Working longer – the reality ‘behind the headlines’

Senior businessman in office working on laptop

By Heather Cameron

With no shortage of headlines highlighting the record employment rate in the UK, and the increasing number of older workers widely reported, it may seem that the outlook for the ageing workforce is a rosy one. But do these headlines hide the reality?

Recent analysis from Age UK argues that the headline employment rate doesn’t tell the whole story about working longer, “making it an insufficient – and even misleading – tool for public policy decision-making”.

The statistics

The most recent official figures show that the employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who are in work) is the joint highest since comparable records began in 1971, at 74.8%, while the unemployment rate is the joint lowest since 1975.

Data also shows that the employment rate for people aged 65 and over has indeed increased since the 2008 recession. It is currently at 10.4%, up from 7.3% in 2008.

Age UK has also recognised the increase in employment rates for older people, noting that, in fact, the older the age group, the greater the increase in employment. However, the average number of hours worked has declined since the recession, indicating a more complex and perhaps less reassuring situation than the one portrayed in the media.

The biggest drop was for 50-54 year old men, whose average hours declined by 29%. For men aged 60-64, the average number of hours declined by 8 hours (over 22%), while women aged 50-54 experienced a fall of 18%.

The only age group not to see a decline was women aged 60-64, which is likely to be as a result of the raising of the State Pension age.

Choice or necessity?

The change in the State Pension age was justified on the grounds that it gave people more choice and more scope to continue working if they wished to.

A recent CIPD survey found that the most common reason for wanting to work past 65 is that employees believe it will help keep them mentally fit, followed by wanting to be able to earn a sufficient income to continue to do the things they enjoy.

As Age UK suggests, it may be that the reduction in working hours is a good sign if it is due to older workers choosing to wind down their hours, maybe to enable them to juggle other responsibilities such as caring for their grandchildren, while still earning a wage.

However, the research suggests it may be less through choice and more as a result of the changing labour market such as increasing underemployment (working less hours than they would choose to) or increasing insecure working practices driven by the rise in self-employment and the ‘gig economy’.

As it is likely working fewer hours will mean less income, this could be a cause for concern since it will be more difficult for older workers to maintain their standard of living until they meet the State Pension age and for them to save enough for retirement.

Another issue highlighted by the CIPD, is that most employees don’t believe their organisations are prepared to meet the needs of the over 65s, suggesting that there is a need for employers to also review their practices in terms of managing older workers.

Final thoughts

It is clear that while, for some, choosing to work beyond the traditional retirement age will be a lifestyle choice, for many it will be a necessity. Any substantial reduction in working hours for these older workers could consequently pose a real issue.

It would therefore make sense for policy makers to heed the warning from Age UK not to rely on the headline rate of employment for older workers, and rather look beyond it to the reality of many struggling to get and keep the secure, well paid jobs they want and need.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may be interested in reading our previous post on the pros and cons of the gig economy.

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How to tackle unconscious bias: Step 1 – read this!

What is unconscious bias?

Although levels of explicit prejudice are falling, discrimination continues to be a problem for many sections of society.  One reason for this may be ‘unconscious bias’.

Unconscious bias is “a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.”

Everyone has some degree of unconscious bias.  Unconscious thoughts are often based on stereotypes and prejudices that we do not realise that we have.

From a survival point of view, these brain ‘shortcuts’ are a positive and necessary function – they help us to make snap decisions in dangerous situations, for example.  However, in everyday life, they can negatively effect rational decision-making.

Types of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias has different forms.  One common form is Affinity bias – the subconscious preference for people with similar characteristics to ourselves (sex, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, educational background etc.).  In 2015, the CIPD reported that recruiters were often affected by affinity bias, resulting in the tendency to hire ‘mini-mes’.

The Halo effect involves the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area.  For example, a disproportionate number of corporate CEOs are over six foot tall, suggesting that there is a perception that taller people make better leaders, or are more successful. Similar patterns have been observed in the military and even for Presidents of the United States.

The Horns effect is the opposite of the ‘Halo effect’ – where one characteristic clouds our opinions of other attributes.  For example, the perception that women are ‘less capable’ in certain occupations.  A review found that female psychologists and women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) departments were just as likely to discriminate against female candidates as their male counterparts.

The same qualities can also be perceived very differently in different people – for example, assertiveness in a man may be perceived more positively (‘strong leader’) than in a woman (‘bossy’).

Impact of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias not only influences our body language and the way we interact with people, it can also negatively influence a number of important decisions in the workplace, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Promotion
  • Staff appraisals
  • Workload allocations

As well as being unfair, decisions based on unconscious biases are unlikely to be optimal and can result in missed opportunities.  Where unconscious bias also effects a protected characteristic, it can also be discriminatory.

How to mitigate unconscious bias

So, now you know what unconscious bias is, what can you do about it?

