378 - Rethinking normailty | Scoins.net | DJS

378 - Rethinking normailty


Many people have been looking forward to the end of covid and some sort of return to normal. A few have been shouting that this is a wonderful opportunity to reconsider the hows and whys that govern what we do. Here I have a look at what might come up for consideration and to a lesser extent, what pressures might cause change to actually occur.

At the level of the individual household quite a proportion have experienced working from home and working at home; this includes very many of school age and (27%-37% in 2020, [7]) numbers of employed in the UK. A number (11.7 million, [12])  have experienced furlough, which in lockdown is not the same as holiday. So those many people have discovered how well their home suits that sort of use. Of that group, some will have decided that this does not suit and that they have excuse/reason/resource to do something about that. Hence the estate agents' talk about a mass move 'to the country'. The temporary removal of stamp duty, SDLT, certainly helped stimulate the housing market, so this added incentive to move if that were an option. Further, some (again, some numbers would be helpful) employees and employers found themselves in agreement that this WfH thing had benefits worth extending.

In the past seven days, have you worked from home because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?      ↓↓ See below↓↓

Hybrid working, which means some work from home and some at the place of work in any ratio was an expectation for 85% of the adults asked, increasing with pay; around 20% of those below the median wage thought a full time return to the workplace was most likely, but around 5% thought they'd not return at all. See Fig 6 of [7].
One assumes that some households found that a little re-arrangement would make WfH achievable, even comfortable. I know that those with many children found that internet access was inadequate, particularly in terms of screen numbers and I'd guess some found their bandwidth inadequate for such usage volumes. I wonder how many decided or have subsequently decided that home-schooling has enough attraction to continue with that. It appears to be a number around 86,000, and around 19,500 took this step after 20200901, last academic year, so around a quarter of all those home-schooled are new homeschoolers. I think homescholars is a better word. See [8,10] 

If you make a change-of-use to a room to create an office (which means a place of work within an otherwise domestic residence) then you might choose to register this, in effect, because there are tax allowances, see [11]  ²  That situation was different when council tax and poll tax were calculated on the number of bedrooms. An office will not normally also be a sleeping room.

One of the possibilities for Britain is that we change to having a much lower attendance in shared office space, perhaps commuting only once a week to experience those things seen as lost from the change. Depending how such change is enacted, we could have opportunity to convert surplus office space to much-needed housing; this would work well if at sufficiently low density, but I am expecting greed to take over and (too) many residences to be squeezed into old office space, thus recreating the disasters of the tower blocks of the sixties. ³  So what I'd like to see is for office conversions to be generously spacious in recognition of what we have learned over the last two years. But greed will overrule that.

Living in an ex-office space might also help the expected changes in travelling, besides helping revitalise our city centres. Which is making express assumptions about the location of offices, of course.

Running counter to all of this is the realisation that many caring jobs are grossly under-valued. Conversely, some of us have realised that there are many very well-paid jobs that are largely empty and meaningless. We can contemplate a radical change in this situation, even a reversal; that might well be helped by the growth of robots, which will potentially displace many thousands. I suspect that the vested interests of the already-advantaged will require a revolution of sorts to occur. We need a wholesale change, not just of whatever it is that bothers you the most (for me, political failure), but of the ways in which we express value for participation in our society, which I'd like to express as caring for and about others. As yet, none of the ideas I've read look workable without other change, mostly about national perceptions of what is important.

Jonathan, Lord Sumption, once Supreme Court Judge, points out in the book Rethink [14, pp101-3] that during lockdown we surrendered a load of freedoms in exchange for security and that:- What the state can do, sooner or later it will do. People demand that this great plenitude of power should be used for purposes of which they approve. In a world where people are no longer willing to accept risk or tolerate misfortune, they approve of almost anything that they believe will increase their security. There is an irony at the heart of these instincts. People distrust the motives of politicians. But they have unbounded confidence, which no amount of experience will dent, in the benign power of the state to protect them against an ever-wider range of risks. This is strangley sinister.

One facet of our anticipated change centres on travel, which is something we should be trying to do a lot less often. Going to the office only once a week would do a lot. Confused.com says drivers average 21 miles a day, 5000 miles a year and that this is 75% of the annual mileage (of those that drive to work). The removal of the commute is saving this select group some £300 a month [13]. The modelling assumed two days per week in the office and looked at all commuters, so what is available is quite helpful. Cost savings are not just the lack of travel, some of which becomes increased overhead (having a season ticket, owning a car), but also the associated costs such as permits and parking, plus the extras such as buying a lunch. One inevitable downside is the loss to the economy of those transactions. But that is what less travel means for all of us. Perhaps this will mean that hospitality becomes more valued, both more expensive and more rewarding as employment.

