Bedford workplaces busier now than during first national lockdown

The GMB union says the current rules are more ambiguous than last year

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 12:15 pm

Workplaces in Bedford have been busier during the current lockdown than last spring, figures suggest.

The GMB union said low-paid workers not being able to afford to self-isolate and a lack of sanctions on employers were key reasons for increased office footfall across England.

Google uses location data from phones and other personal devices to track trends in people's movement in different areas of their daily lives, including where they work.

The GMB union said low-paid workers not being able to afford to self-isolate

It shows average activity in workplaces in Bedford over six weeks between January 5 and February 15 was 39 per cent lower than during a five-week baseline period recorded before the pandemic.

But this was a rise on the average of 60 per cent below normal between March 24 and May 4, when the UK was plunged into its first national lockdown.

Current UK Government guidance says people can only leave their home for work if it is “not reasonably possible” to do so from home.

In announcing the first lockdown on March 23 last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said travelling to and from work was only permitted when "absolutely necessary".

Between that and the current lockdown, activity in workplaces across the UK has risen from an average of 64 per cent below normal to 45 per cent below.

Dan Shears, GMB national health and safety director, said the inability of low-paid and gig economy workers to afford to self-isolate is a critical factor this time around.

He added: "This will undoubtedly be a reason for the increased footfall, as many workers simply cannot take the hit of income falling to statutory sick pay rates.

"The other issue is the lack of sanctions for employers who have chosen to remain open, even when this has not been necessary."

He said the current rules are more ambiguous than last year and called on the Government to provide better communication to employers, with stronger enforcement against those breaking the rules.

The Google data shows how footfall in Bedford workplaces has differed across almost a full year of coronavirus restrictions.

The busiest working day between the start of the first UK lockdown and mid-February was November 4, when activity was just 24 per cent below usual levels.

By contrast, the quietest weekday over this time – outside of bank holidays – was December 31, which was 69 per cent% below normal.

The Institute of Directors, which represents UK business leaders, said the majority of its members indicated they would be keeping some form of home working in place after the pandemic.

Joe Fitzsimons, senior policy adviser at the IoD, added: "It is essential that the Government works closely with businesses to provide guidance on how organisations can reopen safely, to ensure the safety of their workers."

The Department of Health and Social Care said the Test and Trace Support Payment has received £149 million in funding for people who need to self-isolate but cannot work from home, and will be extended to the summer.

A spokesman added: “While we recognise this is an incredibly difficult time for many, it is crucial people continue to follow the rules and help supress this dreadful virus."