Lockdown ‘added to work crisis by making people scared to leave homes’
Lockdown contributed to Britain’s out of work crisis by making people scared to leave their homes, the country’s largest recruitment agency has told MPs.
Rhodri Thomas, an executive at the Reed Group, said an increase in health problems including anxiety linked to Covid restrictions was the “biggest driver” of rising joblessness.
He told the Commons work and pensions committee that many unemployed people now do not want to take posts “where they are in busy working environments”. A large number are also reluctant to return to the labour force post-pandemic unless they can find part-time roles in which they can work from home, he said.
Ministers are preparing to unveil plans to cut down on the nine million people who are economically inactive, meaning they are neither in a job nor looking for one.
Britain is the only major country to have experienced a sustained rise in joblessness since the start of Covid, fuelled by long-term illness and over-50s retiring early. The phenomenon, at a time when companies are struggling to fill record vacancies, is slowing down the UK’s post-pandemic recovery.
Mr Thomas said: “We have a lot of participants who are reluctant to work in environments where they have to deal with retail customer service, where they are in busy working environments. Also, we have a lot of participants who want greater flexibility so don’t particularly want to work full-time and are also looking for options to work from home.
“We’ve seen a real shift over the last two years into delivering more provision that is focused on anxiety and people concerned about leaving their homes.
“So we are having to deal with people who are more concerned about going back into work, and I think some of the impact of the lockdowns has contributed to those worsening mental health conditions for some participants.”
Richard Clifton of the Shaw Trust, a work support charity, told the committee there had been a “post-pandemic change in attitudes linked to health”.
He said offering over-50s more flexible working opportunities would be more effective than giving them tax breaks in return for going back to work. He suggested financial incentives should be offered to companies to encourage them to create more opportunities for older workers.
“It’s more about the good work end of it, a good rate of pay but also progression and flexibility,” he said. “I don’t think incentives around tax will, for the vast majority of people we’re talking about, have the impact you’re looking for.”
Elizabeth Taylor, the chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said the Government should promote the benefits of experience in the workplace.
“We do need to do a big marketing campaign on the value of older workers because there’s been a drift away from that amongst employers,” she told the committee.