IntoWork17 blog: Stepping stones, not ladders

5 July 2017

By Jane Mansour

“Take back control” has been a rallying call of the last two years, as focus has turned to areas that have been ‘left behind’ by globalization. The impact of changes in the labour market (stagnant or falling wages, rising prices, use of zero, short-term or temporary contracts, self-employment, the impact of automation, retailers’ warehouses, tax credit cuts, universal credit work incentives) has featured strongly. However, the gap between the systems set up to prepare people for work and support their jobsearch, and the changing labour market, seems to grow ever wider with each policy iteration.

Work is, and has been for some time, the anti-poverty policy in the UK. However, the quality of that work – for so long overlooked and unmeasured, is instrumental to ensuring that work does enable people to move out of poverty. Over 1 in 5 of people in employment in the UK are in low paid work. These low paid jobs are the ones where a sense of control is most absent.

Education and vocational skills systems do not reflect the reality of a more fragile, transient working life, where flexibility and insecurity are increasingly interwoven. Traditional progression frameworks have least to offer in low paid sectors, whose very structures offer few options to move upwards. Transactional contractual arrangements alter the worker-employer relationship, diminishing commitment and loyalty on both sides. One of the reasons millennials are earning less than previous generations is their lack of job mobility. The best way to earn more is to move jobs. People on low wages are more likely to move jobs when there is a strong safety net.

Employment and skills policy needs to be framed differently, promoting and supporting control over working lives, and enabling progression from poverty at the low paid end of the labour market. Effective navigation of the labour market – to build skills, experience and knowledge requires a rethink in the way we discuss jobs and careers.