The thoughts that count - the best of global thought leadership (January 2023)

What will the public services we use look like in the future? The Serco Institute’s monthly digest – The Thoughts That Count – pulls together some of the best thinking on public services policy from across the world

Public services & public policy

Government in 2023: what challenges does Rishi Sunak face? – Institute for Government (UK)

An IfG article on the challenges faced by the UK government, most notably inflation and the associated cost of living crisis coupled with geopolitical shocks on the international stage. The author argues that there is a concrete risk that 2023 may be a wasted year. To avoid this, civil service reform and long-term thinking are essential. Government must ensure effectiveness and stability as opposed to a merely reactive posturing.

The People’s Priorities – Policy Exchange (UK)

An end-of-year report that presents what the public’s priorities for the government are in 2023. The report includes issues both high and low in the public’s list of priorities. Analysing the findings across different demographics, the authors also highlight which areas the public would be prepared to make spending cuts to and what government messages have resonated the most.

Making the change: A Plan to Reboot British Manufacturing and Restore Growth – Centre for Social Justice (UK)

The answer to the UK’s productivity and sluggish growth puzzle is to be found in manufacturing, according to this CSJ report. The authors make the case that manufacturing offers great potential for growth through innovation and technology and that greater regional planning, an industry tax and incentive plan and a technical skills pipeline are the keys to unlock the economic potential of British manufacturing.

Where next? The future of the UK-EU relationship – UK in a Changing Europe (UK)

This report takes stock of the UK-EU relationship six and a half years since the Brexit referendum. It sets out what developments there have been in migration, trade, and political relations, as well as current public opinion. Further, the report outlines what the upcoming deadlines are for thorny topics such as financial services and fisheries.

Assembly Outcomes Report: Dubai Future Foundation – Dubai Future Forum

A report summarising the September 2022 Dubai Metaverse Assembly, including a plan to create a Metaverse alliance of private and government entities to build the Metaverse ecosystem and a Metaverse government service migration roadmap.

Employment & the labour force

Breaking Point: Attitudes towards ‘career breaks’ across four countries & how to create a system fit for purpose – Serco Institute

The Serco Institute’s ground-breaking new paper reveals that many workers wanting to take a career break don’t feel able to, while those who do have often report challenges in returning to work. This international study, based on a poll of 7,000 people across four countries, finds that career breaks are increasingly becoming a fixture in many working people’s lives (and in particular younger people’s), yet that surprising levels of scepticism towards career breaks persist. Moreover, barriers to taking a career break are often not experienced evenly throughout the population, with women often at a particular disadvantage, having to contend with gender roles and also shouldering a disproportionate share of caregiving obligations. The report makes a number of policy recommendations, including for parental leave to be made ‘opt-out’; for flexible working to be further expanded and normalised, and for work to be considered on a basis of delivered outcomes rather than hours worked; and for organisations to systematically capture the views of workers who have taken career breaks and to use these to craft future career breaks policies.

Are the kids alright? The early careers of education leavers since the COVID-19 pandemic  – Institute for Fiscal Studies (UK)

This IFS report presents the first evidence on how the cohorts of young people who entered the labour market during the pandemic have fared. While generally people who enter the workforce during economic downturns tend to experience worse outcomes, the findings show this was not entirely the case with the ‘Covid graduates’ cohort; indeed, after facing challenges initially, the rapid economic recovery since 2021 allowed them to recover lost ground. The authors also note, however, that many of the negative impacts of the pandemic are yet to materialise in full.

Unionization increased by 200,000 in 2022 – Economic Policy Institute (USA)

Recent data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics and the National Labour Relations Board show an uptick in union organising activity in 2022. There is further evidence that many workers would like to form a union but face barriers to doing so.

Workforce transition and worker experiences during the pandemic – Trades Union Congress (UK)

A report commissioned by the TUC to look at worker experience during the pandemic. The report showcases insights on occupational transitions, nature of work, automation, and labour shortages.

The Costs of Employment Segregation – CATO Institute (USA)

The main finding from this specific research into outcome gaps between black and white Americans, is that President Woodrow Wilson’s segregation policy had negative consequences for black civil servants. This was most pronounced in the Navy Department, the Post Office, and the Treasury Department.

