Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union
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Prospect’s manifesto for good work: why politicians must act

Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union

All is not well in the world of work, despite the economic recovery. GDP has only just returned to the 2008 pre-recession level. Productivity and real wages have both fallen, with employment growth mainly in low-paid service sectors.

As a politically independent trade union, Prospect does not tell members how to vote. But in the run-up to the election, we believe any political party aspiring to government should have a compelling vision of what good work looks like, as well as a programme to deliver it.

That’s why we have drawn up a manifesto of ideas spelling out what good work is, and what politicians need to do.

The union consulted with its members across the public and private sectors, and has conducted dialogue with employers, professional bodies and other labour market experts. We would like to hear more politicians addressing this core agenda. Good work should not be optional and key components should include:

The UK has one of the worst records among OECD countries for using skills at work effectively. The quality of working life continues to deteriorate, both in the public and private sectors, with rising levels of stress and mental ill-health.

People want to do work that is enjoyable, stretching and fulfilling, and they want their families and communities to have these opportunities, too. When Prospect consulted its own members, people identified four priorities for improvement:

  • giving employees a voice
  • fair pay and reward
  • better management of change
  • engagement and respect of employees.

As pointed out by think tank The Smith Institute, which is conducting its own inquiry into making work better, over the last 30 years “there has been a decline in the level of control people experience at work, the extent of their ability to participate (both individually and collectively) in decision-making processes and a consequent decline in the level of trust in senior managers”.

(www.smith-institute.org.uk/file/Making%20Work%20Better%20Prospectus.pdf )

The same organisation has found that worker voice in the UK is at a woeful level – one of the poorest in Europe. Only Lithuania is worse.

Low pay and zero-hours contracts are totemic issues, and parties’ policies on these issues provide a clear signal of political values and motivation.

But more is necessary. The world of work is complex and diverse. A coherent and comprehensive policy framework is needed to complement responses to particular issues.

Politicians who think that they already have policies to underpin a good work culture should shout now, because our members certainly haven’t yet heard them. Frankly, all parties have more to do.

For example, we want politicians to commit to reforming corporate governance to give greater emphasis to and accountability for the long-term implications of decision-making.

The government as an employer should lead by example in relation to its own directly employed staff. Public procurement policies must improve supply chain practices, including investment in high quality training and skills and a decent working environment.

We want politicians to work with government departments, companies and other stakeholders to devise measures of good work; give them equal weight to the financial metrics that currently predominate; and mandate corporate reporting on this basis.

We would also like to see a commitment to legislating for works councils, which help promote genuine collaboration and consultation on strategic decisions.

We invite all politicians to set out their vision of a good workplace and a good job, and to be prepared to debate that vision in public.

There are two compelling reasons why they should do so: first, Britain needs more good jobs in high-performing workplaces to rebalance the economy. Second, driving positive change at work is without doubt a vote-winning agenda.

Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union

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MasterCard Worldwide

Could technology hold the key to eliminating financial exclusion?

Technology and electronic payments are a lever, providing new ways to bring people into the system and to reduce vulnerable citizens’ reliance on cash.

There is still a long way to go to improve the nation’s financial health.  A key aspect of this is to tackle financial exclusion, and to ensure that every adult is connected in the right way and affordably, to the regular, and therefore regulated financial system. Financial Inclusion is not a party political issue, it is a necessity which makes economic and social policy sense. Where people are financially included individuals, firms, and society as a whole benefit.   

The assumption that financial exclusion is a problem solely in developing economies alone could not be further from the truth. In Western Europe, the population of unbanked and underbanked totals 93 million people. The UK is also ranked ninth in the world in terms of banking inclusion, however two million adults still do not have a bank account. As the UK recovers from the economic crisis, living standards have fallen and inclusion in the financial system remains a major issue. This is despite the fact that the UK leads the world in financial services and technology. Sluggish wage growth, unemployment and macroeconomic uncertainties have placed great pressure on household budgets, exacerbating the fragility of personal finances for many of Britain’s most vulnerable citizens.

While there has been good progress made in the past to address the exclusion problem, the need to realise financial inclusion has never been greater. In March 2015 a report published by the Financial Inclusion Commission, a non-partisan, cross-party group of experts and parliamentarians, identified 20 key recommendations that policy makers could implement to create a financially healthy society. Among them was the recognition of the potential opportunities offered by developments in technology and digital innovation to connect all citizens to the banking system.

Technology and electronic payments are a lever, providing new ways to bring people into the system and to reduce vulnerable citizens’ reliance on cash. Evidence and experience has shown that where cash usage is higher, so is the level of corruption, poverty and exclusion, as well as lower levels of productivity and growth. The Bank of England recently published analysis of cash usage, finding that half of cash in circulation is held overseas or used in the shadow economy. Due to the untraceable nature of this tender, it is not known how much cash is lost to each market.

Promoting cashless economies, supported by technology, has a significant impact on the financial capability of individuals in managing private finances. New technologies enabling bank account holders to distribute their money into jam jars is an example of the role digital innovations are playing in addressing the exclusion issue.  There are already examples of where this is working. In the UK, the diverse London Borough of Brent recognised the opportunity electronic payments present and became UK’s first cashless local authority. Internationally, programmes like SASSA in South Africa and Adahaar in India, are overcoming the challenges of access and identification in disbursing welfare to remote communities, revolutionising the financial capability and access of the welfare recipients.

Yet, underlining all of this is a need for real leadership to drive the financial inclusion agenda. Politicians and industry both have important roles to play in joining-up and supporting the many organisations and individuals already doing good work in this area. Only through this leadership can the UK become a truly financially inclusive society.

Mark Barnett

President, UK and Ireland

MasterCard

Tackling financial exclusion is a global corporate objective for MasterCard, who provide support for the Financial Inclusion Commission.