Written evidence from Professor Alan Felstead, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University [PCW0065]


The foundation of good evidence-based policy is robust and timely data.  Without it, predictions of the future are little more than guesses.  For this reason, the UK government needs to take a lead in putting in place the necessary data infrastructure to track the impact that macro-level changes are having on the day-to-day working lives of its citizensThese changes include the impact of Covid-19 and the associated economic recession, the exit of the UK from the EU, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Academic theories, such as skills-biased and effort-biased technological change, help to highlight the ways in which technology may have an impact on the quality of jobs.  But robust and timely data are needed to support or challenge predictions based on theories.[1]  The importance of good/fair work also features in discussions about productivity and levelling up the economy.  It is also central to initiatives launched in Wales and Scotland as well as those in London, Manchester and Liverpool.[2]


The need for robust and timely data has never been higher.  The UK, however, is facing a perfect storm – an increased need to know how the world of work is changing alongside a weakening evidence base on which to track and understand change.



There are, however, less robust, but cheaper, ways of collecting data.  These are either based on quota samples where only those meeting certain criteria are allowed to complete the survey or based on uncontrolled sampling where anyone can take part.  The UK has examples of both these approaches.



It is widely acknowledged that ‘there is a strong policy need for better measures of job quality’ in order to improve workers’ well-being, increase productivity and competitiveness, and boost societal welfare.[9]  The UK government has gone a step further by agreeing to ‘report annually on the quality of work in the UK economy and hold ourselves to account’.[10]  Yet, official data on job quality remains thin on the ground. 



Nevertheless, the ESRC in the UK has taken a leading role in investing in major research infrastructure projects about working life.[18] These produce results of great value to both the research and policy-making communities, and provide high quality, individual-level surveys for secondary analyses.  However, none of the robust datasets reviewed here – SES or WERS – have a secure funding base and they are relatively small in comparison to other countries’ efforts.  Furthermore, following the UK’s departure from the EU other sources of robust data – such as EWCS – will no longer be available for the UK in the future.  Modest attempts have been made to insert job quality questions into existing official government surveys.  But they are not sufficient to the challenge of preparing the UK for changes in the world of work and do not examine the challenges of digitalisation.  Nevertheless, there are existing surveys – most notably SES and WERS – which could be expanded, developed and funded by DWP and other government departments (such as BEIS).  Taking such action would plug an important gap in the UK’s data infrastructure and allow policy makers robust and timely data on which to better prepare the UK for changes in the world of work.




[1] Felstead, A, Gallie, D, Green, F and Henseke, G (2019) ‘The determinants of skills use and work pressure: a longitudinal analysis’, Economic and Industrial Democracy, 40(3): 730-754; Green, F, Felstead, A, Gallie, D and Henseke, G (2020) ‘Working still harder’, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, early view online; Felstead, A, Gallie, D, Green, F and Henseke, G (2020) ‘Getting the measure of employee-driven innovation and its workplace correlates’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, 58(4): 904-935.

[2] Irvine, G (2020) (ed.) Can Good Work Solve the Productivity Puzzle? Collected Essays, Dunfermline: Carnegie Trust; Welsh Government (2019) Fair Work Wales: Report of the Fair Work Commission, Cardiff: Welsh Government; Scottish Government (2016) Fair Work Framework 2016, Glasgow: Scottish Government; Johns, M, Raikes, L and Hunter, J (2019) Decent Work: Harnessing the Power of Local Government, Manchester: Institute of Public Policy Research North.

[3] Eurofound (2020) Living, Working and COVID-19, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, p7; Felstead, A (2020) ‘Are online job quality quizzes of any value? Selecting questions, maximising quiz completions and estimating biases’, Employee Relations, early view online.

[4] https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/ses2017

[5] https://beta.ukdataservice.ac.uk/datacatalogue/studies/study?id=8589

[6] https://www.niesr.ac.uk/wers; van Wanrooy, B, Bewley, H, Bryson, A, Forth, J, Freeth, S, Stokes, L and Wood, S (2013) Employment Relations in the Shadow of the Recession: Findings from the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

[7] Williams, M, Zhou, Y and Zou, M (2020) CIPD Good Work Index 2020: UK Working Lives Survey, London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

[8] Felstead, A, Gallie, D, Green, F and Henseke, G (2019) ‘Conceiving, designing and trailing a short form measure of job quality: a proof-of-concept study’, Industrial Relations Journal, 50(1): 2-19.

[9] OECD (2017) OECD Guidelines on Measuring the Quality of the Working Environment, Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, p14.

[10] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices, p13.

[11] http://doc.ukdataservice.ac.uk/doc/6721/mrdoc/pdf/labour_force_survey_newsletter_april_2020.pdf

[12] Irvine, G, White, D and Diffley, M (2018) Measuring Good Work: The Final Report of the Measuring Job Quality Working Group, Dunfermline: Carnegie Trust;

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/627671/good-work-taylor-review-modern-working-practices-rg.pdf, p102.

[13] Felstead, A and Green, F (2017) ‘Working longer and harder? A critical assessment of work effort in Britain in comparison to Europe’, in Grimshaw, D, Fagan, C, Hebson, G and Tavora, I (eds) Making Work More Equal: A New Labour Market Segmentation Approach, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

[14] https://www.stat.fi/meta/til/tyoolot_en.html

[15] https://www.bibb.de/en/15182.php

[16] http://beh.santepubliquefrance.fr/beh/2018/12-13/2018_12-13_2.html

[17] https://www.indagineprofessioni.it/

[18] For example, the ESRC has been the majority funder of five out of the seven Skills and Employment Surveys.  Other funders have included central government departments and agencies, the devolved administrations and universities. 




November 2020