The fifth and final briefing paper in IPPR's Condition of Britain series explores work, welfare, and how the people of Britain are making ends meet.

This paper explores the challenges for people experiencing worklessness in Britain, what work is like for people with a job, and the financial protections in place for those facing unemployment. And we consider how new local institutions could offer access to affordable credit to people facing financial insecurity, to keep them out of the grip of extortionate lenders.

For most people, a job is a source of friendship and self-esteem, as well as a pay packet. Yet too many people in Britain are denied this basic opportunity for social participation because they struggle to find work or have a job that fails to provide status and a decent wage. People have an obligation to work if they can. But this must be matched by a duty on society to ensure the prospect of work is real, that wages and conditions are decent, and that there is adequate financial protection for those who lose their job.

Based in part on the stories we've heard from people all over the country, we draw some key conclusions about work and financial security in Britain today:

  • Too many people are excluded from the benefits of a decent job.
  • The benefits of work are diminished by weak wage growth and a lack of security and autonomy.
  • Many people in Britain have lost faith in the benefit system.
  • A lack of affordable credit pushes people into expensive and unsustainable borrowing.

With the goal of reinforcing the importance of reciprocity in the work and welfare system and increasing the financial security of British people, we pose a range of crucial questions, including:

  • How can we strengthen the obligation to work and match it with the prospect of a decent job for people who face real disadvantages in the jobs market?
  • How can we shift the hiring incentives and practices of employers so they can meet their obligations to take on those facing disadvantages?
  • How might it be possible to revive the 'national insurance' ideal, of protection at times of need in return for contributions into the system?
  • How could new local institutions offering affordable credit be established and how should they operate?

The five briefing papers in this series are brought together with a new introduction by Nick Pearce, Graeme Cooke and Kayte Lawton in the Condition of Britain interim report, published in December 2013.

Life on 'the brew': Long-term unemployment in Motherwell - an extract

Motherwell is a town in North Lanarkshire with a rich industrial heritage as the centre of Scotland's iron and steel industry. But the collapse of heavy industry in the 1980s saw the loss of thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs, and the area continues to suffer from higher levels of unemployment than Scotland as a whole.

Through local employment organisation Routes to Work, we met a group of Motherwell residents facing long-term unemployment - on the dole, or 'the brew' as it's known in this part of Scotland. Given the length of time that some had been without work, they were not optimistic about finding a job locally. Most said they would be happy to take a temporary job with work guaranteed for three or six months, but some had experiences of jobs that were so insecure that they were offered work for just a day or two.

Sam, in his 40s, had been unemployed since before the recession, having previously worked in a warehouse. Harry had been a successful sales manager but had lost his job around the time of the recession because of restructuring. Glenn, in his 20s, was due to complete his two years on the Work Programme in September with no prospect of paid work. The combination of long periods out of work and the lack of local jobs created a sense of hopelessness and deep pessimism among the people we spoke to.