Feedback on the Future of Work
11mar98:Church Action on Poverty: Unemployment and the Future of Work
(posted with permission).
Church Action On Poverty
Summary April 1997
The Churches Enquiry into
Is it still true that everyone has the right and duty to work?
Should we tolerate low pay and poor conditions if that enables
more people to work? Is full employment still a realistic and
appropriate objective today?
Unemployment and the Future of Work
These are some of the most important questions which face our
society. Meanwhile the divisions in that society become wider
and wider between rich and poor, between those with good jobs
and those with bad jobs, or no jobs at all. The Council of Churches
for Britain and Ireland set up a working party 18 months ago to
undertake an Enquiry into Unemployment and the Future of Work.
It consulted widely and visited many different regions to find
out how the profound changes taking place in the labour market
are affecting people in all kinds of situations, but especially
those who are disadvantaged or poor. Its report published on
8 April, challenges the defeatism of those who say that good work for
everyone is a thing of the past and the complacency of those who
seem not to care.
- Work is central to the human condition, not an optional extra.
The goal of full employment - or Enough Good Work for Everyone -
must be a policy priority. This means reversing the
institutionalisation of unemployment.
- Technological change and globalisation presents opportunities
for increased human creativity and well-being, but also presents
challenges, especially the growth of unemployment and poverty.
Re-evaluation of employment is needed, recognising its social
role, not just economic function. Overwork and distribution of
work need tackling, along with distribution of other
responsibilities - paid and unpaid.
- There is a need to revise current criteria for economic success
and to analyse unemployment figures more critically.
- There is a need for Equal Opportunities Policies to counter
discrimination on grounds of gender, race, disability and age,
in the workplace and in terms of barriers to geffing work.
A Theology of Work
- Redistributing of resources through the taxation system:
to encourage the creation of more private sector jobs; to increase
employment in the public sector; to fund voluntary and community
sector work; and to make specific help available to the long-term
- Reforming of the Benefit System, reducing reliance on
A national minimum wage but without restoration of differentials
higher up the pay scale; self regulating restraint at the top end
of the pay scale is also recommended.
- 'Good Work' which requires that there are better conditions of work,
adequate enforcement of such rights and fairer (collective) pay
- In training basic skills for all should be given priority.
- The creation of a National Employment Forum, which includes
consultation with unemployed people as well as other sectors of
- The churches review resources given to tackling unemployment, at
practical and policy level and more priority to tackling unemployment
in Christian practice and worship.
The aim of the Enquiry is to 'analyse the various emerging
trends (in employment) and evaluate the policy options from a
Christian standpoint'. The theological content of the report is
therefore the framework for its findings. The principles outlined
provide the following vision of work:
Part I Context: Labour Market Trends and Policy.
- Work is an offering of life, service and creativity
to God and the community.
- All work is to be valued not just the economically
- Everyone has a vocation, a role to play; there is a duty,
and a right, to work and earn in a way most appropriate to the
gifts given by God.
- An employment contract is more than an economic tool, work
has a wider social context.
- Work needs to be part of the rhythm of a full life with
time for rest, reflection and relationships.
In order to build an inclusive society, in which all
are valued, unemployment must be seen in the
wider context of poverty, exclusion and labour
Three main changes are identified as underlying
labour market changes:
- The technological revolution.
- The growing role of women in the labour force
- from 1985 to 1996 overall economic activity
was 62.8%; male rates fell from 76.4% to
72.3%, whilst female employment rates rose
from 50.3% to 53.8%.
- Deregulated capital and work.
The effects have been that those at the bottom
end of the economy, even if they are working, live
in poverty. At the same time there has been a
polarisation of income and opportunity.
This has caused polarisation of both individual pay
rates and of household income, through the
growing divide between work rich and work poor.
|Earnings: ||lowest 10%||top 10%|
|1985 ||63% ||184%|
As a percentage of average earnings
|Lowest 10%||average||top 10%|
|-13% ||+40% ||+62%|
Attitudes to the Changes
Part II Choices and Options.
- Globalisation and new technology mean
changes in work; full employment cannot be
achieved by turning the clock back.
- Positive opportunities could be created by
increased flexibility and global markets, but:
- Governmental control, and regulation of the
market, are both possible and necessary so
that the risks and benefits of the new industrial
revolution are shared.
- Choices can be made; providing 'Good
Employment for Everyone' must be a policy
priority, not just an economic by-product.
- Unemployment is not a 'price worth paying' for
- Geo-graphical variations need consideration in
policy making; the positive role of community
in some areas is noted and may hold some
lessons for tackling regeneration.
The fundamental finding is that job creation is
necessary and that given sufficient priority, political
will and public consensus, good work can be
created for everyone. Economists do not believe
this is an impossible goal, they differ only about
how and whether it is politically achievable.
Government can act through changes in tax
structure and regulation of working conditions.
The Report emphasises that jobs should not be
created at any price - 'service should not be
servitude'. The American approach (which creates
low paid jobs on the back of limited Social
Security) is rejected.
Where Should New Work Come From?
A mixture of job creation, in the private, public and
voluntary or community sectors, is recommended.
