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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

More flexible hours during Covid should become new normal for all kinds of work, says IPPR

Manufacturing industries are among those gaining from changed working patterns, and should seize 'pivotal moment’ to do more

Dramatic changes to millions of people’s working hours and routines during the Covid-19 crisis show how a more innovative approach to work could benefit UK industry – including manufacturing and engineering – says a new IPPR report published today.

The report says the UK is nearing a “pivotal moment” when new working practices could be adopted across the economy, and that changes made during the pandemic offer a glimpse of how these could be achieved, including in sectors not traditionally seen as open to them.

Even before the virus struck, one in five workers in manufacturing industries used some form of flexible working, according to new analysis by the think tank of published data. But in a trade union survey of 1,100 workers in the defence sector, also analysed by IPPR, more than one in three said that since the Covid crisis they were working flexible hours, and four in five reported changes to their working practices.

More workers in largely white-collar industries reported before the pandemic that they used flexible working – two in five (40 per cent) of those in public administration, education and health – but IPPR argues that in these areas, too, the response to the pandemic reveals huge scope for longer-term change.

Among the report’s other findings on working practices before the pandemic are that:

  • As many as two in five workers in manufacturing industries said they would rather work fewer hours.
  • Nearly one in three manufacturing workers said they would be willing to work fewer hours even if that meant less pay.
  • Flexitime was the most common flexible working arrangement in manufacturing, with one in 10 full-time workers reporting they used it; only one in 50 said they worked other than less than a five-day week.
  • Most workers in manufacturing put in between 35 and 44 hours a week. Only one in 10 were part time, and just one in 100 within the shipbuilding industry.
  • Workers in farming, forestry and fishing were the least likely to have flexible working practices

The report says that that much of the innovation in working practices made necessary by Covid-19 – including, in manufacturing, more flexible shifts at different times of day, or staff working longer but fewer shifts to spread work between them over different days – have been helpful to workers while maintaining production.

It praises the increased collaboration and consultation between employers and the workforce, which it says has led to increased trust and understanding of the role of trades unions.

It also highlights the further benefit to companies and workers since the job-retention scheme was extended to support part-time furlough at the beginning of this month (July).

IPPR makes a series of recommendations to enable the UK to capture the potential of more flexible working practices and reduced working hours during the pandemic for the longer term. These include:

  • Extend and improve the flexible furlough scheme to ensure businesses can continue part-time furlough until the economy has sufficiently recovered, rather than an arbitrary cut-off date. This will keep more people in work, helping avoid a large increase in unemployment.
  • Open the scheme to new applicants, including new employees, to protect against job losses and share available work, keeping a greater number of people out of unemployment and connected to the workplace.
  • Support workers to take up training opportunities during spare hours while on short-time working, through a temporary £700 ‘Personal Learning Credit’.
  • Businesses and unions to set up ‘reduced working time task forces’ to gauge whether reductions in working time, including a reduced working week, are possible and desirable.
  • Collect evidence and examples from the crisis on how flexible working and reduced hours have been made possible, to capture experiences and learnings from innovations during the crisis.
  • Introduce a new bank holiday, in recognition of the contribution of key workers through the pandemic, as the first step in a longer-term plan to increase bank holiday and more flexible annual leave entitlements.

Rachel Statham, IPPR Senior Research Fellow and a co-author of the report, said:

“The way people work was already changing before Covid-19, but the past few months have shown how far and how fast innovation is possible – fewer hours, more flexible shifts, more flexibility all round.

“And it’s not just people in professional and white-collar jobs working from home; factories and engineering companies across the UK have also been operating differently, in ways that suit their workforce and have been designed with them.

“Even as we continue to support the economy to recover from the pandemic crisis, we need to capture those improvements and learn how to be more responsive to the changing needs of the UK’s workforce, including in manufacturing industries, for the long term.

Carsten Jung, IPPR Senior Economist, the report’s lead author, said:

“The coronavirus pandemic severely endangers the livelihoods of many workers in manufacturing sectors and related industries; and continuing to support businesses and workers through this will be critical to prevent long-term unemployment and hardship. Right now, that means making sure the job retention scheme is kept running for longer than currently planned and is open to new applicants as the economy recovers.

“But we’re now nearing a pivotal moment in which a new chapter of working time and working practices could be opened, with the support and engagement of employers and workers together.

“The crisis must also serve as an opportunity to learn and build a better work environment in the future - with the ultimate aim of offering more flexible hours, and gradually reducing the working week.”


Carsten Jung and Rachel Statham, authors of the report, are available for interview


David Wastell, Head of News and Communications: 07921 403651 [email protected]

Robin Harvey, Digital and Media Officer: 07779 204798 [email protected]


  • The IPPR paper, The Covid Shift: Working time in manufacturing, engineering, shipbuilding and aerospace after the pandemic, by Carsten Jung, Rachel Statham and Carys Roberts, will be published at 0001 on Monday July 27. It will be available for download at
  • Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request
  • An animated IPPR video on working time will be available at XXXXX. To embed on an external website please contact IPPR.
  • IPPR analysis of working practices before the pandemic is based on Office of National Statistics (ONS) labour force survey data.
  • Prospect surveyed 1,141 members in the defence sector in May and June this year, asking about changes to working practices since the Covid-19 crisis. The results were analysed by IPPR.
  • IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.