The good news is that it is possible to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias. The first step is to become more aware of the potential of unconscious bias to influence your own decision-making. Large organisations such as Google and the NHS are already providing unconscious bias training to their staff.

You can take this awareness further by taking an Implicit Association Test, such as that provided by Harvard University.  This will help to identify and understand your own personal biases.

Other ways to help reduce the influence of unconscious bias include:

  • Taking time to make decisions
  • Ensuring decisions are justified by evidence and the reasons for decisions are recorded
  • Working with a wider range of people and get to know them as individuals, such as different teams or colleagues based in a different location
  • Focusing on positive behaviours and not negative stereotypes

At the corporate level, ways that organisations can help to tackle unconscious bias include:

  • Implement policies and procedures which limit the influence of individual characteristics and preferences, including objective indicators, assessment and evaluation criteria and the use of structured interviews
  • Ensure that selection panels are diverse, containing both male and female selectors and a range other characteristics where possible (ethnicity, age, background etc.)
  • Promote counter-stereotypical images of underrepresented groups
  • Provide unconscious bias training workshops

Tackling unconscious bias is not just a moral obligation; it is essential if organisations are to be truly inclusive.  By making best use of the available talent, it can also help to make organisations be more efficient and competitive.


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The disability employment gap – what needs to be done to change employer attitudes to disability?

Disabled parking (1).jpg

By Heather Cameron

‘Employment rates amongst disabled people reveal one of the most significant inequalities in the UK today’ (The work, health and disability Green Paper, 2016)

The government’s recent green paper highlights the extent of the disability employment gap in the UK, showing that less than half (48%) of disabled people are employed, compared to 80% of the non-disabled population.

Despite an increase in the number of disabled people in work, this employment gap between the disabled and non-disabled population has remained largely static at around 30 percentage points for the past decade. There are nearly four million disabled people in work, but research has shown that more disabled people have fallen out of work than moved into work, while the rest of the population has experienced movement in the opposite direction.

The government’s manifesto ambition is to halve the disability employment gap by 2020 – equivalent to 1.12 million more disabled people in work – but at the current rate of progress, it has been suggested that it would take more than 200 years for the employment gap to halve.

At a time when the UK’s employment rate is at its highest level since records began, with almost 75% of the working population in work, this is a disheartening statistic.

Barriers

This suggests that disabled people continue to face significant barriers to work. Some that are regularly cited, include:

  • physical barriers such as access to transport and accessibility within places of work;
  • a skills and qualifications gap between the disabled and non-disabled population, with disabled people only about half as likely to go to university as non-disabled people, and less likely to take up an apprenticeship;
  • insufficient support for disabled people;
  • insufficient support for employers; and
  • employer attitudes.

Employer attitudes have been cited as an ongoing issue which appears to stem from a lack of awareness and understanding.

A recent survey of recruiters found that 95% said companies are ‘fearful’ or ‘unsure’ about hiring disabled people. And analysis from disability charity Scope, suggests that employer attitudes haven’t improved over the last four years.

A new report from the Work and Pensions Committee found that many employers are not sure of their Equality Act duties, or are unwilling to make adjustments for disabled employees. It also suggested that there may be ‘discriminatory or unhelpful attitudes’ about the capabilities of disabled people.

Employers’ views

Indeed, employers themselves have highlighted the challenges of employing disabled people. Recent research from Disability Rights UK, which surveyed businesses from across the UK, reveals that one in 10 businesses believe they are unable to employ disabled people.

It also found that the biggest challenge to employing disabled people is that applicants aren’t always willing to be open about their disability, with around half of respondents (47%) saying that it would help if job applicants were more willing to be open about their health condition. Other challenges highlighted include:

  • fellow staff or line managers not having sufficient training to support disabled colleagues, and the lack of accessibility of some businesses for people with certain types of impairments;
  • concern that disabled people are more likely to take time off work;
  • difficulties in discussing the management of disabilities;
  • the cost of modifying equipment, making it expensive to employ disabled people; and
  • concerns that disabled people will claim discrimination if the job does not work out.

Such concerns are often misplaced, however. The survey indicates that businesses feel constrained by a lack of information about the adaptions they may need to make, and the support available to them. It seems that not enough people are aware of Access to Work, the government scheme that provides grants for adjustments to support people with disabilities or health conditions in employment.

And not all attitudes were negative. The vast majority (84%) of respondents said that disabled people make a valuable contribution to the workplace; and more than four-fifths (82%) considered disabled people as productive as non-disabled staff.

Final thoughts

The research clearly demonstrates that more needs to be done to tackle the disability employment gap. The Work and Pensions Committee report concludes that the government will stand little chance of halving the gap unless employers are fully committed to taking on and retaining more disabled people.

In particular, a transformation in attitudes to disability employment and support for disabled people will be required.

As the government’s green paper argues, “real and lasting change will only come about if we can also address negative cultural and social attitudes about disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.”


