The sobering reality and growing significance of low-paid and insecure work

By Megan Park


17 10 2019


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Since our launch, the Better Work Network has grown rapidly to include over 260 members. The high levels of interest in our work reflect the sobering reality of the growing significance of the issues of low pay and insecure, poor quality work. After our first 12 months, it is clear the size and prevalence of these issues is matched by the ambition of our members to test, trial and develop new approaches to support both workers and employers to achieve better work.

Over the summer, the Better Work Network published our first two resources designed to help stakeholders working in this area. First, we launched the Better Work Map – an open-access database of projects and initiatives across the UK focused on supporting better work. The map is designed to increase the visibility of projects specifically designed to help support progression, providing a comprehensive resource for practitioners, support services and individuals in low pay to identify relevant support or policy initiatives. Already, the map demonstrates the diversity of organisations involved in the delivery of in-work progression support, employer engagement and policy advocacy. We intend to continue to grow the map so please let us know if you are aware of a relevant project that should feature on the better work map.

We also launched new guidance for commissioners and practitioners interested in developing employment support for individuals in low pay. The guidance brings together learning from the evaluations of individual support programmes, detailing a range of lessons for practitioners including how to engage low-paid workers, how to design and deliver progression-focused support, and how to consider and assess performance.  We hope the guide provides a useful resource for those trialling new approaches to tackling low pay.

In June we held our first Better Work Conference. This inaugural event offered a valuable opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the network and its members and to identify key priorities for the future. Discussions centred around innovative approaches to support in-work progression and the ways employers can work to tackle low pay and insecure, poor quality employment. Our keynote speaker, deputy mayor of London for social integration, social mobility and community engagement, Debbie Weekes-Bernard set out City Hall’s plans to support in-work progression in the capital including the Good Work Standard, a new accreditation scheme for London employers.

Looking ahead, we will be focusing on three new initiatives, developed after reflection upon our first year and in consultation with our membership.

The first will focus upon progression support for disabled people. While we know that there is a large and persistent disability pay gap, relatively little is known about what works in supporting disabled people to progress in work. Current evidence tends to focus on how to support people into work, with limited support for progression to better paid or higher quality work. We will engage with disabled people and practitioners working with disabled people to draw out insights on what works in this area.

The second will focus on the ways to support and influence employers to improve pay, progression and conditions of employment. In recent years, a number of innovative approaches to employer engagement have been developed including voluntary accreditation schemes, collaborative job design to promote flexible working options and social value procurement. Through this work, we will review the evidence base to draw key lessons from existing work, and work with stakeholders to identify ways to improve policy and practice in this field.

In the coming months, we will also be holding a series of workshops for commissioners and practitioners exploring key areas of in-work progression support and providing an opportunity to network and share best practice.

Megan Park, research intern, Learning and Work Institute