Voluntary recognition of unions is increasingly popular among US employers – Center for American Progress (USA)

In recent years, a surge in worker organizing across the country has coincided with unions achieving levels of popular support not reached in decades. This article looks at how a growing number of businesses are now recognizing that their workers want unions and are opting out of fighting workers in intense union election campaigns.

Inflation & the cost of living

The Living Standards Outlook 2023 – Resolution Foundation (UK)

The Resolution Foundations’ fifth living standards outlook uses modelling and a new survey of 10,000 adults in the UK to explore how households are coping with the cost-of-living crisis. Some of the key findings include: 75% of UK adults reported in November that they were trying to cut back on spending; 45% of respondents are worried about their energy bills; and absolute poverty is set to rise in the short run.

Minimum wage hikes struggle to offset inflation – Eurofound (Europe)

Despite nominal statutory minimum wage rises across the EU, high and persistent rates of inflation means most minimum wage workers across the bloc saw their purchasing power decline or just about compensated as of the beginning of 2023. With inflation expected to continue into 2023, many minimum wage workers in the EU may see a real-terms decline in their incomes.

Economy, taxation & welfare

Building up: The future of social security – Bright Blue (UK)

The Covid pandemic has put the UK’s social security system under tremendous strain, exposing its flaws. This report examines the adequacy, accessibility, and fairness of the UK’s social security system for low-income households before and during the pandemic. It then proposes three policy solutions to improve the current outlook.

The Case for Moderate Pessimism on the Debt Ceiling – American Enterprise Institute (USA)

This article comments on a piece in the Washington Post (WP) exploring the curious case of the debt ceiling. The WP article expresses some perplexity about the complacence about the prospect of breaching the debt ceiling. Why is it that Americans are not worried at least a little about this possibility? Yuval Levin writes that in this response that worrying about the debt ceiling, at least briefly, is sensible amidst a tense atmosphere in the House of Representatives controlled by a Republican Party with a razor-thin majority.

What Happens When the U.S. Hits Its Debt Ceiling? – Council on Foreign Relations (USA)

As the US Government grapples with another deadline to increase its debt limit, economists warn that a possible default would have disastrous economic consequences. This article provides a helpful explanation of what could happen next.

The Morality of Growth – Centre for Policy Studies (UK)

A CPS essay that examines the UK’s morbidly low growth rates and expounds how this is a far more pernicious, longer-term problem than is commonly thought. The essay argues that left-wing rhetoric is pushing what the author terms the “degrowth movement”. Further, the author calls the drive for growth morally virtuous, in addition to being economically necessary.

Levelling up

State of the North 2023 - Looking out to level up: How the North and the UK measure up – IPPR (UK)

This IPPR report draws on international case studies, with countries ranging from Germany to Sweden and Japan, to demonstrate how the empowerment of local communities is key to levelling up. It argues that the UK continues to stand out as the most regionally unbalanced advanced economy and makes a compelling case for how ‘levelling up’ can take many different forms while still retaining national benefits.

Teed up for success? What the Tees Valley tells us about levelling up – Demos (UK)

Based on focus-group research with people who live in the Tees Valley, one of the most touted areas for levelling up efforts, this report looks in practice at what people think has worked and what hasn’t for levelling up. It concludes that long-term optimism is offset by short-term worries, and that while the ‘levelling up agenda’ elicits hopes of future prosperity among respondents, many still point to the fact that they are yet to see these benefits materialise.

Health & social care

Independent health care and the NHS – The King's Fund (UK)

The King’s Fund explores some of the trends in public and private spending on independent healthcare providers in the UK. The briefing considers what may be driving these factors, examines what impact this may have on household spending among different groups, and considers some of the implications for the public and the NHS.  

A care workforce fit for Britain – New Economics Foundation (UK)

This report puts forth a set of proposals to reform and improve the UK’s social care system. The authors identify three key challenges: low pay, poor conditions, and lack of training. The report argues for substantial additional investment linked to sets of policies at the short, medium and long term.

Mothers’ mental health challenges predated the Covid-19 pandemic – Urban Institute (USA)

This research indicates that many mothers reported symptoms of anxiety and depression even before increases in the stressors facing American families, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. They also show that many mothers, including those with insurance coverage, were already reporting unmet needs for mental health services. These findings suggest that addressing mental health challenges among mothers will likely require both maintaining and improving health insurance coverage rates and improving the availability, accessibility, and affordability of mental health services among those with coverage.

