Supporting workers in the Covid-19 era is as much about emotion as economics | Torsten Bell

We are entering the grim jobs-being-lost phase of this crisis: 695,000 fewer of us are on payrolls and the Bank of England expects unemployment to rise by 1.2m. The chancellor’s new measures will reduce, but far from halt, this tide.

Economic policy specialists tend to focus on the financial effects of redundancies. And they are painfully large. A worker earning £20,000 loses 71% of their income if they lose their job and fall back on universal credit.

But the danger of thinking simply in such terms is that we underestimate the wider impact of what is to come. Jobs aren’t just about wages – they are crucial to our wellbeing. That insight comes from the recent trend towards collecting data on people’s self-reported happiness. UK research shows we are happier when we have a job than when we don’t, even once we discount the impact of higher income.

These findings also offer a warning to those saying we should let jobs in hard-hit sectors go this winter, hoping the workers concerned find new employment elsewhere. The impact of job gains and losses is asymmetric: the drop in wellbeing from losing a job is substantially bigger than the gain from finding one.

So supporting workers during these difficult times is about far more than the pounds and pence of wage packets. The task isn’t just to help Britain through this pandemic, but to contain the epidemic of unhappiness it risks leaving behind.

Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at


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