“Covid strips everything back.” For Rachel, lockdown has given her the time and space to think through what matters to her. Not having to commute is now her priority, over and above the financial security of maternity pay.
One month into lockdown Rachel was furloughed. With this time off at home, she has been able to reassess her job and what she wants from life. “I was staying in my job because I wanted stability and enhanced maternity pay whilst starting a family.” But she has experienced difficulties with fertility and, as a result, she’s been in the same job for too long: “five years on I’m still in the same job because of it”. She wants to make sure that she is able to receive maternity pay if and when a baby comes.
The main problem with Rachel’s current job is that she has a long train commute. It relies on two train networks that have “been unreliable for the past 3 years.” In the long-term, she is worried that when she is asked to go back to work the trains won’t be safe or have made enough space for social distancing. She has been thinking about driving instead, but her and her partner would have to buy another car and they are currently putting all their savings towards fertility treatment “otherwise, we’d use that money to get me a car and I’d drive to work.”
The time off has made her reassess things: “With Covid I’m not sure how stable my job is now anyway.” More positively, she has realised how much she wants to work closer to home and she’s making changes to her life as a result of her period of reflection: “So I’ve taken the brave step and applied for a new job, closer to home. There’s no maternity benefits, but being closer to home I like to think makes up for it.”
Many people up and down the country are having life-changing realisations about what they want from their working lives. Rachel’s story reminds us how much a commute can affect our lives: where we want to live may not always be where we want to work and that can leave us trapped in a small carriage for hours each and every working day.
Yet Rachel’s story also goes beyond the commute. It touches on something that was clearly a problem before Covid-19: that people have their options for work limited by wanting to raise a family. In a moment of unprecedented flexible working, it is important to remember what we need flexibility for: for Rachel it is to be able to work near home and to take time off to raise a child without facing financial difficulties.