Many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been unprecedented – including the extent to which it has forced the UK population to engage with statistics. This has been a challenge for Government, and it has not always gone well. However, with 190 policies enacted in the first six months of the pandemic - costing around £210 bn - it was never going to be easy. We talk to Vicky Pryce, Chief Economic Adviser and board member at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), on lessons that can be learnt from the last 9 months. This matters enormously, as a recent global survey identifies a clear relationship between individuals’ trust in information from government and the likelihood of engaging with vaccination programmes.
The pandemic has necessitated a partnership approach across UK government, business and unions. This has drawn unions into the process of policy formulation, shining a new spotlight on their activities.
Peter Urwin is joined by Professor of HRM and Employment Relations at Sheffield University Management School, Richard Saundry, who draws on a wealth of experience (including his first job in 1988 at NUM headquarters in Sheffield, and a career working with government, unions and employers) to discuss the role of unions in the past, present and future.
Peter and Richard discuss how unions have done so far, and question whether any benefits to the union movement will persist beyond the pandemic – or whether it will simply return to an “us and them” scenario. Can unions build on this apparent volte-face, to reverse a decline in influence on the employment relationship?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Good Work Index provides a snapshot of UK working lives, including opportunities for homeworking and job flexibility as we went into lockdown. In this interview, Peter Urwin speaks to Jonny Gifford, Senior Advisor for Organisational Behaviour at the CIPD. He describes how UK job quality indicators compare to those of other countries; arguing that any encouraging headline figures hide concerns over UK job quality inequality. They consider the role of government and employers in tackling such inequality, and flag worrying trends in UK work-life balance. For instance, recent years have seen a decline in reported wellbeing from the UK Working Lives survey – and the latest instalment of the survey allows us to ask how this, and other trends, has been impacted by the pandemic.
The last four decades have been a roller-coaster ride for economic liberalism. Riding high from the early 1990s, falling trade barriers boosted international trade, integrated countries such as China into the global economy and significantly reduced the number of people in absolute poverty. Developments in technology ‘supercharged’ these impacts, radically altering our lives as workers and consumers. In this interview, Peter Urwin speaks to economist Vicky Pryce about where it all went wrong – is the rise of populism simply a reaction to the 2007-08 financial crisis, or is it a wider backlash against liberalism? Not everybody welcomes the changes brought about by globalisation, and change always implies disruption – is there a case for government compensation, targeted at those who bear the brunt of disruption and are less able to take advantage of the gains from liberalisation?
Peter Urwin is joined by economist Vicky Pryce to talk about her latest book, discussing gender equality. Vicky argues we cannot rely on the free market to bring about gender equality. In theory we might expect discrimination to be short-lived in competitive markets, as it is an inefficient use of resources; this is clearly not happening, however, and Vicky makes a strong case for more forceful intervention to rectify the market failures that perpetuate gender inequality. An inherent short-termism in the capitalist system, a continuing level of support for motherhood that is insufficient, and various conscious/unconscious forms of bias all contribute to this failure of markets. The proposed solutions are radical, but without significant public intervention we will continue to waste vast amounts of female potential.
Highlights from four of this year’s interviews consider the theme of 'discrimination and disadvantage’. We have some 'Christmas Cheer’, as the interviews show how far we have come to improve the situation of women, people from ethnic minority groups, LGBT communities and young people from poorer backgrounds. However, the first interview with Dr Jo Blanden, shows how hard it is to make further improvements to the early years experiences of young people. In the second interview with Prof. Emma Parry, we see how research investigating generational differences risks stereotyping different age groups. Prof. Lisa Webley sets out the various waves of policy that have attempted to improve the situation of women and other groups facing discrimination, and continuing challenges faced by the Law profession, where improvements have been glacial in recent years. Finally, in the interview with Vicky Pryce, we see where this debate can lead - if things are not getting better with current approaches, Vicky argues that for women we need to consider the 'nuclear option' of quotas. These are the challenges for our New Year!
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is reportedly obsessed with the issue of productivity; whilst most of the electorate remain baffled. We talk to Vicky Pryce, Chief Economic Adviser and board member at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), who draws on her experience of being ‘responsible’ for productivity targets under the last Labour Government. Numerous explanations have been put forward for the UK’s poor productivity performance since 2008. Recent research suggests we have a particularly long tail of poorly performing companies in the UK, who fail to adopt innovations of the leading 1%. We consider this diagnosis next to many others, and speculate on what a newly formulated Industrial Strategy might do to help.
The New Labour government introduced a national minimum wage (NMW) in 1999. At first this was opposed by the Conservative party, but they have since joined a growing political consensus. The Low Pay Commission (LPC) are tasked with recommending NMW rates that 'help as many low-paid workers as possible without any significant adverse impact on employment or the economy’. The LPC’s apparent success in achieving this, may be one reason for growing political census, so it is perhaps worrying that a National Living Wage (NLW) is being set without these considerations. Len Shackleton, Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham and Editorial and Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, sets out these issues and more in a recent IEA paper on Restructuring Minimum Wages. Prof. Shackleton argues that the system has become overly complex and recommendations made by the Taylor Review will only add to this complexity. In this interview we consider his proposals and what the future may hold for UK minimum wages.
Recent decades have seen radical change in the way that conflict is dealt with in UK workplaces. Collective industrial action has been replaced by pursuit of individual employment rights through litigation, via Employment Tribunals (ETs). Richard Saundry is Professor of HRM & Employment Relations at Plymouth University Business School. He has written extensively on workplace conflict and brings a wealth of experience, including time spent at NUM HQ at the start of the 1990s. Peter and him consider why employees in certain types of firm report higher levels of conflict; whether ‘vexatious’ ET claims represent a significant cost to firms and discuss how conflict is resolved in the modern workplace. In this modern setting, what role is there for the union movement and what are the implications of Brexit?
Some projections suggest a third of UK jobs are at high risk of computerisation. The impact of technical progress has been debated since Karl Marx predicted advancement of the means of production to the point where abundance would end the division of labour. J. R. Shackleton, Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham and Editorial and Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, considers the modern debate in Robocalypse Now?. Prof. Shackleton argues that estimates of the number of jobs-at-risk are excessive; that regulatory and legal barriers to automation will result in slower than anticipated change, and that the last 200 years show how new employment opportunities are created to replace jobs lost to automation. We consider these various debates and ask whether the emergence of AI and robotics mean that, this time it’s different.