans aligned with their industrial strategies.
While it’s important that we act fast to upskill the nation at pace given the speed of change, the government must ensure that each upskilling initiative is developed with every section of society - including those ‘left behind’ places - in mind. If the government can engage and collaborate with businesses and the public, harness the benefits technology offers and give the public a voice to shape their future living, this will fundamentally make the UK a fairer society.