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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today released a major new report, entitled No place like home? The benefits and challenges of home working, revealing the trends, benefits, and challenges experienced by individuals while home working during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As the UK Government again advises people to home work to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, the report synthesises original polling and data analysis with existing research to provide a timely and original examination of the non-financial benefits and challenges of home working across different socio-demographic groups since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

As it becomes increasingly clear that greater levels of home working are here to stay even after the pandemic ends, the report proposes eight original policies which aim to primarily mitigate the challenges of home working, but also increasing access to its benefits, especially among vulnerable social groups.

Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield, Senior Researcher at Bright Blue and lead author of the report, commented: 

“As the Omicron variant surges and the public is advised to work from home again where possible, our findings show that, while there are welcome benefits to home working, this will present serious challenges for many. 

“A decent internet connection is vital for home workers to do their jobs effectively, but many have struggled with this throughout the pandemic. As working patterns shift permanently, this will also be an issue post-pandemic.  

“The Government should introduce a new legal obligation for landlords to provide their tenants with a decent internet connection, recognising its vital importance in this new world of work, and ensuring all are equipped to participate in the modern economy.”

Bright Blue has identified the following trends in home working during the pandemic:

  • The vast majority of UK workers home worked at least some of the time during the pandemic. In February 2021, 68% of UK workers reported home working at least some of the time since the start of the pandemic. Those in certain socio-demographic groups, namely in higher-skilled occupations and with higher incomes, are more likely to report being so.
  • Over three quarters of pandemic home workers would prefer to work at home, at least some the time, post-pandemic. 51% of pandemic home workers say that they would prefer to home work most of the time post-pandemic, while over a quarter (27%) of pandemic home workers say that they would prefer to split their time between home working and not home working. Only 17% of pandemic home workers say that they would prefer not to home work most of the time post-pandemic.

Bright Blue’s main findings on the non-financial benefits of home working during the pandemic:

  • Not commuting is the most highly valued benefit of home working by pandemic home workers. A majority (57%) of pandemic home workers selected ‘not needing to travel to work’ as one of their top three ‘best things’ about home working during the pandemic.
  • Greater flexibility of work is the second most highly valued benefit of home working by pandemic home workers. Just under half (48%) of pandemic home workers believe ‘more flexibility in how and when I work’ is one of the top three ‘best things’ about home working.
  • Pandemic home workers tend to believe that they have more control over their work. Overall, a majority of pandemic home workers agree that they feel they have more control over how they work (55%), that they have more control over their daily routine (56%) and the hours they work (51%)
    while home working. A plurality also believe that they feel they have more control over their workload while home working (41%).
  • Pandemic home workers are more likely to say that they have experienced an improvement rather than a deterioration in their relationship with family members as a result of home working. 37% of pandemic home workers with partners report that their relationship with their partner has improved, with only 16% reporting that it has worsened. 38% of pandemic home workers with children under the age of 18 report improved relationships with their children, with only 15% reporting worsened relationships.

Bright Blue’s main findings on the non-financial challenges of home working during the pandemic:

  • The most common challenge for pandemic home workers is disengaging or switching off from work. Finding it ‘more difficult to switch off from my work’ is the most commonly described ‘worst thing’ about home working, selected by 35% of all pandemic home workers when asked to choose their top three. In fact, a plurality of 47% of pandemic home workers agree with the statement ‘I find it harder to disengage from work while home working’. 
  • The second most common challenge for pandemic home workers is interacting less with colleagues and the third most common challenge is feeling lonely. 34% of pandemic home workers report ‘interacting less with colleagues’ as one of the ‘top three’ worst things about home working. More than a quarter of pandemic home workers select ‘feeling lonely’ as one of the top three ‘worst things’ about home working (27%). A plurality of 44% of pandemic home workers personally report that the statement ‘I feel lonely more often while home working’. In fact, managers, directors and senior officials who are pandemic home workers are more likely to agree (59%), along with 51% of parent pandemic home workers, 56% of single parent pandemic home workers, and 54% of informal carer pandemic home workers.
  • A majority of pandemic home workers have experienced issues with poor internet and slow computers while home working. 53% report ‘poor internet’ as a problem at least sometimes while home working during the pandemic, and 54% report the same difficulty with ‘slow computer speed’. Younger people, BAME people, and benefit claimants are the socio-demographic groups who are more likely to report these issues.
  • More than two fifths of pandemic home workers report a lack of adequate heating as a problem while home working. 43% of pandemic home workers report a ‘lack of adequate heating’ as an issue at least sometimes. This is reported by 54% of disabled pandemic home workers, compared to 38% of non-disabled pandemic home workers. An even larger majority (63%) of benefit claimant pandemic home workers report this problem, compared to 29% of non-benefit claimant pandemic home workers.
  • A majority of pandemic home workers report that noise disturbances and a lack of space have been a problem at least sometimes while home working during the pandemic. 55% report ‘noise disturbances’ as a problem, and 51% report a ‘lack of space’ as such. Furthermore, significant minorities of pandemic home workers report that a ‘lack of ventilation’ (38%), ‘mould’ (35%) and ‘unsafe electrical wiring’ (29%) have been a problem at least sometimes while home working during the pandemic. 
  • Children under the age 18 are the biggest disruption to the work day of pandemic home workers. 57% of pandemic home workers report children under the age of 18 as a disturbance, compared to 41% of pandemic home workers who report adult children, 44% who report housemates, and 42% who report partners.
  • Home workers have been much more likely to experience domestic abuse during the pandemic than non-home workers. 11% of pandemic home workers report experiencing domestic abuse since March 2020, compared to 1% of pandemic non-home workers. Over a quarter (27%) of disabled home workers report experiencing domestic abuse in the same period, and the risk is especially acute in London, where over a third (35%) of disabled home workers say they have experienced domestic abuse since March 2020. 

