Although it was published in 2016, this tweet from the Department of Work and Pensions, about travelling up to 90 minutes each way for commuting to work, started getting traction again recently. It links to a Tumblr post by The Daily Jobseeker, which appears to be a Universal Credit blog.
Both of these posts extol the virtues of commuting; you can make more money for doing the same thing, says the Tumblr article, and you will be exposed to exponentially more available jobs. ‘Worth downloading Angry Birds for!’, it claims, as if reticence to play phone games were the reason people are averse to longer commutes.
The problem with this casual, glib point of view – especially given that it is aimed at people who are currently out of work – is that it fails to acknowledge some of the very real reasons that jobseekers can’t commute. The time spent is just a small factor. There are a few ways to use that time wisely, below, if you can’t avoid 90 minutes on a train.
Privatisation of railways, and in most areas buses, means that costs are sky-high for regular travellers. A monthly train ticket from Middlesbrough to Newcastle, around a 75-minute journey, is £200 a month; Guildford into London, a one-hour journey, is £429 a month; and up in Scotland, a 90-minute trip from Aviemore into the city of Perth will cost £444 per month. If you have a car, there are other costs to consider; petrol, insurance, daily parking. If you have children or other caring responsibilities, there is not only the pressure to pay for care during this additional theoretical three hours a day you aren’t around, but also to actually find help which is available during those outside hours – and the quality time you miss out on. Assuming a 9–5 working day in an office ten minutes’ walk from your train station, and an extremely fortunate train timetable, a 90-minute journey means getting on a train at 7.20am and getting back to your home station at 6.40pm. That’s nearly a 12-hour day for eight hours of pay.
A side note here: while the European Court of Justice ruled in 2015 that, if a worker didn’t have a fixed office (such as a sales rep), time spent travelling to and from their work would count as time spent working, this only referred to the Working Time Directive, which says that workers may not work more than 48 hours a week unless they specifically opt out. It doesn’t refer to pay.
While our employment figures as a nation are on the up, this isn’t quite the whole story; there are over 900,000 people in zero-hours-contract jobs, and many jobs which have short days and precarious hours in their very nature. Those such as cleaning, which can be a three hour shift (is it worth doubling your time and spending most of your income just to get there?) and hospitality, where it’s not uncommon to be unceremoniously sent home if your workplace isn’t busy enough.
So if you decide that your circumstances allow you to make this 90-minute commute each way every day – or if you’re being told to apply for jobs that far away, lest you lose Jobseekers’ Allowance or Universal Credit – how can you spend that time best?
1. Do nothing. It’s perfectly valid to use time sitting on a bus, train or driving just having a good stare out of the window and gearing up for the day, especially if your journey will be interrupted by transport changes.
2. Work. Only if you feel like it, though; you probably aren’t being paid for this time. It’s also very possible that you’re standing up the whole way, that you don’t have table space for a laptop or notebook, that there’s an armpit in your face. Would your boss work with an armpit in their face? There’s nobody you have to prove your dedication to on a crowded train.
3. Learn something. Even on a phone, you can pick up new skills. The language app Duolingo has a setting where you can switch off the ‘speaking’ element and just do the listening (if you have headphones) and reading.
4. Read or watch TV for pleasure. If a physical book is too bulky for your bag, there are options: you can hold and turn pages on most e-books with one hand, if you need the other hand to keep yourself steady on a bus. Kindle and Nook both have their own smartphone app, so you don’t even need the device. Netflix allows advance downloads to devices (phones and tablets, not laptops) so you can watch shows or movies without using up your data.
5.Catch up with the news. There are loads of newspapers, including free ones on trains and buses, but if you prefer not to read when travelling you can listen to in-depth reports on focused topics from The Daily Debrief, Today, Explained, The Daily and more. Podcast apps will, like Netflix, allow you to download these in advance so you aren’t interrupted when going through a tunnel.
Or maybe you can consign the commute to the past by finding new work closer to home. Maybe you can work remotely in one of the growing sectors embracing remote workers. There may be a perfect opportunity ready for you, right now. Join Stay Nimble, and never feel like you’re missing out on new opportunities.
Katherine is a qualified careers advisor and a member of the Career Development Institute. She has just begun a PhD programme to research meta-skill development in the workplace, and is a fiction editor and publisher in her spare time. You can find her on Twitter at @katobell.