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Pure Class: the working from home debate

23rd May 2022
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The cost of living crisis is a problem for employers - but not necessarily all employees.

People who shop in Waitrose say they think they will earn nine per cent more by the end of the year - higher than any other supermarket shopper.  In a survey of 2,000 adults across the UK, commissioned by Randstad UK, Waitrose and Ocado shoppers said they thought they’d be earning between seven and nine per cent more in the next 12 months.  Co-op shoppers, however, said they’d be earning just 3 per cent more. The research also found that 18 per cent of Iceland shoppers said they’d be earning less in 12 month’s time - even before adjusting earnings for inflation.

Earnings are being eroded as energy costs rise, food gets more expensive, and interest rates ramp up.  Inflation is picking workers’ pockets.  This year, real household disposable incomes are on track to suffer their largest fall since comparable records began in 1956.  But it’s going to hit the low-income households hardest.

There's a huge class element here.

This strikes me as similar to the working from home debate.  Binmen don't get the option to work from home. Shelf-stackers don't get the option. Machinists. Delivery drivers.  Plumbers.  Roofers.  Dinner Ladies.  construction workers.  Bar-staff.  Teaching assistants.  Waitresses.  Cabbies.  Nurses.  Warehouse workers.  Electricians.  They don't get that choice.  

I’m not a complete dinosaur.  I appreciate that less commuting could be environmentally beneficial.  That it can also enable more very skilled and talented disabled folks to access more employment opportunities.  That working from home could be a huge opportunity to bring new jobs to an area; for too long people have had to leave places like Hull to get the jobs they want - remote working can change that.  And that many business can save on expensive office space and utilities if they downsize their premises. Furthermore, I also appreciate that surgeons, pilots, and dentists can't work from home and that barristers are typically required in court - it’s not solely a class issue.  

But most of the jobs that allow working from home are white collar, by definition.  I think we need to have the debate in the knowledge that many people in many sectors don’t have a choice.  This is primarily a debate driven by people in middle-class professions.  Which is fine.  My point is not that people that work on computers or phones should be forced to travel unnecessarily to an office.  It’s that working from home is not a panacea.  We should acknowledge that there are very significant numbers of workers for whom this is just not an option -  never mind something that's become essential for work/life balance.

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