Bright Blue recommends the following policies to minimise the challenges and maximise the benefits of home working, for vulnerable groups in particular:

  • Recommendation one: Introduce the right to ten days of domestic abuse leave per year. We recommend that the Government introduce domestic abuse leave, giving all employees the right to ten days domestic abuse leave annually – five days paid and five days unpaid. All full-time employees who have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks will have the right to domestic abuse leave in line with other statutory rights such as paid parental leave and statutory sick pay. The right should also apply to part-time and casual workers, according to minimum hours worked rather than salary thresholds, as is the case with other statutory rights. As is the case in New Zealand, to claim their leave, including retroactively, workers must provide their employer with proof.
  • Recommendation two: Require all employers with 50 or more employees to train an employee as a designated point of contact for domestic abuse victims. This should be applicable only to medium to large employers, meaning those with 50 or more employees, in line with other thresholds for exceptions for smaller businesses from certain regulations. Designated points of contact will have to complete five days of specialist training with an approved provider, and their responsibilities will be to: signpost colleagues who are victims of domestic abuse to support services and assist them in accessing those services; advocate on behalf of colleagues who victims of domestic abuse in work-related matters; act as a point of contact for colleagues who are concerned others may be the victims of domestic abuse; and raise awareness of knowledge of domestic abuse in their organisation.
  • Recommendation three: Commit to an annual price-indexed uprating of the Warm Home Discount Scheme rebate. Through the Warm WHD scheme, eligible low-income households receive a single annual rebate on their energy bills, the value of which has been frozen since 2014. The Government should commit to an annual price-indexed uprating of the value of the rebate offered by the Warm Home Discount Scheme.
  • Recommendation four: Government introduction of a new home improvement scheme, to give government-backed grants to benefit claimants, and loans for everyone else, to address issues with damp, mould and ventilation. Private landlords and homeowners will be able to apply for a one-off, low-interest government-backed loan of up to £1,000 with a long-term repayment schedule through energy bills. In addition, homeowners in receipt of one of the following low-income benefits will be able to apply to the scheme for a one-off grant of up £1,000: Employment Support Allowance; Jobseekers Allowance; Working Tax Credit; and, Universal Credit with a monthly income of less than £1,349. Examples of improvements which would fall under this government-backed scheme include but are not limited to: loft insulation; extractor fan installation; vent installation; and, professional mould removal. Successful loan and grant applicants will receive  a voucher that allows them to make the improvement on a named property, redeemable with proof of the improvement having been carried out including a dated invoice from the installer. The voucher amount will then be paid directly to the installer.
  • Recommendation five: Legally oblige landlords to provide tenants with a decent internet connection. The Government should amend the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) so that landlords are obligated to maintain tenants’ access to a decent internet connection, and maintain the installations necessary for the supply of that connection. This mirrors obligations for water, gas, and electricity and reflects the crucial importance of an internet connection. We define a decent internet according to Ofcom’s definition – a minimum download speed of 10 Mbit/s and a minimum upload speed of 1 Mbit/s.Recommendation six: Establish a 2030 Government target for full-fibre broadband rollout to the hardest to reach homes. The Government says it will aim to reach 85% of homes by 2025 and has set aside £5 billion to complete the rollout to the remaining 15% of hardest to reach homes, but has not yet committed to a date for this. It should commit to doing so by 2030.
  • Recommendation seven: Introduce a government-sponsored accreditation scheme to encourage employers to support and improve the work-life balance of their employees. We recommend that government, specifically BEIS, endorse a new accreditation scheme that aims to incentivise and encourage employers to improve and support the good work-life balance of their employees. Two levels of accreditation could be available under the scheme. For instance, to be eligible for level one accreditation, an employer could have to implement policies that actively encourage flexible working arrangements. To achieve the higher level two accreditation, as well as meeting the requirements of level one, an employer could need to apply for and cover the cost of an assessment to establish that the employer has worked proactively to create a culture of good work-life balance in their organisation beyond the requirements of level one, and that they are implementing new and innovative policies to better support and improve the work-life balance of their employees, such as a right to disconnect for all employees.
  • Recommendation eight: Introduce a government-sponsored award of £150,000 to encourage all employers to support and improve the work-life balance of their employees. All level two employers, regardless of size, would be made eligible for an annual prize of £150,000 in recognition of outstanding work in creating and supporting a good work-life balance for their employees.

ENDS

Notes:

  • This research report is supported by Trust for London and Barrow Cadbury Trust. Bright Blue retains full editorial control over all our outputs.
  • Polling was undertaken by Opinium and conducted between 19th and 26th February 2021. It consists of one sample of 3,003 UK adults, with a booster sample of 1,006 UK adults living in London. The sample was weighted by Opinium to reflect a nationally representative audience.

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