Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
6 January 2021updated 08 Sep 2021 8:53am

Spotlight Leader: an equitable future

Government must put equality at the heart of policy as the world of work changes. 

By Spotlight

The future of work has “already arrived”, the World Economic Forum (WEF) declared in October last year. According to its Future of Jobs 2020 report, the pandemic had accelerated changes to the world of work. With the workforce automating faster than anticipated, the WEF estimated that 85 million jobs would be displaced in the next five years. 

Businesses and governments have long discussed the potential impact of AI and automation, but the Covid-19 “home-working revolution” proved that high-tech virtual jobs will be an enduring feature of this brave new world. Further, parallel conversations about the climate crisis raised the prospect of new, clean energy jobs as the world transitions to net zero.

But the economic impacts of the pandemic also laid bare underlying inequalities in the labour market and in the workplace. Women’s jobs have been 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than those of men, according to McKinsey, with women over-represented in vulnerable industries such as retail and hospitality. There has been an increase in automation in both sectors. Women have also taken on more of the unpaid care burden. Those from black, Asian, and ethnic minority backgrounds have been particularly affected. According to the Fawcett Society, 50 per cent of BAME working women are worried about their job or promotion, compared to 43 per cent of working women in general.

Last year, jobs and skills were a big focus of the government’s coronavirus response – from the furlough scheme to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. As countries work to rebuild economies, there is growing consensus on the need for green and sustainable recovery. But if economic recovery plans, job creation schemes and the “new normal” of remote and flexible working do not proactively aim for equality of gender, race, disability and class, the future of work, however clean or automated it is, will look much like today when it comes to access and opportunity.

As the Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, Marsha de Cordova, tells Spotlight, unless government puts equality at the heart of policy as the world of work changes, “those groups that have been disproportionately negatively impacted” in the past will continue to be in the future.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Read more: Marsha de Cordova: the government should “stop with the culture wars” and focus on equality

This article originally appeared in the Spotlight report on the future of work. Click here for the full edition.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them