How job types and industries are influencing regional differences in the UK’s lockdown

Brighton has a high population of professional workers, and saw a large decrease in workplace-related mobility. (Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

As the UK locked down amid the coronavirus outbreak, theories abounded about why some parts of the country changed their routines more quickly and to a greater extent than others.

Anonymised mobile phone data from Google shows that the amount people moved around for work dropped by more than 60% in Brighton, Bath, York and Edinburgh by 11 April. Those figures were notably lower, however, for Peterborough (47%) and Middlesbrough (50.1%).

As in the United States and France, many have sought to explain different regions' behaviours in terms of age, unemployment rates, or politics. Some in the UK have even looked to the Brexit referendum as a signal for a place's willingness to adhere to distancing guidelines.

But the degree to which Britons have cut down on travel to work might have more to do with their job than their politics or their opinion of the lockdown.

Chart showing remain vote against reduced workplace mobility

The list of places that have seen lower drops in workplace mobility also have a higher proportion of residents doing manual labour, including sectors such as manufacturing and transport. Such jobs may not be possible to do at home, and might also be more likely to be deemed essential during a lockdown.

Conversely, areas that have seen the biggest drops in workplace-based movement tend to have more white-collar, office-based roles – jobs that might be easier to do at home or considered non-essential.

Edinburgh and Brighton, for instance, have some of the highest levels of professional workers out of all the UK areas for which Google provides data. Around 31% of people in those cities are employed in professional occupations, compared to 17% in Middlesbrough and 16% in Peterborough.

On the other hand only 1% of employees in Edinburgh and 3% in York are process, plant and machine operatives, according to the latest statistics from the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS). That compares to 8% in Middlesbrough and 9% in Peterborough.


The charts below show how the proportion of workers in certain occupations relate to the levels of shutdown in UK towns, cities and counties.

Each dot on a graph represents a local authority, county or urban area in the UK. The vertical axis shows how much workplace mobility has declined – the higher the dot is, the greater the lockdown.

The horizontal axis shows the percentage of people in that area that work in each job or industry – the further to the right the dot is, the more the area relies on these workers as part of its overall “job mix”.

Chart showing reduced workplace mobility for occupations

The chart below shows the relationships for all types of job, ordered from the strongest positive relationship to the strongest negative relationship. The trend is strongest for those at the beginning and end, and weakest for those in the middle.

Chart showing reduced workplace mobility for occupations

As well as looking at individual job types, we can apply the same analysis across broad industries. Again there appears to be a relationship between the levels of employment in these industries and the level of workplace lockdown.

Places with a higher proportion of people working in professional scientific or technical jobs have seen larger drops in workplace activity, as have areas with more people in IT, service industries and finance.

On the other hand, places with a greater number of people working in manufacturing have seen lower levels of workplace shutdown.

Chart showing reduced workplace mobility for industries

The chart chimes with recent data from the ONS showing that people in professional occupations were among the most likely to work from home – with 45% saying they had done so at some point in the past.

Process, plant and machine operatives, however, were among the least likely: just 6% said they had worked from home in the past.

There are some significant caveats with the data, meaning we should be conservative about drawing too many conclusions.

Not every job or industry has seen a relation with workplace lockdown. There doesn’t seem to be a relationship, for example, between how many people in admin or secretarial roles work in an area and how much its workplaces have shut down. The same applies to people in managerial roles, and sales and customer service, as well as most broad industry categories. And the analysis doesn’t control for other things that might be affecting the lockdown, such as people’s age or education levels.

Statistics on occupations at local areas haven’t been updated since 2017, so it’s also possible that the jobs landscape has changed in some places since then.

It will be difficult to fully tell the story of lockdown until we have detailed survey data showing people’s behaviours. The data we do have seems to follow the idea that cities reliant on people who can work from home have been more successful at reducing the amount that people are moving around their city for work.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.