Institute activities and comment during the COVID-19 crisis

Institute members are monitoring and commenting on the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on work and equalities within the UK and around the world.


For COVID-19-related events, please visit our Events page.


Homeworking experiences during lockdown
Like millions of others, call centre workers were required to work from home at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This blog examines the experiences of call centre staff and provides recommendations for improvement in the future.

Debra Howcroft and Phil Taylor
Policy@Manchester blog, 13 December 2021

Older workers and Covid-19: challenges for extending working life
Adjusting to the impact of Covid-19 is raising major issues about the employment prospects of older workers. The Government has re-branded Fuller Workers Lives as 50 Plus: Choices and Rishi Sunak is promoting schemes for the over-50s that will 'offer guidance on later life planning'.

Sajia Ferdous, Chris Phillipson, Mariska van der Horst
Shaw Business School, 24 November 2021

Hybrid working: can employers futureproof the home office?
The pandemic has dramatically shifted our working lives. While the relocation of white collar workers to the home environment was initially viewed as a temporary stopgap, this is now looking more like a watershed moment for the future of working practices, particularly with a growing roster of large firms making the switch permanent. It’s unlikely there will be a one size fits all for employers in the wake of the pandemic.

Debra Howcroft, Phil Taylor and Dora Scholarios
Original Thinkers blog, 29 September 2021

The shift to online could exacerbate grocery sector employment inequalities
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the development and uptake of tech within food retailing, both on and off the shop floor. This has seen a significant shift in demand for resourcing across the industry, sparking a landmark reconfiguration of work in food retail.

Abbie Winton
The Grocer, 17 August 2021

Accelerated automation and digital advances in the world of food retail
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted consumers to buy food online, which meant that food retailers had to adapt quickly. In this blog, Abbie Winton explores the changes that food retailers had to make during the pandemic and how these changes may have long-lasting consequences for the sector.

Abbie Winton
Policy@Manchester blog, 17 August 2021

The remote-working challenge: 'There are huge issues'
Hyperbole about remote working has given way to an understanding that making it work for everyone brings challenges and opportunities.Tony Dundon was interviewed for this article in The Irish Times.

Tony Dundon
The Irish Times, 10 July 2021

Rebuilding the foundations - decent work after Covid-19
The pandemic has reminded us that the health and wellbeing of citizens is a collective endeavour, as is the distribution of the daily essentials that all households (no matter how rich or poor) cannot feasibly provide for themselves. This foundational economy needs to be central to Covid-19 recovery plans.

Eva Herman and Mat Johnson
Original Thinkers blog, 17 June 2021

How COVID-19 has impacted our working lives
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t been affected by the pandemic. For over a year many aspects of our lives have changed because of the uncertainty brought about by the virus.
Our working lives are no exception. But what have been the effects of these changes on the way we work, on our well-being, and on our work-life balance? The pandemic represents an opportunity to make positive changes in the workplace.

David Holman and Kara Ng
Original Thinkers blog, 14 June 2021

How many of us will be going back to the office and what does it mean for the future of the way we work?
For more than a year, many of us have been forced to swap the office for home. Our towns and cities were turned into ghost towns overnight due to lockdown.  But when restrictions are lifted, just how many will return to the office? A new study by the University of Manchester suggests the majority of workers would favour a switch to "hybrid working", meaning the old five-day week model of office work being replaced with more flexible arrangements, such as three days at home and two in the office.

Debra Howcroft
ITV News, 26 April 2021

Now is the time for Ireland to consider a fair-work agenda
While the pandemic has brought some long overdue appreciation for both frontline and essential workers, it is uncertain how much will really change post-Covid. Now is the time for Ireland to consider a fair-work agenda.

Tony Dundon, Caroline Murphy
The Irish Times, 21 March 2021

Why parents need the right to stay home without risk to their income or jobs when schools are closed.
Under the UK government’s furlough scheme, parents can be placed on furlough if they have caring responsibilities for a child who is at home as a result of school closures. However, a parent’s request for furlough depends upon the agreement of their employer, which is not always forthcoming. In this blog, Dr Isabel Tavora and Professor Jill Rubery, from the Work and Equalities Institute, examine the flaws in the current scheme, and provide best practice recommendations based on their research into the COVID-19 special parental leave schemes of other European countries.

