The Future of Work

This research project aims to change the debate about work within the Church, and faith-based public policy debate. Our aim is to help equip faith-based bodies to challenge the dominance of neo-liberal narratives about market relations as they pertain to work. Most fundamentally we wish to challenge – through the uses of the principles of the Catholic social teaching tradition and robust case study analysis – the idea that market logic needs to ignore concern for human dignity as the basis for workplace culture. Our proposal is to generate resources for a more humane market model.

This project is an extension of the work already done in the field of Catholic social teaching, business and economics. Most treatises on the pros and cons of market fundamentalism, even critical ones, often stop at the office door or factory gate, and the argument fades into generalities. Yet it is impossible to overstate the importance of work in people’s lives. It rewards us, it gives us a sense of identity and purpose, it socialises us and makes us part of something larger; and it can oppress us, injure us physically, damage our self-esteem and dignity, treat us as a disposable commodity and undermine our flourishing. While society talks about making people fit for the work they do, it is rare for anyone to mention making work fit for the people who do it.

Of the available theoretical resources studies of the ethics of work, one of those we find most fruitful is the body of social teaching produced by the Catholic church and in particular the social letter of John Paul II Laborem Exercens, On the Condition of Work in 1981. This tradition has always refused to treat the work people do as meaningful only in so far as it provides value for an employer. Nor does it allow work to be reduced merely to a means of sustenance. The catholic social tradition insists of the priority of labour over capital and on the building of common good relations between employers and employees. It is not opposed to market models, but neither does it baptise such models – it seeks the realisation of the common good, practices of solidarity and subsidiarity within modes of economic life. The most recent contribution to this tradition can be found in Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ in which he calls attention to the ecological dimensions of work.

Whilst this tradition is profoundly useful for any study of the resources necessary to make work fit for the people who do it, the tradition also needs to keep pace with the changes and developments in the workplace. For the purposes of this project we are particularly concerned about the following:


  • Despite signs of improvement in recent months, wages still remain well below their 2008 peak
  • 60% of the people who moved from unemployment into work in 2013/14 were paid below the living wage
  • More than five million workers are paid less than the Living Wage
  • The number of 16-20 year olds paid below the minimum wage has more than doubled in the last four years
  • Only 25% of workers who were low paid a decade ago have completely escaped low pay
  • From 2008-2013 pay fell by 70p per hour for men and 40p per hour for women for the lowest paid 25%

In-work poverty

  • Half of all people in poverty, including children, live in a family where at least one person is in work.  For adults alone, about 40% of adults in poverty are in work.
  • There are now more people in working families living below the poverty line (6.7 million) than in workless and retired families in poverty combined (6.3 million).
  • Almost twice the proportion of working households received housing benefit in 2013-14.

Gender imbalances

  • Women are more likely than men to be on zero-hours contracts.
  • Despite the gender pay gap falling to 9.4% in April 2014 compared with 10% a year earlier, a woman working full-time still earns about £100 per week less than a man.


The future of work project is still a prospective project, pending funding. Caritas Social Action Network will take a lead on this project.