More than two-fifths of the UK adult working population are travelling to work, official figures have shown, as the country begins to emerge from lockdown.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found 44 per cent of working adults in Britain travelled to their place of work at least once in the last seven days – up from 41 per cent the previous week.
At the same time, the percentage of staff working exclusively from home dropped from 38 per cent to 33 per cent last week, which the ONS said marked a shift away from remote working.
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The figures, released today (25 June), followed the announcement of the largest relaxation of social distancing rules since the lockdown began. As well as confirming the majority of businesses could reopen on 4 July, prime minister Boris Johnson has said that where it was not possible to implement the two-metre distancing rule companies would be allowed to reduce this to at least one metre.
Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, reminded employers that people’s health and safety needed to be “first and foremost” as businesses began to bring people back to the workplace, because the coronavirus risk remained. Working from home was “still by far the safer and preferred option”, she said, and employers needed to consider if it was essential for people to return.
“If people do return, they need to ensure their workplace is 'Covid secure' and implement stringent health and safety measures by carrying out a thorough risk assessment,” Suff said. “This will include social distancing measures, 'cohorting' to keep teams small and in the same configuration, as well as reinforcing the basic hand and respiratory hygiene measures.
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“Finally, employers should listen carefully to any concerns people may have about returning to work, including using public transport.”
Today’s ONS figures also found that, of those working at businesses continuing to trade throughout lockdown, 2 per cent had returned to the workplace in the last two weeks, while 7 per cent of the entire workforce had returned from furlough over the same period.
Separate figures published by the ONS yesterday (24 June) noted that the average number of hours worked per week dropped to below 30 from February to April 2020 for the first time since 1992, when the ONS started measuring this figure. The average number of hours worked per week during this period was 29.1.
The ONS said in many cases it was people from low-income households, who were less likely to have jobs that could be done from home, who had seen their jobs furloughed or hours reduced. “Furloughing rates have been highest in low-paying sectors (such as accommodation and food services) and – outside of key services such as health – lowest in sectors such as IT, where home working is far easier,” the ONS stated.
This echoed previous analysis of the cost of furlough carried out by the government spending watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility, which found the value of individual furlough grants was less than expected.