Author Archives: Catherine Pope

Migrant Workers in the UK – it’s time to talk

If the people who study elections are to be believed the UK Independence Party may take a second parliamentary seat in the Rochester by-election on 20th November. Mark Reckless, the UKIP candidate has made much in his campaign of the need to ‘get a grip’ on migration into the UK and has perpetuated ideas that migrant workers are a drain on the British economy and welfare state. A report in the Independent quoted Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader and MEP as saying that Britain was the “cheap labour economy of the European Union” as a result of “uncontrolled” levels of migration.

Against this recent research analyses by Professor Christian Dustmann and Dr Tommaso Frattini from UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration show that skilled migrant workers from the EU have boosted the British economy by some £20bn over the past decade. This reflects earlier research conducted by Pauline Leonard and Derek McGhee of the Work Futures Research Centre, University of Southampton which revealed the economic benefits brought by EU migrants from the Accession States to the Solent Region.

So what is the truth about migrant workers in the UK – are they a drain or a gain?

We know from data provided by the Office for National Statistics that there have been recent rises in migration into the UK, and that much of this has come in the form of people from the recession-hit European countries Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, and Poland. Net migration from the EU has reportedly reached its highest level since 1964.  (The Guardian, Thursday 27 February 2014)



But are these people really “all on benefits” and “taking British jobs” ?

Uncertainty and change in work, economy and society are core issues for us here at the WFRC and so these debates and questions about migrant workers fall clearly within our remit. Earlier this year we learnt about the TUC’s campaign, begun in the South West, which attempted to stand up to the ‘tidal wave of hysteria’ about migration and provide information to bridge the gap between public perception around these issues and the reality. Inspired by their ‘Truth, Lies & Migrants’ campaign we decided to convene our own panel of experts to look at interdisciplinary research, policy and evidence about migration, population patterns and employment in the UK. This idea has grown into a half day symposium on the theme of ‘Migrant Work Futures’ to be held on Tuesday 25th November at Westgate Hall, Southampton. We are delighted to have a stellar line up of academics who are researching and contributing to debates on migration and work who will speak alongside representatives from the Trade Union Congress. We will hear evidence and perspectives from Political Science, Geography and Social Science, learn about the TUC campaign, and, we hope, have a contribution from a local MEP. But most of all we will have a lively and informed debate about Migrant Work Futures based on scholarship and science rather than hyperbole and tabloid headlines.

This event is free but prior booking is required:

Eventbrite - Migrants Work Futures

We look forward to seeing you on 25th November.


Precarious work futures?

Amongst all the fuss about the recent Great British Class Survey (GBCS), a collaboration between social scientists Professor Mike Savage and Professor Fiona Devine of LSE and University of Manchester, and the BBC was the interesting observation that the group at the bottom of the social class structure are what the survey’s authors call  the “precariat” (or precarious proletariat). This group – the most deprived of the lot –  makes up 15% of the population, its members earn just £8,000 after tax, have average savings of £800, and are extremely unlikely to go on to higher education. Elsewhere Guy Standing has argued that what he labelled as the precariat is the “new dangerous class” while some others on the left have argued that “We are all the precariat”.

In the Work Futures Research Centre we were interested in the GBCS and the debate surrounding it because of what it told us about workers, different forms of capital and the enduring relationships between work and class. We were especially intrigued by the concept and delineation of precariat particularly the idea that these workers might be on limited, short term or zero hour contracts, those who experience maximum job insecurity.

Working as researchers in academia we are all too aware of the job insecurity of our own profession (in 2010/11 HESA data showed that 68.9% of research staff were on fixed term contracts, continually chasing new research jobs and experiencing redundancy and disruption). But we are also aware of research and commentary that suggests that a rise in freelancing work and especially the ‘micro-gig’ is a new way of working that is welcomed by employers and some employees.

Are these micro-giggers also the precariat?

On one hand, short term work or freelancing offers freedoms – to manage time and work life balance – on the other these ‘gigs’ often come with lower pay, reduced benefits (no sick or maternity pay or leave entitlement) and produce what look like very precarious working lives.

It is suggested that casual work is no longer the sole occupation for the unskilled (think dockers and agricultural labourers) and is becoming the preferred employment mode for professionals such as laywers and skilled technical workers. Reportedly, gig working is the major shift in working patterns of this century. This new mode of work even has its own nomenclature – this is the ‘Freelance Nation’ and ‘Generation flux’ and has spawned various websites ( and devoted to supporting ‘gig’ working.  In addition it appears that more of these new freelancers are women which we might expect as women often cluster in part time employment, but some writers suggest that this represents a rebalancing of work – that women have an answer to austerity and the economic ‘mancession’.