Addressing the challenges of the healthcare workforce: Ensuring the future of health in Europe – European Policy Centre (Europe)

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission revealed plans for a European Health Union (EHU) to improve European healthcare systems’ resilience to future pandemics and protect health in Europe. The European healthcare workforce will be crucial to these efforts. This EPC policy brief outlines the challenges faced by the European health workforce and outlines potential solutions, urging policymakers to adopt a holistic approach to planning, narrow the skills gap and prepare health workers for the green and digital transition.

People, partnerships and place: How can ICSs turn the rhetoric into reality? – The Nuffield Trust (UK)

This report represents the consolidation of the findings from a series of roundtables hosted by the Nuffield Trust on the integrated care systems (ICSs) which are now responsible for bringing multiple aspects of the healthcare system together using a localised approach, and for coordinating with social care and other public services.

Who Cares? – The experience of social care workers, and the enforcement of employment rights in the sector – Resolution Foundation (UK)

Drawing heavily on three focus groups with frontline care workers, this report highlights the hardships faced by care workers beset with low pay and weak collective bargaining arrangements, yet often personally attached to their jobs. The author argues that many of the struggles faced by care workers could be improved through better policy, such as £2 above the minimum wage pay.

States Must Act to Preserve Medicaid Coverage as End of Continuous Coverage Requirement Nears – Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (USA)

In December, Congress passed its year-end omnibus spending bill, which delinked the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement from the Covid-19 public health emergency, established the certain date of April 1, 2023 for resuming Medicaid terminations, and set standards to help mitigate coverage losses as the requirement ends. The report contends that, with this advance notice, “states must act now to ensure that eligible individuals stay covered”.

Taking Back Health Care – Public Policy Forum (Canada)

In this report, the Public Policy Forum calls for a people-centred reform of the Canadian healthcare system to allow it to meet the expectations of Canada’s inhabitants and what they can reasonably expect in the future.

Older adults’ behavioural health during the Covid-19 pandemic – RAND Corporation (USA)

This report discusses how research on other disaster and mass trauma events suggests that behavioural health impacts may persist for many years after the initial onset of the event, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, and could be compounded with other disasters. These impacts have not, and will not, be distributed evenly across the population.

Building the CDC the country needs – Center for Strategic and International Studies (USA)

Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has entered a moment of peril. CDC, a long-heralded national public health asset, has suffered a sharp decline in popular trust and confidence, a signal of widespread concern over its performance in preventing and responding to dangerous outbreaks, at home and abroad. The United States needs a strong, effective, and more accountable national public health agency to protect the health of all Americans and ensure the stability of the broader world. It is an urgent matter of U.S. national security.

Leave no one behind – The state of health and health inequalities in Scotland – The Health Foundation (UK)

This report is a comprehensive review of evidence on how Scotland has fared in health and health inequalities since devolution. The report identifies three main areas of particular concern: prevalence of drug-related deaths, inequalities in health outcomes for children, and socioeconomic and health outcomes among young men.

General Practice Data for Planning and Research: Summary of a private roundtable – Institute for Government (UK)

An IfG paper summarising a private roundtable that brought together public servants to discuss General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR), a health scheme intended to share patient data across the NHS. Building on the experience of Covid, which brought health data sharing front and centre, the roundtable participants discussed the successes and future improvements for the scheme; they also acknowledged the need for greater public involvement at various stages of the process to foster honest conversations.


Lockdown: A Final Assessment – Fraser Institute (Canada)

This account by the Fraser Institute finds that government-imposed lockdowns ultimately did little to curb deaths from Covid-19, which fell only 3.2% as a result of stay-at-home orders. The Fraser Institute argues that, instead, lockdowns had significant economic and social costs, such as international trade and travel reductions, increases in domestic abuse and mental health issues, disruptions to employment and to children’s education and development, and even resulting in collateral deaths not as a direct result of Covid.

Economic and social inequalities in Europe in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic – Eurofound (Europe)

“The COVID-19 pandemic had varying impacts on social groups, depending on existing disadvantages, and it was widely believed that it triggered a rise in inequalities across different areas of life. Using indicators from the EU’s Multidimensional Inequality Monitoring Framework (MIMF), this report shows how inequality in the spheres of income, health, employment and education changed between 2010 and 2020. It also examines the main drivers of this change during the pandemic and explores the relationships between government policies in several domains and inequality.”

