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17 September 2018updated 07 Sep 2021 11:27am

The DWP is claiming a three-hour daily commute “could be fun”

The extra travel expense, cost of childcare and waste of time is worth it for that window seat. 

By Sam Forsdick

The Department for Work and Pensions is recommending that people look for jobs up to a 90 minute commute away. 

The advice was published on its Daily Jobseeker blog, under the headline, “Travel, for fun and for profit: How expanding your job search could lead to a pay rise”. Noting the average commuter already spends 55 minutes travelling each way to work, the DWP decides to raise them one. “Many jobseekers consider roles up to 90 minutes travel time away, and for good reason,” it declares. 

The blog claims that those willing to commute further can land a higher paid job, although it does not provide any figures beyond the obvious fact there are more jobs the wider the area you consider. It also suggests that the additional time spent on public transport could be used for fun activities such as “playing Candy Crush”, “Angry Birds” or “if you’re dedicated, doing work time”. The picture illustrating the blog post shows a smug commuter sitting in the window seat of an empty train carriage. 

By travelling further, the DWP argues, you will get paid more, have more opportunities and it could be “fun”. Not mentioned in the blog is the cost of commuting: a season ticket for rail travel from Colchester to London – a route which takes an hour and 20 minutes – can cost over £5,000 a year. Nor does the DWP factor in additional childcare costs for working parents, or the fact that travelling by train in some areas of the country comes with a one-in-five chance of cancellation

Even the picture helpfully overlooks the fact that nearly a quarter of people commuting into London have to stand in overcrowded trains.

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The DWP may be lost in deluded commuter land, but it is at least consistent: unemployed benefit claimants that the DWP deems fit for work are expected to travel up to an hour and a half each way for a job.

In fact, a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that bad transport infrastructure is the cause of many people’s lack of employment in the first place. The report found that poor public transport links, a lack of affordability and unreliable services were all contributing to “transport poverty”. It concluded that transport is “a significant barrier to employment for many residents living in low-income neighbourhoods”.

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One person, quoted anonymously in the report, says: “I’d be willing to travel any distance, it’s more time … [The Jobcentre Plus expectation] is just silly, you’ve got three hours travel time on top of a job, so you do a 12 hour shift, 15 hour day, where are you supposed to sleep in that?”

Others raise concerns over the cost of nursery and the expense of travel – “By the time I’ve paid for travel expenses to get there, work in a part-time job on a part-time wage, it wouldn’t be worth my while travelling that far.”

With its stringent sanctions for claimants who are not deemed to be searching hard enough, the DWP may well succeed into scaring into three-hour commutes. But doing so will clearly not be fun, and – once travel costs and childcare are deducted – unlikely to be profitable either.