The Fabian Society’s New Forms of Work report offers an excellent overview of the debate on the future of work. They emphasise continuity as much as change. Despite the growth of independent and more flexible forms of work, full-time jobs with conventional employers remain the norm and the objective for the great majority. As David Coats puts it, despite the rise and fall of industries over recent decades, “the structure of the labour market has scarcely changed over the last 30 years.”
As in past recessions, so in the present one the biggest problem with work is that there isn’t enough of it. With unemployment at 2.5 million, and youth unemployment constituting more than 20 per cent of under 24 year olds, the imperative is to generate more jobs. For under 24s, we also need far more good quality apprenticeships leading to jobs. The reinvention of apprenticeships is an especially urgent national priority and needs to be at the heart of Labour’s future policy.
Making work pay is also vital. The minimum wage has made a significant difference to pay levels at the bottom, but the debate about a “living wage” is gathering pace and Labour needs to take account of this too. Decent wages are the first and most fundamental form of ‘flexicurity’, as described by Wilson Wong.
Other big issues raised here include the right balance between flexibility and security, the appropriate treatment of the self-employed as against the employed, and the definition of ‘freelancers’. The role of trade unions is also central. In all these areas, these essays contribute new thinking and will help inform Labour’s response to the present economic crisis.