You might think this research by the London School of Economics is only pointing out something we know already.
It’s true that jobs with poor working conditions and/or remuneration are known to be bad for our health, pushing stress levels up, meaning any likely benefits are lost.
Before I became a carer (and, later, an online journalist), This Writer worked for a newspaper that piled on the pressure while providing very few benefits. I – wisely – left after management made decisions that would have further harmed my standard of living.
I know poor work leads to ill-health. Many people become depressed as a result of pressure place on them by employers or work colleagues. That puts unnecessary pressure on the health service.
The research also makes it abundantly clear that people with a history of illness have less opportunity to obtain paid work than those who are more healthy.
This is something we already knew, and it has become a serious issue in recent years, as the Conservative government has imposed rules that allow civil servants to force people with long-term illnesses and disabilities off benefits.
The LSE research shows that around 800 of the 1,000 initially-unemployed people involved in the study were not on benefits at the start – they were living on other sources of income including handouts from friends and family members.
If that situation really is representative of the unemployed population, then it means 80 per cent of our unemployed people are being denied statutory benefits.
That’s a shocking figure!
Yet they are less stressed than people who have been shoehorned into low-quality work – the only work that seems to be on offer under race-to-the-bottom Conservatism.
People working in poor quality jobs have higher levels of chronic stress than those who are unemployed.
We followed up a cohort of over 1000 unemployed adults who were representative of the population of unemployed adults living in the UK in 2009-10 from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. We then compared what happened to the health and stress levels of those who remained unemployed and those who got jobs of both good and poor quality.
Unsurprisingly, those who found work in good quality jobs had a big improvement in their mental health. Moreover, those with any job, whether it is a good or bad job, had a bigger increase in their household incomes than those who remained unemployed.
However, contrary to the “any job is better than no job” assumption, we found that the improvements in the mental health of formerly unemployed adults who became reemployed in poor quality work (with two or more adverse job measures) were not any different from their peers who remained unemployed.
More significantly… those who were working in poor quality work actually had higher levels of allostatic load (chronic stress-related biomarkers) than their peers who remained unemployed.
We also examined the possibility that the unemployed adults who subsequently were employed in poor quality jobs had worse health and more stress at the start compared to their peers who remained unemployed. But this was actually not true. As many others have found, there are strong selection pressures into employment, and healthier people are much more likely to find work (any type of work, whether good or bad) than unhealthier people.
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