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Beating the back to work blues

Moving Crowds 4

The first journey into work after the Christmas break has to be one of the most painful journeys of the year. Overfed, possibly hungover, still angry at that sly comment your distant relative made across the dinner table a week ago, you and many others return to work at the start of January with the glow of the next set of bank holidays seeming very far in the distance (FYI the next bank holiday is Good Friday on 14th April – yes, APRIL *sobs*).

It’s no surprise then, that January is the time of the year that sees the highest rates of divorce. This is the month heralding some of the highest stress rates of the year, and is the lowest point in the calendar for many people who face daily battles with mental health. A researcher at Cardiff University, Dr Cliff Arnall has even created a formula to work out that 24th January is the “most depressing day of the year”.

Mental health takes centre stage at work

It’s therefore apt that as many of us spend much of our time at work, there has been an increasing recognition of the role of employers in supporting mental health.

In October 2016, Business in the Community published its 2016 Mental Health at Work report, which included a toolkit for employers. The report highlights the damage that concealing their condition can do to people with mental health problems, as well as the level of support that should be made available to employees to help promote positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Recommendations made in the report include:

  • Talk – Organisations and employers should break the culture of silence that surrounds mental health, particularly in the workplace by talking the Time to change employers pledge
  • Train – Organisations and employers should invest in training to ensure basic mental health literacy for all employees in all areas of the business
  • Take action – Organisations and employers should “close the gap” by asking all staff about their experiences of their own mental health at work and how any issues have been dealt with. Understanding the perceptions that staff have of how the company supports mental health generally across the organisation, can help identify steps to improve/ change practice if necessary.

Employers role in removing stigma

Ensuring good mental health in the workplace affects all levels of staff, from senior management to the newest members of staff who are still training or serving a probationary period. Multiple reports, including those by ACAS, CIPD, MIND and The Work Foundation, have stressed the importance of employers setting an example to their staff. That includes senior staff recognising when they need to take time to support their mental wellbeing too.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Absence Management Report for 2013, showed that stress is one of the biggest causes of long-term absence in the workplace. The report also showed that it impacts staff at all levels:

  • 40% of respondents said that stress-related absence increased over the past year for the workforce as a whole
  • 20% said it increased for managers
  • 1 in 8 reported a rise for senior managers
  • Only 44% would feel confident enough to disclose unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their current employer or manager.

The report suggested that if senior managers acknowledged their own mental health issues, it would remove some of the stigma associated with asking for help with mental health in the workplace. However, doing this requires a significant culture shift in how many organisations are run – which could take years. The Work Foundation, commenting on the 2016 version of the CIPD report, found that:

“Effective management of mental health in the workplace can save around 30% of costs felt by employers.  Line managers have a really important role to play in creating an environment where employees feel safe to disclose with the knowledge that the organisation will do something to help them.  Managers need to have a positive employment relationship where open and honest conversations can be had to discuss any required adjustments and provide that supportive environment.”

Using “blue Monday” to initiate conversations on mental health

This year “Blue Monday” falls on the 16th January. It may be called the worst Monday of the year, but employers are being encouraged to use the publicity around it to create opportunities for employees to discuss mental health in the workplace.

Questions to ask could be: what makes them stressed, what makes them anxious, how can the office environment be changed to improve the wellbeing of employees? There are also ideas for activities to help staff “beat the blues”, including lunchtime exercise, healthy eating and talking to colleagues about things other than work.

Specific sectors have also begun to initiate schemes to try to improve mental health and well being. Mates in Mind is a programme to be launched in early 2017 by the Health in Construction Leadership Group with the support of the British Safety Council. Modelled on an Australian programme, it is a sector-wide programme intended to help improve and promote positive mental health across the construction industry in the UK.

In social work, too, informal peer mentoring schemes have sprung up organically in many offices, with co-workers giving each other support when they need it, often in an informal capacity. More formal schemes have been set up to help social workers monitor and feel safe when talking about their mental health to colleagues and superiors. Feedback indicates that the low rate of retention of social workers is, in part, due to stress caused by secondary trauma or excessive caseloads.

 

So, as we trudge back to our desks for the first working days after Christmas, it is perhaps worth keeping some of these ideas in mind. Employers are keen to talk about mental health, but they also need the input of staff in order for them to work.

Putting some of these ideas into practice, may also go some way to improving the situation of many with hidden mental health conditions in the workplace who don’t feel confident enough to speak openly about it. We needn’t wait for the next bank holiday to improve our mood, small changes can make a big difference to wellbeing in the workplace!


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other workplace mental health articles: 

Managing mental ill health in the workplace

Ending the stigma around anxiety

Costs and benefits of the National Living Wage

English money

By Heather Cameron

Britain’s bosses have been urged by the government to prepare early for the introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW) in April next year.

