Work is not always good for well-being
Government claims that ‘paid work is the route to independence, health and well-being for most people’. But research we carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that poor quality work does not always provide these benefits.
Many of the 180 people living in disadvantaged areas across Britain we spoke to are trapped in a cycle of ‘poor work/no work’ that fails to lift them out of poverty.
While a number of residents see the value of work in terms of increasing self-esteem and social contact, they often gain little financially. One female lone parent working in Grimsby explained how:
I do struggle now, I work 16 hours when I’m actually £1.02 a week better off, which is really scary, it’s madness. But the only reason I work is for me personally and for the kids.
Poverty-level pay also forces those in employment to work excessive hours. This can lead to poor mental health. One young man living in Anglesey told us how low pay, long hours and exploitative working conditions forced him to give up his turf-laying job:
I left last summer because the stress got to me, the big hours and all that. I was going to start jobs very early in the morning, I’d had enough. I was taken ill really, I was on anti depressants for a bit, I couldn’t cope any more. Long hours and we weren’t getting proper breaks there, just make money for the bosses, just work, work, work.
These experiences of poor quality jobs show that work is not always good for health and well-being. The government is right to help people find work, but this should not have to come at any price.
There needs to be a stronger focus on the quality of work on offer. Government and employers should work together to improve pay and conditions so that work really does have a positive impact on people’s lives.
1. The report: Work and worklessness in deprived neighbourhoods by Richard Crisp, Elaine Batty, Ian Cole and David Robinson of Sheffield Hallam University, is available to download for free
2. A supporting short film Lucky to have a job shows the issues from the perspective of residents in the Welsh town of Amlwch.
3. The report and film are part of a wider three year study called Living through change in challenging neighbourhoods. The wider project examines the extent to which the place where you live makes a difference to your experience of poverty. It is following the lives of 180 people over three years from 2008 to 2010.