Isabel Tavora and Jill Rubery
Policy@Manchester, 21 January 2021

Job value and job status during the COVID-19 pandemic: Recognising migrants as ‘critical’ but neglected workers.
During the current pandemic, governments have devoted much debate and effort to the maintenance of critical sectors of the economy – namely those that need to remain active to guarantee basic economic and social functioning, at least in the short to medium term. Many of these sectors are heavily dependent on workers typically seen as ‘unskilled’ who perform ‘low-value’ jobs. Should the value of these jobs be re-evaluated in light of COVID-19?

Stefania Marino, Miguel Martinez-Lucio and Anthony Rafferty
Policy@Manchester, 06 January 2021

The Pandemic Presents A Once In A Generation Opportunity To Reshape The Future Of Work In Our Cities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has reinvigorated debates about the challenges of living and working in cities. The pandemic has also revived the argument that urban areas could be transformed as a result of the economic and social upheaval. Patterns of rapid contagion and the difficulties of social distancing in densely populated areas raise questions about the safety and resilience of highly interconnected global cities.

Mat Johnson
Forbes, 22 December 2020

Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact.

The huge changes sweeping the UK labour market in the wake of the pandemic came under scrutiny at the parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee. The committee looked at a range of topics related to the current crisis and the effectiveness of various government support schemes that have been introduced, especially in terms of female workers.

In particular it discussed the design and implementation of the furlough scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). One specific problem that Jill raised during the session was that those who had to look after children in the lockdown did not have the right to take parental leave.

Jill Rubery
Women and Equalities Committee, 14 October 2020

Improving conditions for key workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many inequalities across our society, in our city, across the nation and around the world. Key workers have been hailed as the heroes of the COVID-19 crisis, but many of these workers - cleaners, delivery drivers, and providers of other essential services - have long suffered from uncertain working conditions.

COVID-19 has shone a light on the conditions of workers in these areas and now is the time for their voice to be heard, both for their benefit and for the infrastructure of the economy. In this lecture, Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio, Professor of International HRM and Comparative Industrial Relations, discusses the benefits of improving conditions for key workers post-COVID-19.

Miguel Martinez Lucio
University of Manchester COVID Catalysts: Global Inequalities, 30 September 2020

This flash lecture is part of the University of Manchester COVID Catalysts. All the videos are on the COVID microsite and there is an accompanying summary publication.

Policy@Manchester collated a number of the blogs below into a 'Lessons from Lockdown' collection, The Value of Human Labour. Featured blogs include
What COVID-19 tells us about the value of human labour
#Here to deliver: Valuing food delivery workers in the future
Recognising the role of key workers now and in the future employment landscape
Bogus self-employment and COVID-19: an added layer of insecurity
Transport and logistics during the COVID-19 pandemic
Sharing the load: How work sharing can reduce unemployment, improve gender equality, and benefit mental health
Recognising the role of key workers now and in the future employment landscape

Recognising the role of key workers now and in the future employment landscape
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has become more aware and appreciative of the workers now called ‘key workers’. However, organisational change and deregulation over recent years has led to high levels of job degradation in key work sectors. In this blog, Gail Hebson and Miguel Martínez Lucio introduce and present research from a range of colleagues and projects in the Work and Equalities Institute to discuss ways a greater appreciation of these key workers can be converted into jobs that are safe, well remunerated and attractive as careers.

Gail Hebson and Miguel Martinez Lucio
Policy@Manchester, 18 August 2020

Sharing the load: How work sharing can reduce unemployment, improve gender equality, and benefit mental health
The need to build back better has received widespread endorsement, not only because the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for change but also because it has revealed the high price paid by those facing inequality in the labour market, including inequality by gender. Here, Professor Jill Rubery, Director of the Work and Equalities Institute, discusses the importance of building gender equality into recovery plans from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jill Rubery
Policy@Manchester, 03 August 2020

Bogus self-employment and COVID-19: an added layer of insecurity
The outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis has raised concerns about its impact on precarious and vulnerable workers when most of them have been at the front line during the crisis and their work has been revealed as essential. Marti Lopez-Andreu, from the Work and Equalities Institute, investigates some of these key workers in areas such as logistics and transport, among others.