Firms are advised to follow four simple steps:

  • know the correct rate of pay – £7.20 per hour for staff aged 25 and over
  • find out which staff are eligible for the new rate
  • update the company payroll in time for 1 April 2016
  • communicate the changes to staff as soon as possible

Support

This push coincides with a new poll revealing that 93% of bosses support the Living Wage initiative, with a majority believing it will boost productivity and retain staff.

This is supported by new research by the University of Strathclyde and the Living Wage Foundation (LWF), which uses real-life case studies and evidence from employees working for accredited Living Wage employers. It suggests that paying staff a living wage leads to many business benefits – such as staff retention, more efficient business processes, improved absenteeism and better staff performance.

Potential benefits

Many of the findings highlighted relate to research on the London Living Wage (LLW). Among these include:

  • 50.3% of employees receiving the LLW registered above average scores for psychological wellbeing, a sign of good morale, compared to just 33.9% of non-LLW employees studied
  • an average 25% reduction in staff turnover was reported for organisations moving to the LLW
  • and 70% of employers studied reported reputational benefits through increased consumer awareness of their commitment to being an ethical employer

Estimates show that 4.5 million employees will see a rise in their wages as a result of the introduction of the NLW in 2016, with a further 2.6 million gaining from spillovers. By 2020, 6 million employees are predicted to have received a pay increase.

Up to one in four workers are expected to experience a significant positive impact from the NLW. If the result is indeed a happier workforce, perhaps the knock-on effect for businesses will be improved productivity.

There will however be variation across different parts of the UK and across different households, depending on how the NLW interacts with the tax and benefit system (it should be noted that many estimates were made prior to the u-turn on welfare reform). And let’s not forget that the NLW is not for all as under-25s will not be eligible.

Costs to employers

The impact on employees and therefore employment generally, will also depend on the actions firms take to prepare for the NLW in order to mitigate costs.

Indeed, the research from Strathclyde and LWF recognises that implementing the NLW will inevitably involve initial costs to businesses and could represent an issue for some companies more than others.

According to the Federation for Small Businesses, a negative impact on business is expected by 38% of small employers, with many expected to slow their hiring and raise prices.

It has been estimated that the NLW may lead to an increase in the unemployment rate by 0.2% points in 2020; resulting in around 60,000 more people unemployed and total hours worked per week across the economy around 4 million lower.

Businesses may also look to employ those under the age of 25 who won’t be eligible for the NLW. This could particularly impact on those sectors with a high proportion of lower paid employees, such as social care – a sector that is already under financial pressure.

The roll out of the Living Wage has certainly raised concern over potential costs for councils, which are having to deal with increasing budget cuts. The Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated that the NLW could cost local authorities £1bn a year by 2020/21.

So while increasing wages for low paid workers may seem like a no-brainer in the bid to help reduce in-work poverty, the full impact on employees, employers and therefore the economy, remains uncertain. Only time will tell what the true impact of the NLW will be.


Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our previous blog on the Living Wage

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Support for the squeezed middle: could public subsidies tackle London’s housing crisis?

apartment building in Nottingham UK

A new report from the Centre for London has highlighted the potential of intermediate housing in supporting Londoners on middle incomes.

The report – Fair to Middling – argues that not only could publicly-subsidised housing help those on modest incomes in London find better places to live, but could play a vital role in ensuring that the capital retains the school teachers, bus drivers, chefs, nurses and other workers it needs to sustain its economy.

Chaired by the leader of Haringey Council, the Commission on Intermediate Housing was set up by the Centre for London to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of current housing policies with respect to those on middle incomes. Its latest report builds on a 2014 analysis, which found that house prices, rents, transport, energy and childcare costs were substantially higher in London than in the rest of the UK.

The new report paints a stark picture of London’s housing crisis. The Commission selected six households on modest incomes and charted the relationship between their earnings and house prices in four London boroughs. Among its findings:

  • Kensington and Chelsea is now unaffordable for all the selected households, and has been unaffordable for all but one of the households for the entire period covered;
  • Only the two highest earning households – a doctor, and a solicitor/journalist – can now afford to live in Haringey, but they will be priced out of the market in 2016 on present trends;
  • On present trends, both the nurse and the teacher households will find London unaffordable in two years, while the electrician household will only be able to afford Barking and Dagenham, and Enfield.

The authors warn that, unless action is taken to support the people it depends on to keep the city going, the consequences could be widespread and severe:

“Rising housing prices will inevitably squeeze these people out of the city or harm productivity in other ways – long commutes and unstable and overcrowded accommodation eventually affect performance.”

The benefits of intermediate housing
Fair to Middling makes the case for public subsidised housing in London, arguing that intermediate housing can:

  • help make housing more affordable for low-to-middle income earners;
  • keep London competitive and boost its economic success;
  • foster mixed income and stable communities.

Options for the future
The report describes overall supply of intermediate housing in London as “lamentably small”, amounting to less than 2% of the capital’s housing stock. Shared ownership – the most common type of intermediate housing – is, according to the Commission, an unfamiliar and complex product, and in the most expensive parts of London it is completely unaffordable.

