The future of work: protected characteristics in a changing workplace


The Equality and Human Rights Commission commissioned Learning and Work Institute to conduct research into the major drivers of changes in the world of work. As part of this research, we have looked at the impact of three long-term British labour market trends on people with certain protected characteristics:

  • the increase in flexible working (whether by time or place);
  • the growth of self-employment and the gig economy;
  • and the increasing use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Many of the long-term trends that were examined, such as increases in flexible work, the growth of the gig economy and self-employment and the increase in use of automation and AI, are growing faster for individuals with certain protected characteristics than the wider population. For example, as of 2021, the number of disabled workers on zero-hours contracts is 194% higher than it was in 2013, while the number of non-disabled workers on zero-hours contracts is 95% higher. If these trends continue, ethnic minorities, older workers and disabled people will be overrepresented in the gig economy, self-employment, and industries at risk of automation.

There are potential benefits and pitfalls to these trends, either through these groups enjoying greater flexibility in their work, or by contrast suffering from increased job insecurity, precariousness and pay inequality. Additionally, the impact of some of these long-term trends is not felt equally across nations and regions within Britain.

In this video, L&W’s Stephen Evans discusses the new report with Marcial Boo, chief executive of the EHRC.