Published 22 August 2023
This paper presents results from a new synthetic index of multi-dimensional Quality of Work (QoW) for the UK, using data from five waves of Understanding Society (Waves 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12) covering the years 2012-2013 to 2020-2021. The index operationalises a conceptual framework for measuring QoW using the Capability Approach (Stephens, 2023), with an emphasis on the objective rather than subjective aspects of work (Felstead et al., 2019). It comprises 6 Dimensions – Earnings, Insurance, Security, Autonomy and Voice, Work-Life Balance, and Prospects – and 11 Indicators. In line with a number of recent international studies, it adopts an indicator cut-off, weighting, and aggregation approach informed by the Alkire-Foster method (García-Pérez et al., 2017; González et al., 2021; Hovhannishan et al., 2022; Sehnbruch et al., 2020). QoW indicator scores are therefore assigned using cut-offs, with a mix of binary (2-level) and categorical (3-level) cut-offs depending on the indicator. These cut-offs then determine dimensional and, ultimately, index scores.
The index suggests there has been a mixed picture for UK job quality over the past decade, with marked changes for some groups and dimensions but stagnation in others. There has been an improvement in mean QoW index scores for employees, led particularly by (a) a sharp rise in workplace pension enrolment as a result of the Pensions Act 2008 and, to a lesser extent, (b) an improvement in wages at the bottom 20% of the distribution. This provides new evidence to support trends already discussed in the literature. However, this masks significant underlying inequalities in job quality. There has been a decline in QoW amongst the self-employed, leading to increased labour market polarisation between employees and more insecure workers. Further, despite improvements in wages, the index also suggests there has been little-to-no corresponding improvement in the proportion of workers able to achieve sufficient earnings to meet the Minimum Income Standards – partly accounted for by a fall in working hours amongst the self-employed. The index also highlights marked sub-group differences in job quality by age, sex, geography, and ethnicity.