The report suggests that intermediate rent offers the best deal to housing providers and investors.

“Local authorities and other housing providers should make appropriate use of intermediate rent products as well as those offering a route towards low cost home ownership. Intermediate rent policies should be offered at a range of levels to meet the needs of different types of household and households confronting expensive locations.”

The report also identifies examples of employers, such as universities, helping their staff secure affordable housing. It suggests that an employer-backed shared ownership scheme could help employees buy a share in a home that they otherwise could not afford, and help the employer attract and retain valuable workers while making a good return on its investment.

The Commission’s findings offer another reminder that, while solving the housing crisis won’t be easy, failing to tackle the problem risks creating challenges that may be much harder to overcome.

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Careers guidance: ready for the future?

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Image from Flickr user GotCredit, licensed under Creative Commons

By Stacey Dingwall

While there are many areas in which there are indications of recovery since the recession, the scale of youth unemployment is a persistent problem. According to the latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published on the 14th of October and covering the period July-August 2015, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds in the UK is currently 14.8%, compared to an overall unemployment rate of 5.4% for all 16-64 year olds who are eligible for work.

The youth (un)employment problem

Recent research has focused on the importance of improving the employability of young people in order to enhance their job prospects. Numerous employer surveys carried out by organisations including the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) have indicated that employers are frequently unimpressed by the ‘work readiness’ of young people who apply for jobs with them. According to the UKCES, this can partly be attributed to the ‘death of the Saturday job’, and diminishing numbers of young people gaining valuable skills and experience for their future careers.

In its recent publications, Careers England has highlighted the important role of careers advice and education in tackling the youth unemployment rate. Their research highlights both the economic benefits of careers guidance, as well as those for the individual, including enhanced social capital.

Careers guidance, it is argued, “can play an important role in providing individuals with access to information and intelligence that is outside of their immediate social network, offsetting some of the disadvantages offered by inequalities in social capital”. Furthermore, it is suggested that those in receipt of careers guidance will be further aided by it as their working life continues, as it enables them to recognise the importance of networking to their career progression.

Good practice: Scotland

Over the summer, the Scottish Government announced a range of measures and initiatives to boost the employability prospects of the country’s young people. Alongside the announcement of over £5 million in funding for local government to help young people prepare for the world of work (as part of the Developing the Young Workforce youth employment strategy) came the promise of £1.5 million to support schools to provide careers advice to pupils from their first year of secondary school.

These announcements form part of the Scottish Government’s push to reduce youth employment in the country by 40% come 2021. Early indicators that this can be achieved look promising: figures released by the ONS in September covering the period May-July 2015 indicated that the youth unemployment rate in Scotland was at its lowest for this quarter since 2008, with the youth employment rate increasing by 25,000 to reach its highest level since the same period in 2005.

A particular careers guidance related programme that has been successful is My World of Work (MyWoW), an online careers service managed by Skills Development Scotland (SDS). A recent evaluation of the service by Education Scotland found that the value of the service is recognised by schools and colleges alike, with many FE support and teaching staff using it effectively and increasingly to engage learners in researching career options and exploring opportunities for further learning.

A key factor of the service is also its delivery online; as young people are used to engaging online, it is important that information is provided to them in their preferred format, as opposed to the traditional face-to-face interview with a careers advisor. Outside of the UK, countries including Finland have started to trial using social media in their delivery of career guidance.

An English ‘postcode lottery’?

In England, where responsibility for career guidance was devolved to schools in 2011, the landscape is currently a bit more fragmented. An evaluation of careers provision in schools and colleges published this year by Cascaid, a provider of careers information and guidance solutions, found that only 8% of schools/colleges have a systematic approach to integrating careers into the wider curriculum, while just over a third have a programme of activities with local universities and colleges.

English career guidance provision has also come under fire from the government: a 2013 inquiry into provision by the Commons Education Committee raised concerns over “the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people”; and an Ofsted review following the devolution of responsibility to schools made criticisms including that provision was too “narrow” and not sufficiently coordinated so that all pupils were receiving appropriate guidance. Concerns about the inequity of career guidance have also been raised by the Sutton Trust, whose 2014 Advancing Ambitions report suggested that there was a ‘postcode lottery’ of provision in England.

The new Careers and Enterprise Company has been set up this year with £20 million of initial government funding, and it announced in September the nationwide roll-out of a network of Enterprise Advisers. These volunteers from employers will work directly with
school and college leaders to bridge the gap between the worlds of education and employment.

Future provision

Providing evidence to the Education Committee’s inquiry, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove suggested that careers advisors may not be an essential part of future careers guidance provision. Research has also indicated that pupils prefer to speak to someone they know, particularly subject teachers, with regards to their career ambitions. However, Ofsted’s review also found that the teachers in the schools they evaluated had not received sufficient training to provide information to pupils on the full range of options available to them. This is especially true of vocational education and career paths.