It occurs to me that decreased travel may be assumed to be even across the year. I think that, on the contrary, travel issues will concentrate at what are already choke points. Here I include those in time; such as using half-term holidays for travel — if many more a re working from home then the release sought from travel will be perceived as larger and more desirable, so those tied to the school year (who are not all parents) will be targeting those same few windows of opportunity. And those not, not. Further, if travel is something to reduce, does that mean that one stays in a place longer? 

If we agree to travel less or to move away from the car, maybe we will move to use of public transport and to personal, human driven transport. If so, it is likely that we change our leisure activities to something based near(er) to home. The very convenience of the car may assist this, as a perception allied to the EV is that the majority of our journeys are to nearby locations. If the consensus agrees and if we move away from the car altogether then either we have some different personal transport (maybe an e-bike) or we walk. Taken all in all, that means that travel is to places more nearby than when one used a car for everything. It also means that the cost of owning a car shoots up in per mile or per use terms. We might assume a demand for delivery to be slicker than it is (avoid the drive, shop online, have it delivered efficiently).  This may indeed change the nature of our leisure demands and the sort of things we consider leisure. I can see a possible return of the village fair (fête, carnival, dog and pony show, etc) and street party, all of which I think would be good things.

I find, quite often, taht I am not alone in thinking that our siciety might change for the better. What is very much unclear is how thatmight come about, given that change implies winners and losers and those we woudl collectivley like to be winners are not, precdominantly, those who are currently 'successful'. Thus the very structure of our society works to prevent the sorts of change that we might very well like to occur. What is wrong here includes things such as the way we measure success or achievement. So I find myself steadily drifting to two polar positions. One is politically radical, wondering how extreme I might move to cause change to happen; I cannot imagine ever being moved to action beyond the keyboard. The second is to wonder what I might do myself that would move towards a 'better' position. Yet, by being retired and am already hugely privileged (the label might be 'successfully retired'), I could relatively easily spend so that I live in comfort with few outgoings. But that doesn't improve anyone else's position unless they read what I output and can see ways to benefit. Maybe we need to demonstrate resilience and to share how that is achieved - adapt and survive, indeed.

DJS 20211210

Top pic is of (the cover of) a book, Rethink, Amol Rajan [14] on this very topic, which is a slower read than I expected. 
Today moved from P90 to 115. Normally I'd gulp a book per day. Why do I find this book so tiring? And trying?

David Graeber, P23:  “The more obviously your work benefits other people, the less they pay you.”  Not entirely, he says, thinking of GPs.  P27: There is no such thing as ‘the’ internet today. There are competing digital domains, and a tech Cold War.

Peter Hennessy, P51; I think there is a hard-edged, not a fudged consensus to be crafted using five priorities: •  Social care; something must be done and fast •  A big public/private push on social housing •  Getting technical education right at last after 150 years of trying •  Combatting and mitigating climate change • Preparing our country and our people for the full impact of artificial intelligence on our productive capacity and our society.  An American viewpoint, P53/4, says the crises are the pandemic, employment, race, democracy and the environment. He may be right but three of those are old problems while the Brit version is, in my view two of repair and three new. 

It may be true that in a society in which pandemics can occur, then It is plain now that any of us is only as healthy as the most precariously insured, least well-tended member of the society.  P59/60: You all know what those three problems are. They are climate change, unsustainable use of world resources, and the consequences of inequality among the world’s peoples.

The biggest legacy of coronavirus will also be the most sinister: a fundamental change in the relationship between the citizen and the state. P93 Jonathan Sumption. These are all very short reads; this is one worth the effort to find it.

To page 95 is 'Who we are', and many could be skipped. In all, i found these so short that they could have been half as long and told me no more. Rajan's intro was more helpful, but then he has at least read all of these already.

P109:  Bertrand Russell is always worth turning to. His essay ‘In Praise of Idleness’ (1932) contains the following, irresistible quote: ‘First of all, what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.’ When my dad first read these words to me, an epoch ago, I remember thinking that Russell ought to have added the first kind is generally done by women, and the second men.

DJS 20211215


1.  Homeschooling is something you voluntarily register [8]. In 2018-2020 there were typically 23k students taken out of school, but the first two terms of the 20/21 year showed this changing to 40k. Isopleth chart from [8]. We do need the register to be complete, with close to 100% of children identified as where they are having their education. Do look at [8].

