Matthew Taylor: economic insecurity "new normal" as four in ten fear for living standards

Press release

Millions of Brits face the 2020s fearing a more insecure labour market with little faith the state is willing to help them, the chief executive of the RSA will warn.

In his annual lecture as chief executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), Matthew Taylor will argue that economic insecurity has become the “new normal” and that it lies behind much public pessimism and anger.  

Showing that insecurity is a social ill that affects more people than commonly thought, Taylor will argue that changes in the economy, in policy and our view of ourselves have made insecurity endemic.  

Tackling this new social evil means changes ranging from labour market and welfare reform (including pilots of universal basic income) to lifelong learning and building the self-help capacity of communities, he will say.  

A new Populus poll of 2,000 people, commissioned to accompany the speech, finds:  

  • 40% of UK adults – or 21 million – are not confident of leading a decent standard of living in ten years – compared to just 43% who are confident [1]  
  • 78% believe workers face more uncertainty and anxiety about their jobs than they did a generation ago  
  • 58% believe government should provide more support to people to help them become more financially secure, including all classes (55% of AB; 59% C1; 57% C2; 63% of DE), 62% of women and 55% of men, and 69% of 25-34 year-olds
  • 62% agree "people like me get little or no help from the government”  
  • 54% think inequality will increase without government action
  • 42% believe economic insecurity and poverty are largely the result of government policy; 23% blame individuals’ own choices, and 17% cite the impact of business and employment practices such as zero-hour contracts
  • 35% of ABs say they are currently enjoying a decent standard of living, but are not confident of doing so in a decade’s time.  

A focus on age as well as class is also crucial, Taylor will add: only 33% of 35-44 year olds think they will maintain a good standard of living over the next 12 months, compared to 62% of over 65s.  

But older groups worry their relative affluence today may soon end, the polling suggests, as the proportion confident of maintaining a decent standard of living drops from 62% confident for the next year to just over one-in-four in a decade's time, while younger groups are more confident in their prospects.   

And though Brexit will be the top issue for most age groups in December’s election, "poverty and inequality in society" and "my family’s finances" also feature in the top issues groups say will influence their vote:  







Brexit (76%)  

Health and social care (71%)  

Brexit (78%)  

Brexit (73%) 

Brexit (80%)  

Brexit (85%)  

Health and social care (72%)  

UK economy (69%)  

UK economy (75%)  

Home affairs (70%) 

UK economy (70%)  

Health and social care (80%)  

Environment/climate change (70%)  

Brexit (68%)  

Health and social care (71%)  

Health and social care (70%) 

Health and social care (72%)  

UK economy (78%)  

UK economy (69%)  

Poverty/inequality (60%)  

Home affairs (69%)  

UK economy (69%) 


Home affairs (69%)  

Home affairs (74%)  

Education/culture (65%)  

Home affairs (59%)  

My family's finances (69%)  

Poverty/inequality (57%) 

My family's finances (54%)  

Poverty/inequality (53%)  


To tackle this crisis, Taylor will call for:  

  • tough measures to address precarity: including a focus on universalism to catch the many missed by a focus on ‘targeting’, such as piloting universal basic income  
  • tough measures to address the causes of precarity: devolving power to local areas, encouragement of inclusive growth, and for companies to take a greater role in the areas in which they are based  
  • a new economic focus, away from free market neoliberalism in favour of a more communitarian capitalism, focused on mutuals and co-operatives.   

The RSA defines economic security as “the degree of confidence that a person can have in maintaining a decent quality of life, now and in the future, given their economic and financial circumstances." Economic insecurity meanwhile is strongly linked to a wide-range of social ills, including poor health.  

The speech will take place at 1800h on Monday 18 November at RSA House in central London. Media are invited to attend but accreditation is essential – see contact details.   


Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, will say:  

There is no question that economic worry is the new normal for millions of people in this country. The OECD ranks the UK high among developed world counties for employment insecurity while also recognising that – despite its importance – it has no accepted international definition or metrics. However, given its strong association with disadvantage, how does exploring economic insecurity as a social ill add to a more conventional focus on poverty or inequality?

"The most obvious answer is that it [economic security] is not just a social fact; it is a human feeling.

“As Joseph Rowntree Foundation research has shown, most people in poverty don’t recognise themselves as such. People know that that society is unjust, but few would say that inequality was something they personally suffered. By contrast, insecurity we recognise. 

“More viscerally, it is the unpleasant and often distressing anxiety that we either cannot make ends meet or that we are one setback – loss of work, an unexpected bill, a bout of ill-health – from disaster. Insecurity limits people’s horizons and imaginations, forcing them to focus on the here and now rather than longer term possibilities...

“To achieve a step change in human welfare and wellbeing, including a major diminution of economic insecurity, involves resetting and realigning these systems of authority, belief and aspiration. Reforming authority and restoring people’s faith in institutions. Strengthening solidarity and freeing civil society. And challenging a mythical, arid and destructive account of individual motivation and fulfilment.” 

[Full embargoed speech available on request] 



Survey methodology: 

Populus conducted an online sample of 2,000 GB 18+ adults. Fieldwork was conducted between 6 and 7 November 2019. Data is weighted to be representative of the population of Great Britain. Targets for quotas and weights are taken from the National Readership Survey, a random probability F2F survey conducted annually with 34,000 adults. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For further information see   




For an embargoed speech copy and/or full polling breakdown, please contact: Ash Singleton, Head of Media & Communications, RSA: [email protected], 07799 737 970. 



  1. The 40% includes 31% who are currently maintaining a good standard of living and but are not confident they will be in ten years, plus the 9% who are not currently maintaining a decent standard of living and are not confident they will in ten years. The 43% who are confident include 33% who are currently maintaining a good standard of living and think they will be in ten years, and 10% who think they are not currently leading a decent standard of life, but think they will be in ten years. 

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is an independent charity which believes in a world where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future.   

Through our ideas, research and a 30,000 strong Fellowship, we are a global community of proactive problem solvers, sharing powerful ideas, carrying out cutting-edge research and building networks. We create opportunities for people to collaborate, influence, and demonstrate practical solutions to realise change.  

Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to put communities in control.

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