Marti Lopez-Andreu
Policy@Manchester, 20 July 2020

Technology and remote working post COVID-19
The rush to homeworking using digital technologies may have kept business (and a lot of society) functioning since the COVID-19 outbreak. However, on-going research at the Work and Equalities Institute (WEI) suggest that long-term sustainability of such arrangements is high risk and fraught with tension.

Tony Dundon, Lee Stringer and Stephen Mustchin
Futures of Work, 13 July 2020

#Here to deliver: Valuing food delivery workers in the future
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore a new cadre of valued workers. And it’s not the corporate CEO or senior business leader but the delivery workers that are helping cafes and restaurants stay open (in some form) during lockdown. Cristina Inversi, Aude Cefaliello and Tony Dundon of the Work and Equalities Institute (WEI) report on health and safety risks and legal loopholes of gig-economy work.

Cristina Inversi, Aude Cefaliello and Tony Dundon
Policy@Manchester, 25 June 2020

The downsides of homeworking
The initial response to homeworking in the wake of COVID-19 has been impressive and, for the most part, better than expected. However, the long-term sustainability of such arrangements is high risk and fraught with tension.

Lee Stringer, Stephen Mustchin and Tony Dundon look at the long-term sustainability of homeworking.
Original Thinkers blog, 15 June 2020

Recognising the value and significance of cleaning work in a context of crisis
Miguel Martinez Lucio and Jo McBride discuss the question of how we have failed to value the work and importance of those in the area of cleaning and hygiene-related employment more generally. The need now is to consider how such workers are engaged with and supported through a greater framework, with respect and dignity being paramount. This is essential if we are to overcome the challenges of ongoing crises such as that of the current pandemic.

Miguel Martinez Lucio and Jo McBride
Policy@Manchester, 10 June 2020

Support schemes under microscope
There has been much talk of how generous the UK government’s furloughing and self-employment support schemes are, regarded as amongst the most generous in Europe. But can these claims be justified? On the face of it a comparison to similar schemes brought in by other European countries suggests that the UK government’s funding of 80% of earnings for employees, and 80% of average profits for the self-employed, is indeed towards the top of the range.

Jill Rubery looks at whether UK government support for workers in the wake of the crisis is as generous as it sounds.
Original Thinkers blog, 14 May 2020

Transport and logistics during the COVID-19 pandemic
While the majority of the population is urged to stay at home, the country is relying on the transport and logistics sector to maintain the delivery of goods, and most importantly food and medical supplies, which have seen a substantial increase in demand. People working in the haulage industry are identified as key workers given the importance of maintaining a supply network during the COVID-19 crisis and related lockdown in the UK. There has been, though, relatively little open discussion about how the situation is affecting the industry and its workers.

In this blog, Dr Sheena Johnson and Dr Lynn Holdsworth discuss the changes to the working environment in the sector, and the support necessary for drivers.
Policy@Manchester, 28 April 2020

What COVID-19 tells us about the value of human labour
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, a radical reassessment of what is considered ‘key work’ has taken place. For many key workers, however, this status is not reflected in their salary, employment rights, or social perception.

Abbie Winton and Professor Debra Howcroft discuss the disproportionate risk/reward equation key workers – particularly women – face, how the COVID-19 crisis will impact their future, and what policymakers can do to address inequalities at work.
Policy@Manchester, 7 April 2020

Government measures for self-employed generous by international standards
Many countries have taken exceptional measures to support the self-employed during the coronavirus crisis but it is hard to identify any providing as much support as the UK. The government can rightly claim that the measures they have announced to support the self-employed during the coronavirus crisis are generous by international standards. However, there will still be self-employed people facing major losses in their income who won't be compensated by this new scheme.

Jill Rubery looks at the UK  government's support for self-employed workers.
Original Thinkers blog, 31 March 2020