Defence & national security

Send in the Leopards: Why Western allies should deliver tanks to Ukraine – European Council on Foreign Relations (Europe)

Published days before Germany and the US announced their decision to send tanks to Ukraine, this ECFR article argues that Western fears over escalating the conflict with Russia by supplying Kyiv with modern battle tanks are misplaced and that Moscow will likely intensify the war regardless. If this happens, having Western battle tanks may make all the difference for the Ukrainians.

Reassessing the financing of terrorism in 2022 (RAFT22) – RUSI (UK)

A RUSI report detailing the discussions held at RAFT22 conference, which brought together leading figures in the European counterterrorism space to discuss trends in terrorist group financing. Crucially, the conference reaffirmed its commitment to public-private partnerships, involving private financial and tech companies in the discussion.

Avoiding a long war – RAND Corporation (USA)

In this report the authors argue that, in addition to minimizing the risks of major escalation, U.S. interests would be best served by avoiding a protracted conflict. The costs and risks of a long war in Ukraine are significant and outweigh the possible benefits of such a trajectory for the United States. Although Washington cannot by itself determine the war's duration, it can take steps that make an eventual negotiated end to the conflict more likely.

The US military is in decline. Cutting defence spending would be a disaster – American Enterprise Institute (USA)

In this article the author shows clear concerns regarding the proposed return to 2022 defence spending levels, suggested by some House Republicans including Speaker McCarthy. This would be a possible $100 billion cut that could create a military force that is measurably smaller and less capable than the one the US has today.

America’s next steps with AUKUS – Hudson Institute (USA)

This article presents a to-do list intended to effect AUKUS and to ensure that Australia can contribute meaningfully to a military balance in East Asia that favours America and its allies. The Hudson Institute argues that America needs to change its mindset toward sharing technology with its allies, and also needs to be proactive in ensuring this becomes reality.

What could come next? Assessing the Putin regime’s stability and Western policy options – Center for Strategic and International Studies (USA)

This issue brief assesses the stability of the Putin regime, analysing its strengths and weaknesses and outlining the potential for future regime transition. Should Ukraine continue to make military advances, it may make Putin’s position untenable. Although the West has a post-victory strategy for Ukraine, namely a framework for reconstruction and a path toward EU and NATO membership, it lacks a vision for Russia in the aftermath of a Ukrainian victory. This issue brief argues that the West should offer an alternative path for Russia and outline a vision for a more liberal future. Doing so could have a powerful effect on Russia and add pressure on the Kremlin. 

Is European defence missing its moment? – Centre for European Reform (Europe)

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many European countries have begun increasing defence spending. This comes as Europe also faces threats in its southern neighbourhood, in particular Iran, and as the US increasingly pivots to focus on China, leaving Europe to fend for itself and to take on greater responsibility for security challenges in the Middle East and North Africa. While Europe appears to be taking security more seriously, this article argues that Europe’s defence policy will remain fragmented unless EU countries coordinate defence through instruments such as the EDF and embrace the role of non-EU strategic partners, such as Israel and South Korea, in bolstering European security.

China is trying to play nice, and it’s a problem for the US – American Enterprise Institute (USA)

As China opens up, the US must beware of a possible new lighter diplomatic approach from President Xi. China’s incoming foreign minister, Qin Gang, speaks in comparatively soothing tones compared to previous ministers, and this may represent a diplomatic reset after the country’s obvious failings in containing Covid-19. These failings came amidst a sluggish economy and attempts to bully its neighbours India, Japan and Taiwan. A re-set, to become nicer and more approachable, remains on the cards and the US must be on guard.

Top five issues for transatlantic relations in 2023 – Hudson Institute (USA)

The Hudson Institute identifies five top priorities for transatlantic relations in 2023: Ukraine’s victory over Russia; the NATO summit in Lithuania, namely ensuring Sweden and Finland officially join NATO; the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Romania to ensure a more integrated eastern and southern European economy that holds better prospects for US exporters and investors; energy security in Europe as it looks to reduce dependency on Russian energy; and going on the offense between the Black and Caspian Sea because given its importance for energy, the movement of goods in the region and the global economy.

