Matthew Taylor: It is time to commit to a good work economy

Press release

In his annual lecture this evening, RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor will argue that all work should be good work – which he defines as “fair and decent, with scope for development and fulfilment”.

He will use the lecture to set out five reasons why it is time to commit to a good work economy: in-work poverty; health and wellbeing; productivity; the impact of automation; and to foster habits of active citizenship.

New research published today by the RSA alongside the lecture shows that

  • 73% of people think we should do more as a country to improve the quality of jobs
  • Only 9% think all jobs currently are fair and decent – but 67% think it is possible that all jobs could be fair and decent

In his lecture, Matthew Taylor will say

“For most of us work is one of the most important things in our life. We spend a lot of our time doing it. It’s how we support ourselves and our families. It’s often where we forge strong friendships and even meet partners. Given how important work is, at the RSA we’re arguing that it should be good for us and good for society.

Over recent decades, government work policy has focused primarily on getting people into jobs with, as current record employment levels attest, considerable success. Yet persistent scandals of bad working conditions, poor legal safeguards and job insecurity suggest that bad work is all too common. We need, therefore, to talk about quality of work, and not just quantity.

At the RSA, we define good work as ‘fair and decent with scope for fulfilment and development.’ I believe this is a realistic aspiration for people at all stages of their careers, in all types of employment and at all levels. Ahead of the Government Review I will be publishing in the summer, now is the time to put good work on the national agenda.”

The lecture follows the #GoodWorkIs social media initiative, which launched last week with backing from organisations including TUC, Institute of Directors, Federation of Small Businesses, CIPD, Usdaw, Business in the Community, and the Carnegie UK Trust.

Demonstrating that there is there is strong support for the concept of good work and quality jobs across civil society, industry and the wider public, Twitter and Facebook users have taken to social media to explain what good work means to them.

For more information, contact: 

Paul Duffy, Head of Media and Communications, RSA

[email protected] +44 (0)7799 737 970


Notes to editors

Research carried out by Populus, Power to the Precariat Survey, 5 – 7 May 2017

Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman said

“Small businesses and the self-employed are going to be at the forefront of improving the quality of our working lives.  Every single person – employer, employee, self-employed, and those outside the labour market – deserves the chance to achieve their full career potential.  The initiative is an important step, and one that we are pleased to support"


John Hannett, General Secretary of Usdaw, said: 

"Usdaw is supporting the RSA to gather evidence about what makes good work. Our members deserve good work and we will be promoting the initiative on our website. This is a great chance for Usdaw members to make it clear what good work means to them."

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development said:

We believe that work can, and should, be a force for good - for individuals, for organisations, and for society. But too often work is not getting the best out of people, not utilising their skills and talents effectively, or engaging them and supporting their wellbeing. In a rapidly changing world of work, we must ensure that however and wherever people work, that we are able to balance flexibility and security, opportunity and progression, and that people are well managed, invested in appropriately, and fairly treated and rewarded for the work they do. These are essential in improving productivity and economic performance, but also in rebuilding trust in organisations. We should shine a stronger light on people management and development practices, encourage greater transparency and therefore also accountability. We need a shift in mindsets and behaviours and application of the principles of good work reaching beyond just rules and compliance.

“The HR profession plays a key role as the experts on people, work, and change, and we’re delighted to be working with the RSA on the Good Work initiative. Only by working together can we encourage accountability, good principles and behaviours in the workplace and make the sustainable change necessary to deliver better work and working lives.”

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: 

“This is a much-needed initiative. Everyone deserves a decent job. But 1 in 10 people now find themselves in insecure work  - often on poverty pay and without basic rights. Employment law hasn’t kept pace with how work has changed.  That’s why the rules that protect working people need dragging into the 21st century. But the real game-changer is giving workers a proper say in how their workplace runs. We need more support for workers to form and join unions and challenge unfair conditions.”

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of the Carnegie UK Trust, said:

“‘Good work should become a clear, explicit UK government outcome ambition. We want there to both more jobs and better jobs. We support the RSA’s goal for all work to be ‘fair and decent, with scope for development and fulfilment’.

The first step is to build an evidence based case for why ‘good work’ is the business of government. To build that case we need both a widely agreed definition of what is meant by ‘good work’ and also a way to measure progress towards that definition across sectors, regions and social groups in the UK. We are committed to be an active partner in creating such a persuasive case.”

Amanda Mackenzie, Chief Executive, Business in the Community, said:

“Business in the Community welcomes the RSA’s Good Work initiative. We ask companies to improve low income employment, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it will also return greater employee engagement and productivity.”


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