Gig economy

Work is killing us. Here are five ways to stop it

Fourteen to sixteen hour shifts, six days a week; low wages; potentially fatal accidents a regular risk… this isn’t a description of working conditions at CLES, but of work during the industrial revolution. Thankfully, since then, capitalism and the world of work has been transformed. Child labour is illegal, employees have gained employment rights and health and safety regulations mean that going to any workplace is significantly less dangerous than it might have otherwise been.

However, just because the number of work-related accidents has fallen over the decades doesn’t mean that modern work is harm-free. There is mounting evidence of the dangerous effects on health of modern work practices. This is most severely demonstrated within the ‘gig economy’, in sectors where workers gain flexibility at the cost of employment benefits (sick pay, parental leave and the like) and work that is, more often than not, offering unstable hours and low-paid.

Broadening out an economy: making it work for all

The recent report from the Industrial Strategy Commission, ‘Laying the Foundations’ [1], outlined the key foundations for a successful long-term industrial strategy, one which can shape our future economy, and the recent Taylor review of modern working practices [2] is potentially laying the foundations for how we might work in our future economy. But will they make it work for all?

A new lens for industrial policy?

In January, we argued what a modern industrial strategy should look like, suggesting again, in May, that an industrial strategy that works for all places, should present a devolved approach to building a more foundational, collaborative and co-operative economy, developing industrious places and people, not just our traditional industrial sectors. So, it is pleasing to see the Commission advocate more of a place based and a whole economy approach. One delivered locally, where social policy is not separate but intrinsic to any industrial strategy. The Commission agrees that trade-offs between short term efficiency and long-term equity should be considered more seriously, arguing we need to invest in infrastructure to create the conditions for growth in all places. The report challenges the current methods of appraising the benefits of public investments, suggesting they disproportionately benefit parts of the UK where the economy is already strong, so we clearly need to adopt a new lens if we are to deliver an economy for all.