[10] Says that 40k is an undercount by a factor of two, and I say that's understandable, since registration is not required. We estimate that a total of 75,668 children and young people were being electively home educated [EHE] on the first school census day, 1 October 2020. This is an increase of 38% from the same school census day in 2019 (3 October). Of this number, we estimate that approximately 25% became EHE after 1 September 2020. Further, during the 2019/20 academic year, we estimate that the total cumulative number of children and young people being home educated was 86,335. This represents a 10% increase since the 2018/19 academic year, despite schools being closed to the majority of pupils from 23 March 2020.

2. The key test is whether the overall character of the dwelling will change as a result of the business   https://www.planningportal.co.uk/info/200130/common_projects/56/working_from_home You may wish to apply to your council for a Certificate of Lawful Use for the proposed activity. The reverse activity, changing offices into homes, is interesting. Example.

3.  Built from the 50s to the 70s, the idea was laudable but the execution poor. What was built in hope of fine futures rapidly turned into slums in the sky (see). They ought to work and work well; 8% of Londoners live in a tower block (cite) with an enormous variety of standard. 


[1] my initial prompt.  https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/great-resignation-accelerating/620382/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=atlantic-daily-newsletter&utm_content=20211207&utm_term=The%20Atlantic%20Daily

[2]   https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm

Quits levels https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t04.htm#jolts_table4.f.2   and https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t04.htm

Job Openings  https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t01.htm  

I deleted a page of writing - more than a screenful! The blue bar chart is US employment from
 what they call Labor Statistics.

[3]   https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/payroll-employment-up-210000-in-november-2021.htm  chart source.

[4]   https://www.stewart.com/en/insights/2020/07/08/u-s-supersector-employment-changes-from-1950-to-2020.html

[5] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/


[6]    https://data.oecd.org/emp/employment-rate.htm

[7]  https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket



UK.gov, via the ONS [7] says 

•The proportion of working adults who did any work from home in 2020 increased to 37% on average from 27% in 2019 with workers living in London the most likely to homework.     My emboldenment

• Of businesses not permanently stopped trading, 24% stated that they intended to use increased home-working going forward, with the Information and Communication industry recording the highest proportion (49%). 

•  Of working adults currently homeworking, 85% wanted to use a "hybrid" approach of both home and office working in future. However, there was some uncertainty among businesses, with 32% stating they were not sure what proportion of the workforce will be working from their usual place of work.

You might like Fig 10, which shows the perceptions of pros and cons of WfH. I have attempted an embed, here. It tends to cause Sandvox to seize.



[8]     https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-57255380

[9]   https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN05108/SN05108.pdf

[10]    https://adcs.org.uk/assets/documentation/ADCS_EHE_Survey_2020_FINALweb.pdf

[11]    https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home  some of which applies directly to covid restrictions.

[12]    https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-statistics-4-november-2021/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-statistics-4-november-2021#cumulative-totals   

[13]  https://www.confused.com/press/releases/2021/commuters-save-as-much-as-300-a-month-working-from-home-during-lockdown

[14]  https://www.alumni.cam.ac.uk/benefits/book-shelf/rethink-leading-voices-on-life-after-crisis-and-how-we-can-make-a-better-world You might listen to the podcasts; I found an e-book version.

“confronting the social and economic consequences of an ageing population is our single most urgent policy challenge. I used to think it was climate change” P10.  Excerpt From Rethink by Amol Rajan.  This material may be protected by copyright.

Over in the USA, early 2021 included a jump in resignations. Among other details, almost 7% of those in hospitality left their job, just in August. That doesn't mean they left the employment sector, though that seems a reasonable thing to ask or assume. I read and wrote a load of stuff about the US figures and have shoved it down below adjacent to the link [2]. I found the figures output by the Americans to be inconsistent with those from the UK even when the words were the same. For example, the US employment rate measures the number of people who have a job as a percentage of the working age population and is declared to be at 59.2% for Q4 2021, which appears to be a genuine maximum. 

In the UK the employment rate is 75.3% [5] with the same definition. Yet the OECD table here shows, for the last year, US employment at 67.1% and UK employment at 75.4%. I choose to believe that the OECD has done the work that allows comparisons to be made. [6] I've shown 'the G20', though there are only 15. having found the OECD site, I wandered around and added the labour force particpation rate which I think should give very similar numbers. I'd like to understand the difference. WAP is 15-64 not 25-64 here, so I wonder if those in education are counted as employed for this chart.

•? When people change jobs they often change location. Any measures of this?What about business relocations, such as those that might follow deciding to move to being an online business? Tesla is an example. 

Covid            Email: David@Scoins.net      © David Scoins 2021