More focus needed on ‘good work’ in tackling the economic impact of COVID-19, says new report from Carnegie UK Trust

October 28, 2020

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With unemployment expected to surge because of the economic impacts of coronavirus, protecting jobs must be a priority. But as coronavirus restrictions continue into the winter, posing hardship and anxiety for many, there also needs to be a strong focus on protecting quality of work, argues a new report released today by the Carnegie UK Trust.

The report features qualitative research undertaken with almost twenty labour market experts[1], including academics, business and trade union representatives and leading think tanks and presents a unique ‘temperature check’ of how key actors in the world of work are feeling about the wide-ranging job quality implications of the pandemic. It analyses the impact of the pandemic on job quality for different groups of workers and sets out a package of proposals to tackle job quality issues now and in the medium term.

The Carnegie UK Trust argues that while unemployment is detrimental for wellbeing, being employed in poor quality work also has serious negative impacts. The report calls on policy makers to learn from the mistakes of the last recession, where a strong jobs recovery nevertheless saw large numbers of people trapped in poor quality, low paid, insecure work and feeling ‘left behind.’ It points to the need to respond to the groundswell in public support for improving terms of employment for key workers, many of whom were on the frontline of responding to coronavirus pandemic and are low paid and undervalued in the current jobs market.

The report puts forward a package of over 30 recommendations, including calling for:

  • A multi-year jobs plan, bringing together all tiers of government, sector bodies and business and worker representatives, in the delivery of a coordinated strategy for effective jobs creation, job search support, training and re-skilling provision.
  • UK Government to publicly reaffirm their commitment to ‘good work’ and place the achievement of good work at the heart of the economic recovery plans.
  • A timetable for delivery of outstanding commitments in the UK Government’s Good Work Plan and new actions to respond directly to the pandemic’s impact on employment.
  • UK Government to work with organisations representing those workers most disadvantaged by the pandemic in order to implement effective, tailored responses to meet their needs. Workers most affected by the pandemic include low paid workers, women, young people, BAME workers, people with disabilities, workers who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19, precarious workers, the self-employed and people with low formal skills. Urgent action is required to prevent this crisis compounding inequalities in access to good work.

The report sets out tailored commentary and recommendations on key aspects of good work, including terms of employment, pay, job design, work-life balance, voice and representation, and health, safety and wellbeing[2]. It includes recommendations on the minimum wage; the future health and safety at the work agenda; the impact and implications of flexible working during the pandemic; and mechanisms for strengthening worker voice.

You can read the key messages from the report and full set of recommendations here.

Sarah Davidson, CEO of the Carnegie UK Trust, said:

“For good work to matter, people need to have a job in the first place, so action to protect and boost employment will continue to be essential. However, we can’t stop caring about the quality of work that people have access to, or deprioritise this agenda for further down the line. If we don’t actively seek to embed good quality work in the recovery, we risk seeing even greater worker insecurity, poverty and public discontent, and we fail to reward the efforts that all citizens, especially key workers, have made during the pandemic.

Amid widespread calls to “build back better” we ask the UK Government to reaffirm their commitment to good work by making it a key part of their economic response to the pandemic. We would welcome dialogue with the UK government, devolved and regional governments, and all of the key labour market actors who are positioned take forward the recommendations in our report.” 

Read the full report or the report summary


[1] The following organisations were interviewed as part of the research: Acas; Be the Business; CIPD; Community Union; Close the Gap; FSB, Inclusion Scotland; IPPR North; Institute for Employment Studies; Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Learning and Work Institute; Mind; REC; TUC; Resolution Foundation; Unions 21; Warwick Institute for Employment Research; and What Works Wellbeing.

[2] The Carnegie UK Trust’s framework for good work is based on the seven dimensions of job quality produced by a cross-sectoral Measuring Job Quality Working Group, convened with the RSA in 2018.