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Number of people working from home triples since COVID pandemic

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The number of Brits working from home rose to 22.4% in 2021 – about 6.3 million people. Photo: Getty
The number of Brits working from home rose to 22.4% in 2021 – about 6.3 million people. Photo: Getty

The number of people working from home in the UK has tripled since before the COVID-19 pandemic, new figures from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have revealed.

The number of Brits working from home rose to 22.4% in 2021 – about 6.3 million people. This is a jump from 6.8% in 2019, and 12.1% in 2020 when just 1.9 million Brits worked from home.

Nine in 10 (91%) people who worked from home during the pandemic told the TUC in June 2021 that they wanted to continue working remotely for at least some of the time while a separate survey by the Office for National Statistics showed that 24% of businesses planned to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward.

Four out of five (82%) workers wanted to take up some form of flexible working. And almost two-thirds (64%) of employees were looking for some form of flexibility in their working hours, the TUC survey found.

However, the government has "still not set out concrete plans for new flexible working rights" and it is not the case that everyone who wants to work from home is now able to, the TUC said.

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The government is excluding people in working-class jobs from accessing the benefits of flexibility by delaying new rights to flexible working, according to the TUC.

There is significant disparity across different employment sectors. Some 58.9% of staff in the communication sector work from home, followed by finance (46.5%) and professional, technical, and scientific sectors (43.2%). This is compared to just 3.2% of workers in accommodation and food services, followed by 9.2% of those in retail and 9.5% of transport staff.

Some 60% of people in higher-paid jobs worked from home during the pandemic compared to 23% of those in lower paid jobs.

Homeworking rates also vary widely across the UK’s nations and regions. Working from home is most prevalent in London with 29.7% of employees working from home, followed by the South East (25.5%) and Scotland (22.4%) at the top.

This is compared to just 11.7% of workers in Northern Ireland, followed by 16.1% in the North East and 19.2% in the East Midlands.

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The TUC is calling for fair access to flexible working for all and is urging the government to act on its pledge to improve flexible working rights in order to prevent class and geographic inequality.

The group wants ministers to lay out plans and a legislative timetable to unlock the flexibility in all jobs by ensuring that employers "think upfront about the flexible working options that are available in a role, publish these in all job adverts and give successful applicants a day one right to take it up".

These options could include working from home, part-time work, flexi-time, annualised hours, term-time working, job sharing and compressed hours.

The TUC found that although there has been a noticeable rise in homeworking rates, other forms of flexible working have been left behind.

The union body is also calling for the government to make flexible working a genuine legal right from the first day in a job. The TUC said: "Workers should have the right to appeal any rejections. And there should be no limit on how many times you can ask for flexible working arrangements in a year."

"Everyone should have access to flexible working. But while homeworking has grown, people in jobs that can’t be done from home have been left behind. They deserve access to flexible working too. And they need new rights to options like flexitime, predictable shifts, and job shares," said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

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“Homeworkers also need better legal protection. It’s great that some employers are much more supportive now, but many others are still behind the times, turning down homeworking requests without good reason.

“The government promised to modernise employment law to make flexible working options the norm for every job. But Boris Johnson has cancelled plans for an employment bill this year. And it is mostly people in working-class jobs who are left out. That’s not fair – ministers must step up and do what they promised.”

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