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Helping Oxfam create decent work in Scotland

In-work poverty is a major socio-economic problem. In 2013 52% of working age adults and 59% of children in Scotland were living in households where at least someone was in work. Almost a fifth of the workforce was paid below the living wage; of which 64% were women. Underemployment and job security are also issues: in 2014 around 180,000 workers in Scotland were underemployed and 120,000 on zero-hour contracts.

This project was a response to these problems. It involved applying IER’s existing expertise in job quality to the creation of a set of measures of Decent Work for Oxfam, one of the world’s leading charities. The aim of the project was to inform public debate and political party thinking ahead of the Scottish elections in May 2016 by proposing a decent work agenda for Scotland. Thereafter, the project hoped to encourage the explicit adoption of the decent work agenda by the Scottish Government post May 2016.

Led by Oxfam, the project was co-branded with IER and the University of the West of Scotland. Chris Warhurst and Sally Wright were involved from IER. Their participation was enabled by funding from the University of Warwick’s ESRC Impact Accelerator Account.

The project wanted to provide low wage workers with a voice about what mattered to them and so used mixed participatory research methods to ask people about their priorities, concerns and ambitions about what they needed to live well. Data was gathered from across Scotland through focus groups, semi-structured interviews, street stalls and a YouGov online opinion poll. From this data Sally Wright developed a set of weighted rankings for decent work.

Even before publication of its findings, the project attracted interest and support from the Scottish Parliament. The Inquiry into Work, Wages and Wellbeing reported in early 2016, after hearing evidence from the project, it wanted the Scottish Government-established Fair Work Commission to ‘consider carefully the findings of Oxfam‘s work’ in its deliberations. Evidence was submitted to this Commission as well as to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee. The report from the project – What makes for decent work? A study with low paid workers in Scotland – was published later in 2016 and was co-authored by Sally Wright. It was launched, with a debate, in the Scottish Parliament, with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary in attendance. Throughout 2016 the project gained considerable social media, newspaper and radio attention in Scotland and was cited by the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, during committee debate about the work, wages and wellbeing report as well as by John Finnie MSP during a debate in the main parliamentary chamber about the living wage and Scottish football clubs. Its impact is on-going and is monitored by Oxfam.


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