Centre for London essays: the changing way of work

My friends at Centre For London have just published their seventh edition of London Essays. The theme this time is the evolving nature of work. There are pieces by, among others, Antonia Bance, David Hills (no relation), Kathryn Nawrockyi and Ryan Avent. Three in particular quickly caught my my eye. One is by Anthony Painter of the RSA’s Action and Research Centre. His subject is the idea of a Universal Basic Income. It starts like this:

If London’s economically inactive population were a city, it would be the second largest in the UK. Beyond the glittering towers, London is a city that blends economic dynamism with social lethargy. Despite notable successes in domains such as transport and culture, the strategic institutions established in 2000 with a Mayor at their pinnacle have done little to redress this. London’s economic surplus has a social deficit as its shadow.

Read the whole thing here. Then there’s Julia Bennett, head of research and policy at the Crafts Council, writing about people in London who make things. Yes, they still exist, in rapidly modernising forms:

Lauren Bowker is a “textile alchemist” whose company, The Unseen, has developed colour-changing materials that are now used in tracking car aerodynamics for Formula One, and in bandages and soft devices that can monitor patients’ health conditions. Trained in chemistry and textiles, Lauren began work as a material innovator, making designs for devices that can monitor the body and the environment, changing colour in response to heat, ultraviolet rays, friction, moisture, chemicals and air pollution.

This juxtaposition of the traditional and the innovative is one reason why London-based craft is thriving in an era of huge technological advances and rapidly evolving working practices – think of how 3D printing is transforming manufacturing. The tech era has seen a resurgence of interest in craft, in the authentic, the personal, and in the provenance of products.

Bennett’s Back To The Future essay is here. But, hey, isn’t the future of work in London all about robots coming to take our jobs, as the Evening Standard warned back in December? Not really, according to Resolution Foundation director Torsten Bell:

Anxiety about the impact of robots on the world of work has been a hot topic across Western countries for several years. You couldn’t move at Davos last year without seeing grown men (it’s always men) with their heads in their hands predicting the end of work. Bill Gates is so worried that he has called for a robots tax. But is the rise of the robots really what the Mayor and other London policymakers should be spending their time thinking about? Here are three reasons why we might want to dial down the robot angst and focus our anxiety elsewhere.

He goes on to explain why we shouldn’t be so very afraid. The full set of Work essays is here.




Categories: Analysis, Hard Times

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