With new analysis this week showing as many as 50,000 women lose their jobs each year while taking time off to have a baby, insecurity appears to be the new normal for British workers.
From mothers losing out whilst on maternity leave, to the rocketing growth of zero hour contracts on which as many as 1m people are now employed, millions of people face instability at work. These bad employment practices combined with the on-going squeeze on wages means that over half of people say they struggle to keep up with bills. As conference approaches, Vince Cable would do well to consider these issues as matters of pressing importance.
The findings of the comprehensive 2012 Skills and Employment Survey, published early this year, confirm the scale of the problem. It found that employees are feeling more insecure, fearful and stressed at work than at any time in the past 20 years.
Workplaces structured by patterns of domination, hierarchy and managerial prerogative run counter to the ideals of an inclusive, generous liberalism, and leave millions of workers marginalised, lacking autonomy and financial security.
However, these detrimental outcomes don’t occur by chance. They are the negative consequences of the dominant and defective UK business model, which was critically exposed in the financial crash as bad for the long-term health of companies, their employees and the UK taxpayer.
Fortunately, there is a successful alternative to that model that better balances the needs of employees, owners and management by aligning their interests: shared capitalism. Workforces where there is significant employee ownership or involvement in the running of the company have higher rates of satisfaction, higher rates of job security and greater commitment to their company.
Nick Clegg, in his “John Lewis” economy speech in January 2012, took a step in the right direction. However, the Government can do more. IPPR’s recent Power and Profit Sharing report shows the Government has a wide range of options to advance the shared capitalism agenda. A few examples include strengthening and expanding consultation rights, restoring the tax advantage to employee benefit trusts, and looking at how to incentivise profit-sharing on a much wider scale.
This agenda should be a natural fit for the Liberal Democrats. After all, John Stuart Mill was one of the original champions of the idea, writing in Principles of Political Economy:
“In this or some such mode, the existing accumulations of capital might honestly, and by a kind of spontaneous process, become in the end the joint property of all who participate in their productive employment: a transformation which, thus effected…would be the nearest approach to social justice, and the most beneficial ordering of industrial affairs for the universal good, which it is possible at present to foresee.”
We can still foresee the powerful effects that shared capitalism could achieve for companies and employees alike; it is now time to act and make that vision a common reality.
* Mathew Lawrence is a researcher at IPPR