Private Sector work should be created by
reducing taxation on jobs, especially at the lower
end of the wage range. It is recognised that these
are likely to be in the service sector. The value of
some of this work will lie in human factors, not just
Public Sector work can be created in a variety of
areas, including health care, education and
community care. Government borrowing is not
recommended so this will have to be funded by
higher taxation. The Enquiry specifically disagrees
with the OECD assertion that public sector job
creation is not possible.
Voluntary and Community Sector work can also
be created. The 1980s' Community Programme is
considered as a possibility, provided that such
work is rewarded at the rate for the job and is not
marginalised. It might include advice work and
regeneration. Public funding, again through
taxation, would be required. However, this sector
should not simply take over services which should
be provided by the statutory sector.
Together these should create significant labour
market expansion, not just schemes.
This requires decent and dignified employment
conditions and pay. A number of recommendations
Pay can be regulated to some extent by collective
bargaining. However, high unemployment and
changing workplaces, particularly the growth of
service industries and homeworking, has reduced
the effectiveness of Trade Unions and the
bargaining process. A statutory Minimum Wage is
needed, and is best set by a Low Pay Commission.
Inequality also creates social exclusion. A
minimum wage should not be followed by
restoration of differentials and those at the top of
the pay scale should limit their pay rises. This area
is, however, more appropriately dealt with by
voluntary pay restraint.
Working conditions should be regulated through
a statutory framework. Penalty clauses and
unilateral changes in contracts should be
outlawed. Trade Unions have an important
consultative role in setting and enforcing
conditions. A Labour Inspectorate might also be
established to monitor and enforce employment
Equal Opportunities Monitoring to tackle
discrimination both in accessing work and in the
workplace, must have legislative backing and
management support. The model of the Fair
Employment Commission in Northern Ireland is
Work for the Unemployed
The main priority must be to tackle underlying
labour market problems, but specific measures to
reverse long-term and youth unemployment are
needed. This may require the state to step in as
employer of last resort. A number of schemes are
Principles are recommended, not a specific
scheme; these are:
a Right-to-Work benefit plus £60, with a penal
rate of benefit £30 for those who do not
- public sector or community work, at the going
rate, limited to 25 hours/week, with time for
jobsearch for a longer term, full-time job
The Benefits System
- pay must be at the going rate
- compulsion is out, most unemployed people
are not 'workshy'
- incentives for Employment Service staff to
disqualify from benefit are 'morally
Unemployment is largely a labour market problem
but consideration is given to the interaction of
employment and the benefits system. Policy
A Citizens Income?
- A return to the principle of collective not
private insurance; the latter cannot share risks
- Cuts to contribution-based unemployment
benefit, in the Jobseeker's Act should be
- The upper earnings limit on NI Contributions
should be abolished.
- Benefits could be simplified by eg. integrating
in-work and out-of-work benefits and
assessment of individuals not households.
- Flexible work must be matched by flexible
benefits eg. allowing claims by part-time
workers (as in Eire) and increasing disregards
for casual earnings; though means-tests will
always create a form of poverty trap.
- All fraud, not just benefit fraud, needs to be
Arguments in favour are that this could free people
to do work they want to do, regardless of pay, by
divorcing work from earning a living but it is
rejected as too costly. Taxation is better used to
create work and get people off benefits, rather
than increasing benefits on which most do not
want to depend.
Education and Training
Provision for low achievers in the UK is below that
of other European countries. This affects
employment later in life. Job creation in education
and training is recommended. Resources should
go to those who most need training. Output-
related funding will not meet this objective.
Vocational Training is recommended on a day
release basis for all 16-19 year olds aiming at
100% achievement of NVQ2. Adult Vocational
Training should be funded in the same way as
university studies, with loans to cover maintenance
costs. It should be easier to study whilst
Overwork and the Family
If work is not divorced from income through a
Citizens Income, then redistribution of work, as
well as money, is needed. Overwork is recognised
as a problem and research is needed on how to
restructure hours worked whilst ensuring sufficient
income for all.
Shared family responsibility should be encouraged
eg. by limiting parents' working hours. Flexitime,
at the employers discretion, should be more
available. Childcare should be for all, not a luxury
for the well-paid.
A National Employment Forum should be
established to consult all sectors of the community
on a range of employment issues. Further related
areas needing examination include pensions, local
employment initiatives, family, housing and work
and disability in the workplace.
The full Report (£8.50, ISBN 0 85169 238 9) and a
20 page summary (£1.95, ISBN: 0851692397)
are obtainable from good books hops or from
CCBI Publications, 35-41 Lower Marsh, London
SEl 7RL. Tel: 0171 620 4444,
Further copies of this summary along with copies
of CAP's submission to the Enquiry are available
from Church Action on Poverty, Central Buildings,
Oldham Street, Manchester Ml 1JT Tel: 0161 236
Church Action on Poverty|
Church Action on Poverty was formed in 1982 as a
Christian-based, ecumenical response to increasing levels
of poverty in the UK. We are committed to a programme
of theological reflection linked to educational and
CAP Educational Trust Charity No.328614.