Home workers are earning more than office colleagues

Within a decade, 50 per cent of Britons will be collecting all or part of their pay without leaving their houses
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The number of people working from home has doubled in the past 15 years, research has shown. More than one-quarter of the workforce now carry out some of their work at home.

The number of people working from home has doubled in the past 15 years, research has shown. More than one-quarter of the workforce now carry out some of their work at home.

Sociologists from Leicester University, who presented their findings on the changing nature of work at the Institute of Personnel and Development annual conference yesterday, said there are two main types of home worker: knowledge workers and manual workers.

Knowledge workers are those in highly skilled jobs such as information technology or computing. On average they receive much higher rates of pay than people working in an office.

However, there are also low-paid home workers whose earnings are well below the national minimum wage. They tend to be involved in piece-work such as sewing, or manufacturing spare parts for cars. The worst cases of exploitation are found among women who do this sort of home working and among ethnic minorities, the researchers said.

They found that some manual home workers were being paid as little as 25p an hour for assembling advertising folders, or 50p an hour for painting ornamental cottages.

Dr Alan Felstead and Nick Jewson, lecturers in sociology and the labour market at Leicester University, have also published a book of their findings, In Work, at Home. It shows that Britain has one of the highest incidences of working from home in the industrialised world.

"Britain has very high rates of home working because of the diverse economy and this will continue to rise," said Nick Jewson. "By the year 2010, half of the workforce will be doing some of their work from home. We will be working in the office, when we travel, and at home.

"Although there are lots of benefits, home working also creates as many problems as it solves. It is presented as a solution to all the ills of society but the truth is many people who work from home find that their personal space is eroded. They have difficulty juggling a remote relationship with a manager and the close proximity of their nearest and dearest. Many people who work from home become workaholics." The authors said those who routinely work at home must learn to exercise a greater degree of self-management than those who go out to work. They have to monitor and police their own work schedules and set up boundaries between their work and domestic life.

But many people enjoy the flexibility that such arrangements can bring. Flexible working patterns are becoming more and more common, especially for women who want to spend more time at home when they have a young family. There are also increasing numbers of people who run their businesses from home.

The latest figures show that people who work mainly at home have nearly doubled from 345,920 in 1981 to 680,612 in 1998. The number of workers who have no fixed place to carry out their work has tripled over the same period to more than 1.8 million, or 7 per cent of those in employment.

Those who partially work at home account for 3.5 per cent of the employed workforce, while those who reported working at home some of the time account for another 22 per cent.


The typistAngela Ray, 52, is employed by a business services firm to transcribe and type letters for insurance companies and solicitors. She has been working from home for four years and earns about £5 an hour.

She now enjoys the flexibility after a difficult beginning. "I didn't know how the computer worked and sometimes I had to type through the night because I kept losing letters I'd finished." She spends about 45 minutes at the office each day and this helps to dispel any feelings of isolation. "I actually like the independence," Mrs Ray says. "I work much better without someone looking over my shoulder."

The wine supplier

Mark Hopkins, 36, supplies wines to showbusiness parties, premiÿres and private clients. His turnover is about £250,000 a year and he works from a downstairs room in the family home in Tulse Hill, south London.

He says: "I don't have to waste time and energy commuting and the business doesn't have an office cost." He is also not deprived of human contact. "When you're running a business like this one you spend some time out of the office meeting suppliers and clients and tasting wines. It means I'm not just sitting at home in an office tucked away from the world for five days a week."