Considering the future of careers work in England, careers education and guidance consultant David Andrews proposes an option that could solve the problems raised above: schools employing resident careers development advisors with the responsibility of providing face-to-face guidance and working with teachers to deliver focused careers education programmes. Presumably this would include building links with local colleges and employers, something that has been identified as vital to increasing the youth employment rate, yet an area in which efforts have also been found to be lacking: per Ofsted, links between careers education and local employment opportunities in England remain “weak”.

Andrews also recommends the provision of an ‘all-age’ careers service in England. What is clear is that the careers education of the future must aspire to joined-up provision, involving clear communication between all parties. The provision of quality careers guidance is essential for not only the individual’s outcomes, but for the economy/society as a whole.


 

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The self-employment boom … a challenge for government?

By Heather Cameron

There are around 4.5 million self-employed people working in the UK – 1 in 7 of the total workforce. And based on the current rate of growth, it is expected that the self-employed will outnumber public sector employees by 2020. But what impact is this shift in the labour market having on the economy and on government policy?

Growth

Earlier this year we wrote about the rise in female self-employment and entrepreneurship. And generally, jobs recovery in the UK following the recession has undoubtedly been helped by self-employment, which accounts for over a quarter of the growth in employment since 2010.

While the recession has accentuated the growth in self-employment, it is a trend that predates the downturn and it is the significant drop in the numbers leaving self-employment that has been the main driver of growth over the last five years.

Also, as people are living longer and healthier lives, many don’t want to give up working at the traditional retirement age. There has been a 46.5% increase in freelancers over 50 since 2008, an age group that now accounts for 72% of all self-employed people.

This could be seen as a positive outcome of growing entrepreneurialism, contributing to economic growth.  On the other hand, some see it as a move towards more risky, insecure work.

Why self-employment?

There is a definite attraction to being able to work for yourself and organise your own working hours. Most self-employed workers have chosen this path and there is evidence to suggest that job satisfaction is high among self-employed workers.

The freelancing model can also be beneficial to firms as it provides flexibility in access to expertise, helping them to manage peaks and troughs in demand for their services and enabling them to test new ideas with less risk.

A recent study of freelance workers found that a number of factors affect their wellbeing. When working hours are higher than their normal working pattern, freelance workers were found to be calmer and more enthusiastic. However, when the demands they face are difficult or conflicting, then anxiety increases and enthusiasm declines, potentially leading to depression.

Self-employment is therefore not without its drawbacks.

Challenges

Self-employment is often associated with a lack of stability in terms of income and employment benefits such as holiday/sick pay and pensions, and difficulties in accessing financial products and housing.

A particular issue recently has been ‘bogus self-employment’ where workers who would normally meet the legal definition of an employee are registered as self-employed, therefore not receiving any of the employee benefits afforded to registered employees. The government also loses tax revenue and responsible businesses can be undercut.

Access to training is another big challenge for the self-employed as they can only treat training that improves existing skillsets as tax deductible, meaning training for new skills is not covered. As a recent report by Demos argues, this contradicts the aspiration of policy makers to promote entrepreneurial behaviour.

Worryingly, the number of self-employed people receiving training in the UK has fallen in recent years while other European countries have seen a rise. Limited access to training could become a real concern and contribute to the problem of low pay and poor progression rates for self-employed workers and across the wider labour market.

A recent report by IPPR highlights data suggesting that the earnings of the self-employed across Europe are falling relative to employee earnings, and many are looking for more hours or another job, raising concerns over living standards among this group.

As the UK is unique in its self-employment led recovery, this may be of particular concern. According to IPPR, the growth in self-employment could be driving a rise in in-work poverty alongside the jobs recovery.

Support

With a record number of self-employed people now working in the UK, it has been argued that the government needs to better support this growing section of the workforce.

Self-employment has surpassed growth in permanent employment by 3 to 1 in the last decade, but, as Demos has recently reported, government policy has yet to catch up with this structural shift.

There have been moves towards providing support for self-employment, such as the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA), set up by the previous government, which provides people on certain benefits with support to start their own business. Figures published at the end of 2014 show that the NEA has helped to set up over 60,000 new businesses.

Nevertheless, more needs to be done to bring policy in line with the current situation.

The report by Demos makes 18 recommendations for policy to protect the flexibility that self-employment offers, while addressing power imbalances within the marketplace. These include:

  • reducing red tape for firms and the self-employed;
  • providing greater certainty over employment status;
  • creating a tailored pension scheme for the self-employed;
  • aligning the tax treatment of training for employees and the self-employed;
  • and protecting the self-employed from loss of earnings.

In July, the government launched an independent review of self-employment which will consider how those who want to work for themselves can be better supported.

