The Department for Work and Pensions is recommending that people “look for jobs up to a 90 minute commute away”.
The advice came on their Daily Jobseeker blog that claimed that those that are willing to commute further could land a higher paid job. It also suggested that the additional time spent on public transport could be used for fun activities such as “playing Candy Crush” or “Angry Birds”.
By travelling further, the DWP argues that you will get paid more, have more opportunities and it could be “fun”. However the patronising blog seemed to ignore the fact that travelling further would increase the cost of commuting and for parents it would also incur additional childcare costs as well as depriving their children of valuable time with their family.
When travelling by train in some areas of the country comes with a one-in-five chance of cancellation, coupled with the cost of an annual season ticket, a 90 minute commute is unfeasible for many. 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.
So although it might be a great option for those who are able to travel by train while spending three hours a day mindlessly tapping away on Candy Crush, the DWP’s recommendation ignores the reality of life for many workers. Even the picture of a smug commuter sitting in the window-seat of an empty carriage helpfully overlooks the fact that nearly a quarter of people commuting into London have to stand in overcrowded trains.
But the 90 minute commute is not just a helpful recommendation; those supported through Jobcentre Plus are expected to travel up to an hour and a half for work.
A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation 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”.
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.”
The DWP may think that spending 15 hours of your week on overcrowded and expensive public transport is a reasonable sacrifice in the pursuit for better paid work but for people such as those quoted in the JRF report it is not realistic.