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Rail sale: commuters urged to return to work are left behind

Government-backed rail ticket sale is criticized for being a gimmick that does not help commuters

The nations biggest ever Government-backed rail ticket sale could see passengers saving up to 50% on their next trip. But peak-time commuters who have faced increasing ticket prices over the last nine years will be excluded from this initiative, which has been criticised by some as a ‘headline grabbing gimmick’.

The Department for Transport argue that the government has listened to concerns over the lack of support with the rising costs of living and “cutting the cost of rail travel will help ease some of the pressure on family finances at a time when inflation is rising around the world.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“For the first time ever, operators across the rail industry are coming together to help passengers facing rising costs of living by offering up to 50% off more than a million tickets on journeys across Britain.”

No peak-time sales

But for all the claims the scheme makes, it has been criticised by Labour and trade unions, who say it does not do anything to help commuters who rely on the railway.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This headline grabbing gimmick won’t help commuters at all … Working people need affordable rail travel every day.”

The shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, said: “This temporary respite will be small comfort to passengers who had thousands taken out of their pockets from soaring fares since 2010.”

Return to Work Directive

Following Whitehall’s orders to get civil service staff back into office with immediate effect and accusations that workers who refuse to do so are failing to pull their weight, the criticisms are prevalent now more than ever.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency has written to all secretaries of state to say they must send a “clear message” to officials about ending the work from home culture and urge them to ensure that taxpayer-funded offices are at “full capacity”. This mandate was released after it emerged that up to three-quarters of staff within the civil service are still working from home.

“The pandemic shouldn’t be an excuse for a new normal. Government departments were full all the time beforehand, and we shouldn’t use pandemic as an excuse to change that.”

Rees-Mogg’s rigid approach to working has been issued despite widespread support for flexible working from unions and workers, and multiple studies showing that productivity has actually improved as a result of home-working. In a report from February, the Institute for Government found that offering hybrid working had key benefits to help the government achieve its agenda.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a professional body for employee development, similarly stated that both the government and organisations should make “the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees”.

Changing Workplace

Working from home provisions can be beneficial to workers with a diverse range of working styles, commitments and geography.  Rees-Mogg should recognise being inclusive of this diversity, which through working from home arrangements, are extremely beneficial to work performance and well-being.

The pandemic has changed people’s lives irreversibly and, for many people, this includes their approach to work. Rees-Mogg’s rigid approach to work is firmly in conflict with the changing nature of employment post Covid-19.

Staff who are neurodivergent or who have long struggled with concentration in busy, open-plan offices can flourish in quieter, more familiar surroundings.

Many workers – particularly women – have caring responsibilities for children or relatives. Working from home offers them time to undertake such duties, plus the flexibility to collect, drop-off and make time for any dependents.

Mutual Respect

Rees-Mogg has asked ministers to record the numbers tracking employees’ return to work with the intention to publish the figures online, to encourage ministers that they are to issue stricter instructions.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect union which is involved with civil servant workers, said in January that he “will not be taking lectures on hard work from someone whose definition of a work event appears to involve cheese, wine and a garden,” in reference to the Partygate controversy surrounding Downing Street employees’ lockdown behaviour.

Lucille Thirlby, the assistant general secretary of the First Division Association, which represents senior civil servants, has said ministers should not be “interfering” with the working patterns of civil servants.

The insistence of returning to work, with no substantial improvement to the commuting fares and no productivity benefits, seems counterproductive to encouraging a work culture built on mutual respect and understanding. The government would be wrong to lead the way in forcing a return to full-time office work.

With more than one million discounted tickets helping connect friends and families, boosting UK tourism and encouraging green travel across the country, it’s a real shame commuters have been side lined through rigid mandates and fare price initiatives that do not benefit them.

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