Navies and Economic Warfare – RUSI (UK)

A RUSI paper looking at economic warfare at sea and its impact on the conduct of Western navies in the future. Navies will increasingly have to take a leading role in pre-empting economic warfare threats, including protecting critical national infrastructure at sea.

Caught in the crossfire: Why EU states should discuss strategic export controls – European Council on Foreign Relations (Europe)

In October 2022, the US Commerce Department unveiled sweeping export restrictions on advanced semiconductor technologies to China, signalling an escalation in technological competition between Washington and Beijing. The ECFR contends that EU states will “need to urgently put export controls on their geopolitical and geo-economic agendas and develop a common position to avoid becoming bystanders to accelerating decoupling dynamics and their vast implications for trade, security, and technology development”.

Tech & digitisation

The hidden inequalities of digitalisation in the post-pandemic context – Bruegel (Europe)

Digitisation has a ‘hidden’ impact on employment, one which is relatively little explored in the scholarship but which could have significant social costs. This working paper examines the important effects of digitisation on working conditions beyond job loss.

Pro- and anti-competitive provisions in the proposed European Union Data Act – Bruegel (Europe)

This working paper by Bruegel explores the pro- and anti-competitive provisions of the EU Data Act, which would give users accessibility and portability rights to the data generated by their use of tangible data products and devices.


Few college students will repay student loans under the Biden administration’s proposal – Urban Institute (USA)

The Biden plan will transform income-driven repayments. Under the current set-up most borrowers can expect to repay some or all of their debt. If the Biden plan is implemented as proposed, then fully repaying a student loan will be the exception rather than the rule. This increase in generosity will come at a $138 billion cost to the taxpayer over 10 years. It remains to be seen how well the Department of Education will be able to manage its $1.6 trillion student loan portfolio moving forward.


The Case for Housebuilding – Centre for Policy Studies (UK)

This CPS report explores Britain’s housing crisis with a focus on debunking common misperceptions. It shows that Britain has a significant shortfall in homes and that this has contributed to driving up prices. The report also calls for more house building.


Early impacts of the post-Brexit immigration system on the UK labour market – Centre for European Reform (Europe)

The CER finds that the end of free movement with the EU has led to a shortfall of about 330,000 workers in the UK, many in lower-skilled sectors of the economy – this shortfall is equal to about 1% of the British labour force. The new system’s conditions are too onerous to compensate for the loss of free movement in low-skilled sectors, leading to labour shortages. The authors posit that ‘some combination of higher wages and prices and less output is likely’.

Climate-induced migration in the GCC states: A looming challenge – Middle East Institute

The GCC presently hosts around 30 million international migrants, mostly economically driven. This report examines how climate change is and will impact the region, claiming that it could even potentially be the recipient of some of the 143 million climate migrants.

Energy & net zero

Europe must fight energy poverty more effectively – European Policy Centre (Europe)

European countries have announced comprehensive support packages to shield their populations from the worst of the energy price rises stemming directly from the war in Ukraine. However, the energy burden, or the proportion of a household’s income spent on energy bills, is in most European countries twice as high for the poorest fifth of the population than the richest. The EPC argues policymakers should adopt a more targeted approach, aimed at helping those who most need it.

The 2023 Global Energy Agenda – Atlantic Council (USA)

The third edition of the Global Energy Agenda provides context for the year that has passed. It features a survey of thought leaders in the energy sector, as well as a series of essays by the leading figures in energy to set the energy agenda for 2023.

Sunny side up: Maximising the European Green Deal’s potential for North Africa and Europe – European Council on Foreign Relations (Europe)

The states of North Africa hold great potential to become important partners to Europe during its energy transition in the medium and long term. The EU also has an opportunity to make stronger use of the European Green Deal to direct investment in North Africa in favour of clean energy. The ECFR offers recommendations on how European governments can smooth relations with North African policymakers to ensure the most fruitful energy partnership possible between Europe and their neighbours across the Mediterranean.


ESG Is Mainly Top-Down Planning by Elites (ESG: Myths and Realities) – Fraser Institute (Canada)

This article by the Fraser Institute “details how the refocus of business and financial activity toward ESG concerns has been pushed from above by government bodies and politically powerful organizations at the expense of individual investors.”

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