Innovation in tackling precarious employment
For the past 18 months at Nesta we've been thinking about how to innovate to tackle worklessness and get people back to work - or into work for the first time.
Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation has been focusing on another aspect of the low end of the labour market - the precarious employment that we know leads to many unemployed people cycling between work and benefits.
The Resolution Foundation's work has been focusing on issues such as zero-hours contracts, non-payment of the minimum wage and forced self-employment. Latest estimates of zero hours contracts suggest that some forms of insecurity are no longer at the margins of our labour market. They affect up to a million workers.
We therefore came together a couple of weeks ago to see if we could think about the issue of precarious employment through the lens of innovation, and come up with some creative new ideas that go beyond regulation.
There are a number of reasons that work is becoming more precarious. Work is fragmenting, it's becoming more intensified, there are increasingly complex relationships between employers and employees and shifting balances of power in the employer-employee relationship.
We are unlikely to roll-back the positive labour market flexibility that has benefitted many workers and the economy, but there are clearly aspects of precarious work that need tackling given their negative impact on workers and their families. The very basics of life can become difficult for workers who cannot guarantee regular work or a consistent income and feel unable to exercise even the rights they have.
Our session bringing together experts on these new forms of employment and innovators who have come up with creative solutions to help get people back to work just scratched the surface, but by thinking about this issue from a different perspective we began to come up with some new ideas.
One area that we focused on was how some parts of the labour market have become purely transactional. The focus on quality of work has been lost, while instead workers have their tasks and use of time micro-managed.
We discussed whether payment systems and contracts can shift to focus on quality, and whether more can be done to make the 'business case' for non-precarious work if it's the case that better conditions for workers lead to higher quality and a better experience for the ultimate customer, whether that's in adult social care or retail.
We also touched on whether different institutional models could help bring together isolated workers, with self-organisation, mutuals and intermediaries providing a way for workers to reorganise work to benefit both themselves and the customer.
The Social Value Act was also discussed as a means of using public procurement to drive better conditions for workers. We also began to explore whether employer-led groups such as Agile Future Forum could lead in promoting positive workforce flexibility that benefits both workers and businesses.
We'll now be taking this work forward and would love to hear your thoughts.
Jo Casebourne is Director of Public and Social Innovation at Nesta. Vidhya Alakeson is Deputy Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation.