From the TUC

Here’s one way working people really are feeling the economic recovery…

15 Nov 2013, by in Working Life

With real wages continuing to fall and under-employment hitting a record high, many people are rightly questioning whether the UK’s economic recovery is passing them by. Few people seem to be feeling a change.

But new TUC analysis published today highlights one effect of recovery that people really are feeling – We’re spending longer getting to and from work!

After a brief fall during the recession, commute times are rising again. The average worker spends an extra 4.6 minutes getting to and from work every day, compared to a decade ago. This may not sound like much but it adds up to an extra 4.5 working days of commuting over the course of the year. I for one can think of far better ways to spend that time than being packed into a slow moving rush hour train into central London.

The average daily commute is 54.6 minutes to and from work. But there is considerable variation depending on your age, gender and where you live. The peak commuting age for men is in their early 40s (67.2 minutes), while for women it’s in their late 20s (54.6 minutes). If these trends sound familiar, that’s because they bear an uncanny resemblance to average pay rates – those who commute for longer, earn more.

The gender divide in commuting really starts when people hit their 30s. This is because many women move jobs to be closer to home so that they can balance work with the school and nursery run. Unfortunately, working part-time or closer to home often involves taking a huge pay cut too.

Young people tend to have the shortest commutes, which is understandable as they are more likely to work in shops, bars and restaurants which are spread around rather than being clustered in city centres. Long and costly commutes are unaffordable if you’re on the minimum wage too.

Londoners have by far the longest commutes. Men in the early 40s, living in the capital, spend a whopping 84.4 minutes a day getting to work and back – that’s 42 working days spent commuting.

Londoners’ commuting hell extends to young people too. Teenagers in London spend over an hour travelling to and from work – most than most older workers across the rest of the UK. Young people in London have had a lot of stick recently, notably from their own Mayor Boris Johnson, about being workshy. The fact that spend over an hour day commuting to and from largely low-paid jobs shows just how committed they are. Politicians should cut them some slack and focus on creating more job opportunities for young people.

Whether you’re young or old, male or female, living down in London or up in Scotland, you could probably do with reducing the amount of time spent commuting. Peak-hour commutes are expensive, excessively time consuming, generally uncomfortable and often impractical for those with other important commitments. The solutions include flexi-time, remote working or working from home – or just plain smarter working as we call them.

Technology like super-fast broadband and video conferencing should enable many more people to break away from the old 9-5 working model, and work flexibly or even from their own homes. What we now need is a cultural shift from employers to accompany this technological change. The fact that some bosses will still insist on staff travelling into the office just to take part in a skype conference shows that we’ve still a way to go before all businesses embrace smarter working practices.