Due to be published in early 2016, perhaps the outcome of this will herald a shift in policy which is in line with the shift in labour market structure.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on labour market policy. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading*

Neither one thing nor the other: how reducing bogus self-employment could benefit workers, business and the Exchequer

Self-employment and ethnicity: an escape from poverty?

Policy brief on sustaining self-employment: entrepreneurial activities in Europe

Business start-ups and youth self-employment in the UK: a policy literature review

Making sense of self-employment in late career: understanding the identity of olderpreneurs, IN Work, Employment and Society, Vol 29 No 2 Apr 2015, pp250-266

Self-employment: what can we learn from recent developments?, IN Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Vol 55 No 1 Q1 2015, pp56-66

The changing workforce (increased self-employment and flexible working practices), IN Business Voice, Jun/Jul 2014, pp20-24

*Some items may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Graduating into a brighter future?

Image from Flickr user Luftphilla, licensed under Creative Commons

by Stacey Dingwall

Post-recession, the employment situation for UK graduates has not been great. Following the economic crash, headlines and statistical releases alike screamed about how bad it was out there for the recently graduated. Graduates were portrayed as either unemployed or underemployed, i.e. forced to accept roles for which their qualifications were not required or unpaid internships. With the end of the recession however, has the situation improved?

The graduate job recession

In 2010, the number of graduates in full-time work, three months post-graduation was 51% – its second-lowest level since 2003 (57%). And in 2009 The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) was reporting that the number of graduate vacancies being advertised had fallen by up to a quarter since before the recession.

With record numbers of graduates now competing for each vacancy, and competing not only with their own graduating class but also with earlier cohorts, it could have been concluded that the era of the traditional graduate employment route was on its way out.

A return to form?

According to recent figures, however, things are looking up. Previewing the second 2015 update of its Graduate Recruitment survey, AGR describes the current graduate market as ‘buoyant’, and notes that the findings of the previous survey indicated an 11.9% increase in graduate vacancies on the previous year. These findings are backed up by the September 2014 edition of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit’s (HESCU’s) What do graduates do, which described the employment prospects for 2012/13 graduates as ‘dramatically improved’ compared to those of their immediate predecessors, with their unemployment rate six months after graduating down at 7.3% from the previous year’s 8.5%.

Additionally, the most recent release of the High Fliers graduate recruitment study suggests that those graduating in 2015 are doing so into the “most attractive graduate market in a decade”, and predicts 8% more vacancies than the previous year. It also notes that the class of 2015 are the first to graduate having paid tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year; this has led to the end of the image of students merely partying their way through their time at university, with the majority now focused on securing a promising career for themselves from as early as first year.

The new face of the graduate job

The prospect of graduating with tens of thousands of pounds of debt appears to be proving quite the motivation for today’s students. Rather than waiting until their final year to seek out internships and careers advice, High Fliers reports that firms are now taking on first year undergraduates in placement roles. Building up a relationship with a desired employer as early as possible is now the key way of securing a job post-graduation according to the report, with those with little or no work experience described as having “no chance” of receiving the offer of a place on a firm’s graduate programme.

AGR’s chief executive Stephen Isherwood has also pointed towards this trend, suggesting that graduate recruitment is being replaced with ‘student recruitment’, as those leaving university face competition from those still at university who have already been hired by employers for apprenticeships or have succeeded in finding an employer to sponsor them through the rest of their studies.

Another issue, as highlighted by Gerbrand Tholen, is the changing definition of what constitutes a graduate job. He notes that the previous understanding of what made a graduate occupation (those that combined expertise, strategic and managerial skills and interactive skills) has been abandoned in favour of defining the extent to which the role utilises specialist, orchestration or communication expertise.

This has led to a blurring between the lines of graduate and non-graduate roles, and also issues with compiling official statistics on the number of graduates employed in each arena. In 2014, the director of High Fliers, Martin Birchall, criticised the Office for National Statistics for not updating their definition of a graduate job since 2002, after they released data which suggested that 47% of recent graduates were not working in jobs which required a higher education qualification. This issue is further compounded by the issue of ‘over-education’ and ‘under-employment’, and the question of whether employers have been able to benefit from a more highly skilled workforce.

The graduate class problem

An important thing to keep in mind is that reporting on graduate labour market trends tends to focus primarily on the most general of findings – considering graduates as a homogenous group. This is particularly true in terms of the social backgrounds of graduates: research has found, and is continuing to find, significant differences in the labour market experience for graduates from working class backgrounds and their more socially privileged backgrounds. Until this much wider issue of a lack of social mobility within the graduate labour market can be addressed, it is perhaps too early to describe the situation as ‘buoyant’ – at least for everyone.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on education and employment trends; to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading on the topics covered in this blog *

‘Graduate jobs’ in OECD countries: development and analysis of a modern skills-based indicator (LLAKES research paper 53)

What do graduates do? Employment review, IN Graduate Market Trends, Autumn 2014, pp12-14

Graduates’ experiences of non-graduate jobs: stop gaps, stepping stones, or dead ends?, IN Graduate Market Trends, Summer 2014, pp6-8

‘You have to be well spoken: students’ views on employability within the graduate labour market, IN Journal of Education and Work, Vol 27 No 2 Apr 2014, pp179-198

The gap between the proportion of young graduates from professional backgrounds who go on to a “graduate job” six months after graduating and young graduates from non-professional background

We need to talk about graduates: the changing nature of the UK graduate labour market

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Zero future for zero hours in a fair economy?

