Just Deserts – Poverty and income inequality

Posted on 10 Sep 2013 under Previous Publications, Working with Business

Can workplace democracy make a difference?


This most timely report provides an important analysis of deep-rooted problems in the UK’s labour market. It presents an insightful critique of how workplace democracy, in its different forms, can help tackle the rising levels of in-work poverty and income inequality. Having reviewed the case for workforce involvement, the report offers a compelling argument for change and makes a number of practical recommendations to government, employers, employees and their representatives.

Workplace democracy is not a panacea for the problems of low pay and poverty, but – as the evidence gathered in this report demonstrates – it can make a significant contribution to solving the problem. Indeed, as the report shows, the institutions and policies to support workplace democracy and tackle low pay that are commonplace in western Europe (and were once present in the UK) are now notable for their absence. The report does not argue for a return to the corporatist policies of the past or pretend that remedying the power imbalance in the workplace will be easy or free of conflict. Rather, it calls for more “inclusive” labour market policies, with stronger measures to promote workplace democracy (such as corporate governance reform), fair wages in the public-sector supply chain and skillbuilding programmes for the unemployed. Furthermore, the policies for tackling low pay and in-work poverty are presented as an integrated package and considered as part of the agenda for a more efficient and responsible form of capitalism.

Much of the narrative in this report is influenced by the work of Beatrice and Sydney Webb, who were pioneers in exploring the links between the activities of trade unions and the incidence of poverty. Although the world has changed dramatically since their time, the arguments for social partnership and fairness at work remain just as valid today.

We would like to thank David Coats, the report’s author, for his sterling work, as well as John Monks and the other members of the advisory committee for all their patience and advice. We also offer a special thanks to all the interviewees and experts who contributed to the project.

Finally, we hope that the report will appeal to a wide audience and begin the process of persuading those not yet persuaded that promoting workplace democracy and social partnership are essential if the UK is to become a fairer and more prosperous society.

Paul Hackett, Director of the Smith Institute, and Richard Rawes, Chair of the Webb Memorial Trust

Download the full report (PDF) here.