TUC calls for bosses to introduce more flexi- and home-working

Tim Lezard Europe, UK,

traffic jamThe number of commuters spending more than two hours travelling to and from work has increased by 72% over the past 10 years, according to a TUC analysis of official figures published today.

The figures – published to mark the start of Commute Smart Week organised by Work Wise UK – show that the number of people undertaking long commutes has risen sharply across the UK, with those travelling more than two hours per day increasing by 72% from 1.7 million in 2004 to 3 million in 2014.

The analysis also shows that the number of commuters travelling for three or more hours a day has risen by 75%, from 500,000 to 880,000 over the last decade.

Women employees have borne the brunt of this growth in long commuting, with a 90% per cent rise in those travelling for two hours or more each day and a 131% per cent increase in those travelling three hours or more since 2004.

The biggest increases in workers commuting for more than two hours have been in the South East (103%) and the South West (102%), while the East Midlands (87%) and Wales (76%) have also seen very large rises.

When it comes to commutes of three hours per day and above, the biggest rises were in Yorkshire and the Humber (98%), the South East (91%) and the West Midlands (87%).

The service sector has seen the biggest increase in travel time over the last decade, with 130% more workers travelling for two or more hours a day in 2014 than in 2004. This is followed by public administration, education and health (92%) and energy and water (87%).

Similarly, when it comes to commutes of three hours or more per day, the service sector has seen a massive increase of 167%, followed by energy and water (110%) and public administration, education and health (95%).

On average UK commuting times rose by three minutes a day from 2004 to 2014, from 52 to 55 minutes, meaning workers are spending, on average, 11 hours and 42 minutes longer a year commuting now than they were 10 years ago.

Research has shown that long commutes reduce life satisfaction, says the TUC, and while there is a tendency for those who have long commutes to have above average earnings, the huge rise in those in the service sector travelling for more than two or three hours a day means that more low-paid workers are facing longer and costlier commutes just to get to work.

The TUC believes the increase in travelling times may be explained by:

·    the 2008 recession leading to an increase in the number of people prepared to travel longer and longer distances to keep or get a job

·    soaring rents and high house prices now leaving many workers unable to move to areas closer to their jobs

·    lack of investment in roads and railways leading to creaking infrastructure that mean that in some cases the same journey is taking longer now than it used to.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s bad enough most of us spend an hour a day getting to and from work – but spare a thought for those extreme commuters who travel for more than 10, or even 15, hours a week.

“Employers need to address the problem that many of their staff are spending an ever-increasing number of hours getting to and from work.

“More home and flexi-working could easily be introduced to allow people to cut their commutes and save money. This would not only be popular with workers, but fewer, better-spaced journeys would help to beat overcrowding on the roads and railways.”

Work Wise UK’s Chief Executive Phil Flaxton said: “With some 25 million commuters regularly going to a fixed place of work Commute Smart Week reminds us that we have an opportunity to change our attitudes and thinking in relation to long commutes.

“Are we really prepared to move into winter with the same anticipated long and often disrupted commutes? Or, are we going to change the way we work by commuting less with the aid of internet and mobile technologies.

“Employers should grasp this opportunity by changing the way employees work and commute and introduce more flexibility to cut out these restrictive influences on business performance as well as the wellbeing of their employees.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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