The commuting gap

Commuting and travel for work have a long-term impact on families as a whole, not just on the person doing it.



I’ve been commiserating with a friend whose partner is away on work this week. I’m in a similar position except my partner is away for family reasons. It’s a situation which is more common than people might imagine so when the questionnaires come round about sharing childcare etc – for instance, last week’s report on social attitudes, including both attitudes to housework sharing and the reality – it depends on what time of the day, week or month you ask. That’s not to say it is always dads who are away. It could be the other way around.

We live in a fast-paced world where people can be expected to travel far and wide for work. Covid paused all of that, but we’re moving more and more back to the pre-Covid times as the relentless headlines about moving back to the office three or four days a week show. There’s also the obligatory references to people working from home being ‘shirkers’. Apparently people in the office never shirk and home workers are basically doing nothing, probably watching daytime tv and not dressing. That was the view of one Boris Johnson [Mr Office Party] back in the pre-Olympics days. It appears that, despite Covid, in some quarters that image is hard to shift.

What is interesting is that we know that a lot of people moved house during Covid to places further away from work on the back of the promise of hybrid working. With the cost of living pushing up commuting costs, the return to more days in the office must be putting a financial strain on some families. Not to mention the strain on the hours of commuting.

While the person commuting may find that hard, there is also the pressure on the person who is not commuting because someone needs to be around to pick up the kids. I’ve been talking to mums about the cost of living crisis for our annual survey. Many are keen to increase their earnings and looking at creative ways to do so so that they are still around for the kids and don’t have to shell out more money on childcare which they can’t afford.

Some have told me their partner is doing longer hours away from home. It seems that the cost of living crisis combined with pressure to return more to the office may be combining to entrench gender divisions, working against more equal sharing of childcare and home pressures after we saw increases in dads’ contribution on the home front during the pandemic. What will the longer term impact be? Many of the possible consequences may not even be on our radar yet, but they will play out in individuals’ lives and prospects in the next decades.

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