The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commissioned Learning and Work Institute (L&W) to explore the major drivers of changes in the world of work and analyse the equality and human rights implications for groups with different protected characteristics in Britain.
As part of this research, the impact of three long-term British labour market trends on people with certain protected characteristics have been examined. These are:
- the increase in flexible ways of working (whether by time or place)
- the growth of self-employment and the gig economy, and
- the increasing use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).
In this report, long-term employment trends are defined as phenomena that have been around for more than a decade and have had a significant impact on how work is shaped. This research focused on the protected characteristics of age, disability, race, and sex due to limited data. There are challenges in measuring and interpreting the impacts of many of these long-term trends, so it is important to be cautious in drawing conclusions.
Work is becoming more flexible, digital and automated but these changes in the labour market do not affect everyone equally. Those who face more barriers to work can be disproportionately adversely affected by these trends. Conversely, these changes can also widen opportunities. We need to better understand what the data and evidence tell us about the impact on people with certain protected characteristics. But we must also acknowledge that these outcomes are not inevitable.
Many of the changes we see in the British labour market can help to improve the lives of people who have been traditionally excluded. While the focus of this research is on the implications for groups with different protected characteristics, human rights principles, such as equality of participation, non-discrimination and privacy rights, also apply. Human rights considerations need to be central to any response to these findings on behalf of governments.
This report is based on:
- a detailed literature review
- an analysis of Labour Force Survey data, and
- interviews and workshops with experts.
Since the Labour Force Survey does not allow us to measure the total number of workers in the gig economy, throughout the research we have measured the change in the number of workers on zero-hours contracts. Although this only provides a partial picture, it is one of the measurable indicators of the gig economy.