A guest blog by Sarah Welfare, Head of Policy and Research at Reed in Partnership.
"While many people have been able to do their jobs from home during the pandemic, the opportunity to do so has not been one equally shared between higher and lower earners. As the Office for National Statistics pointed out in July 2020: "jobs that pay more are more likely to be done remotely". It found that the median earnings of employees in the fifth of the workforce most likely to be able to work from home was £19.01 an hour, compared with £11.28 for workers in the fifth of jobs least likely to be adaptable to home working.
As is the case for most workers on a low income, people who are seeking a job having been made unemployed during the pandemic will usually be applying for jobs that require a physical presence at the workplace, whether that is a hospitality venue, care home, factory, or a shop, construction site or NHS Trust.
This is where people's labour market choices can be drastically restricted by limited, expensive or non-existent public transport options. A mismatch between shift times and bus times is often the most intractable issue. But it is also the way in which transport difficulties worsen the practical barriers for groups facing other disadvantages in the labour market, such as disabled people, young people or single parents.
Supporting jobseekers in poorly-connected areas
A report we published recently looked at this issue in the context of supporting rural jobseekers to find work. The challenges around rural public transport are well known, but it was striking that even before the pandemic, 92% of Reed in Partnership's frontline employment advisers serving rural communities reported that they had worked with at least one participant who had been unable to apply for or accept a job because of transport difficulties.
This quote from one of Reed in Partnership's Cornwall employment advisers is typical and echoed by others in rural areas, from southern Northern Ireland to coastal Northumberland:
"I had a participant who lived in a rural area ten miles away from the employer who was in a main town. They couldn't then accept manufacturing work as it was either 6am - 2pm or 2pm to 10pm. The buses started at 08:15 in the morning and last bus was at 20:30pm, so they couldn't get to work or [back] home."
When advisers were asked what would most improve job opportunities specifically in rural areas, better public transport was the number one priority.
Opportunities for change
The coming year presents some real opportunities to tackle the barrier that poor public transport in poorly-connected parts of the country represents for workers and jobseekers.
For example, the Government's welcome new National Bus Strategy highlights the importance of "economically necessary" as well as "socially necessary" services, recognising "the vital role that buses have in getting people to work at all times of the day and night".
As with so many recovery challenges, collaborating across silos and areas of expertise will be essential, with public services, employers, transport companies and community organisations working together to support both better transport and job creation.
Engaging employers in supporting transport is particularly important. Funding minibuses or other demand-led transport services can be expensive, but for employers who struggle to recruit and are poorly served by public transport the benefit may outweigh the cost. Other options include getting involved in the planning of bus routes or supporting car share schemes. If employers, public services and communities work together on this, we have a great opportunity to come up with some imaginative joint solutions."
Sarah Welfare is Head of Policy and Research at Reed in Partnership, which provides services to support people and communities, including help with employment, skills, health and youth development.
Sarah's blog tallies with Campaign for Better Transport's Connecting Communities report (produced on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for 'Left Behind' Neighbourhoods and Local Trust), which found that 24 per cent of households in 'left behind' neighbourhoods are out of work and have no access to a car, almost double the national average.