What does all this mean for Work Futures?  I’m not sure. Clearly we are living in very interesting, changing times.  There are issues here – about class, casualization, gender and employment.  All things that matter to those of us interested in the future of work.



Savage M, Devine F, Cunningham N. et al. A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment. Sociology 2013 vol. 47 no. 2:219-250

Standing G.  The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011

Pushing forward on gender equality at the House of Commons

The Work Futures Research Centre was delighted to celebrate the eve of International Women’s Day with a panel discussion on ‘Gender Equality at Work: how far have we come and how far have we still got to go?’, held in the Palmerstone Committee room at the Palace of Westminster, London.

This event marked the start of a new Public Policy@Southampton commission which will bring together the views of academics, policy makers, practitioners, employers and employees to consider how policy might make a difference to gender equality at work.

Professor Pauline Leonard opened the event with a brief overview of some of the key legislative, cultural and economic shifts in gendered aspects of work over the past 40 years. Professor Susan Halford then introduced our distinguished speakers: we began with a view from the top – courtesy of Lynne Berry OBE, deputy chair of the Canal and River Trust, who explored why women are so poorly represented on the executive boards of major companies. She spoke of ambitious targets for  greater representation of women on company Boards, noting that while women have a bit more of a foothold in the voluntary and charitable sector they are still not taken seriously in FTSE 100 or FTS 250 companies. If we have a way to go at Board level, the picture was equally depressing when our next speaker Alan Whitehead MP  reminded us that  there had been under 400 women MPs since they first entered the House in 1918 (currently there are 146 women and 504 male MPs). Alan alerted us to the 32 men pictured in the splendid artwork adorning the committee room walls and the absence of a single female portrait; he suggested that without serious changes to selection and election processes this male dominance of the political sphere would continue.


Next, Samantha Mangwana, from Slater and Gordon Lawyers, spoke from the heart about the civil law cases she represents giving us anonymised, but extremely grim, accounts of the kinds of workplace harassment and sexual discrimination which women experience.  In passing she mentioned that 1 in 7 women lose their jobs after maternity leave.  Evangelia Bourmpoula from International Labour Organisation provided a wide ranging economists view of the global position of women in labour market using a wealth of research to demonstrate the continued vulnerability of working women in most of the world.  We then returned to the UK context with our final speaker Helen Sachdev, a Director at Barclays, who described some of the very positive training and development programmes this bank has introduced to support and develop its women employees.  She also gave a reflexive personal view of how gender discrimination had changed in her own working life – she felt that there was much to be positive about because women were less subject to overt and aggressive forms of discrimination, but that unconscious bias still persisted and could hold women back.

That may seem on the whole a fairly negative appraisal of how far we have come – yet the panel was inspirational and uplifting, not least because all the participants spoke passionately about how they overcame discrimination and used their work and experience to challenge gender inequality. Together the panel (and the lively contributions from the audience) provided a welcome and positive start to the work of the Policy Commission. We hope to report more here as this work continues but in the meantime want to acknowledge the fantastic start to the debate given by our splendid panel.

Further work on this commission will be continued, providing an evidence based Policy Briefing with a view to changing public policy in this area.  Podcasts of the event will soon be available at

Please visit the Work Futures Research Centre website for further news about the centre’s research at:

Follow us on twitter @WorkFutures

Speaking truth to power

The WFRC responds to parliamentary consultation on health workforce

Speaking truth to power might be a duty of researchers or ‘public intellectuals’ but we seldom have direct access to the ears of those in government.  Instead we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to disseminate research via reports, conferences, papers and the occasional press release in the hope that policy makers will listen.  When we heard that the House of Commons Health Committee wanted responses to its consultation on health education, training and workforce planning it was an opportunity we could not ignore.  We were able to call on the knowledge of WFRC members based in the Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences who educate future health professionals to point out how the mix of skills of healthcare staff is changing – for example by extended scope physiotherapists who use techniques previously only used by orthopaedic surgeons. We crafted a short response to the consultation drawing on our expertise – for example citing our recent research about how information technology was being used to augment or ‘replace’ roles and at healthcare workplaces as learning environments.

Over a hundred individual pieces of written evidence were submitted alongside evidence from an impressive cast of witnesses ranging from Dr Peter Carter the General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, to Dr Patricia Hamilton CBE the Director of Medical Education at Department of Health. Launching the Committee’s report Stephen Dorrell MP criticised NHS workforce training as “complex, inflexible and unfair” and aired concerns about workforce planning in the reconfigured NHS. As we here at Southampton prepare for the new academic year – greeting the new cohorts of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals joining courses at this University, and as we continue to research healthcare work futures, we are looking through the government’s response to the inquiry, published in September to see if they were listening.