By Stacey Dingwall

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released its second annual update on the number of people employed on zero hours contracts, which suggests that in August 2014 UK firms were employing 1.8 million people on such contracts.

What is a zero hours contract?

According to Acas, the term ‘zero hour contract’ (although not defined in legislation) can be understood as “an employment contract between an employer and a worker, which means the employer is not obliged to provide the worker with any minimum working hours, and the worker is not obliged to accept any of the hours offered”.

Use of the contracts has been a highly controversial issue in recent months, with high-profile retailers such as Sports Direct (who employ 90% of their part time staff on zero hours contracts) coming in for criticism of their “exploitation” of their employees. The sports retailer is also facing legal action from hundreds of their workers due to their exclusion from the company bonus scheme, thanks to the nature of their contracts.

Increasing or not?

The ONS’ first Analysis of Employee Contracts that do not Guarantee a Minimum Number of Hours found that between January and February 2014, 1.4 million UK workers were employed on zero hours contracts. Despite the inevitable headlines depicting the new figure as a direct increase from the 2014 analysis, the ONS was careful to warn against this in its latest analysis, noting that it covers a different time of year than the first release therefore the number of contracts reported may be affected by seasonal factors.

The latest release also includes data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which indicates that the number of people employed on zero hours contracts in their main employment, between October and December 2014, was 697,000 or 2.3% of all people in employment. The figure for the same period the year before was 586,000 or 1.9% of people in employment although again, the ONS are careful to stipulate that they can’t be certain how much of this ‘increase’ is due to greater recognition of what constitutes a zero hours contract, as opposed to new contracts.

The Economic Research Council suggested that a lot of the jobs that have been created recently have come with much less security and guaranteed pay. And the UK Commission for Employment and Skills have noted that 33% of people on zero hour contracts would like to work more hours (either in their current job or in a different one), compared to just 13% of people not on a zero hour contract.

Zero hours and the general election

The issue of the use of zero hours contracts looks set to become a key feature of parties’ campaigns in the upcoming general election. Current Secretary of Business, Innovation and Skills – Liberal Democrat Vince Cable – has already put forward legislation (clause 151 of the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Bill, currently before the House of Lords) which would see exclusivity clauses in contracts (which prevent those employed on zero hours contracts from seeking additional work to supplement their income) banned.

The Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has however defended the contracts, arguing that they “provide people with a flexible way of working and the freedom to arrange jobs around other commitments” and “allow employers to be competitive in response to market trends”.

What of the other parties? Labour has vowed to “end exploitative zero hours contracts” and introduce “new rights” to employees on such contracts, however has stopped short of proposing to ban employers from offering them altogether. Somewhat embarrassingly for the party, figures released by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and seized on by the tabloids, have indicated that over 30 Labour MPs employed staff on zero hours contracts in 2014.

The Green Party is firmly against the use of zero hours contracts altogether: leader Natalie Bennett has been calling on the government to place an outright ban on them since 2013. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has also criticised the long-term use of zero hours contracts by employers, and has called for large employers to be subject to a code of conduct as to how they are applied.

Zero hours contracts aren’t a financial necessity

In these times of budget cuts, many local authorities have argued that they have no choice but to offer some of their workers zero hours contracts. One area in which this has been particularly prevalent is in the provision of social care, with some employees paid on a ‘time and task’ basis, i.e. only for the amount of time they actually spend with a client, which can be as little as 15 minutes in some cases.

In 2012, Southwark Council took the decision to move away from this approach, after feedback from care workers and service users indicated that it did not allow workers to carry out their duties with the required level of compassion. The Council carried out a review of their homecare services and found that extending the length of visits greatly helped in keeping service users healthy in their own homes and out of hospital and residential care. It also noted that the costs of providing longer visits had been ‘passed on’ to their care workforce over time through the use of zero hours contracts and, wishing to end this, announced that from October 2014 they would be eliminating their use altogether, and offering guaranteed hours of employment to their staff.

Immediate reaction to the release of the latest figures has been plentiful; it now remains to be seen whether it is reflected in party campaigns in the forthcoming general election.


The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on zero hours contracts and other employment issues. Items of interest include:

The decent jobs deficit: the human cost of zero-hours working in the UK

Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts

Zero hours contract: not all bad news

Zero-hours contracts: myth and reality

Flexibility or insecurity? Exploring the rise in zero hours contracts