What next for the UK’s exhausted workforce?

Should employers step into the gap in social policy that should be the province of government?

Woman holding a bill and calculator, looking worried


A report out this week from the insurance company Royal London highlights the number of people doing multiple jobs and long hours just to get by as the cost of living crisis bites and the temperature drops.

While it’s not a new thing that people are doing more than one job, the sheer number of people doing this now is striking. Many are tag team parents, one parent looking after the kids until the next comes home and then heading out to their next job. Many are working all hours. The toll of that in terms of burnout and exhaustion is immense. But what is the alternative, given many – certainly the people we speak to – have not seen a pay rise, and certainly not one in line with inflation, in recent months, sometimes for years?

The Royal London report shows that even though people are working multiple jobs they are still worried they won’t be able to pay their bills. The cost of living crisis has pushed people over the edge, but they’ve been teetering near it for years. Countless reports have warned for years of how many people are living on credit. As stated, wages are not rising; health is deteriorating and benefits, frozen for years, are not going up anywere in line with inflation. Then there’s the benefits cap which has been frozen for years and is dragging more and more families under. Where I live you can see the impact – families moved out of London into temporary housing, away from extended family and community support. They include one of the families my partner works with. One of the family members has acute learning difficulites and, having been moved, he cannot access any of the support he had previously.

Many of the parents workingmums.co.uk speaks to who have children with learning difficulties are facing the double whammy of the cost of living crisis, plus the impact of Covid on support services. A huge 71% in our annual survey say services for their children have not returned to normal following Covid. I’m talking to several of these parents and a fair proportion say their children suffered from mental health issues during the pandemic. Often the parents themselves have also suffered from mental problems as a result of all the stress.

All this and we’re still in the autumn. And then you get statements from some politicians about British people being lazy and unproductive. The UK’s productivity problems are systemic. There is not the infrastructure in place to support people sufficiently. Everything has been whittled away over the years and employers are left to pick up the tab for a dysfunctional system where only the wealthy benefit.

Often the employers, particularly the smaller ones, are struggling themselves. Yet employers – some employers at least – have been almost the only source of progressive policy on work for years. They are often now operating in the space where government should be – health, social care, mental health support… It’s good that they are able to help people – goodness knows they need it – but only some employers can afford to do so and they are only covering over an empty hole where government and the threadbare welfare state should be.

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