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Research into 1930s commuting in London shows how public transport boosts the labour market

Transport route closures are usually justified to the public on grounds of profitability. But that ignores the immense value of public transport to the…

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Following losses of £1.5bn in annual fare revenues incurred during the pandemic, Transport for London recently signed a deal with the UK government for emergency funding. The agreement ensures that new train orders, bridge repairs and tube upgrades will continue as planned. It also will lead to tube fares rising and bus services being cut.

While the Elizabeth Line, a £19 billion east-west addition to the London Underground, opened to great fanfare in May 2022, this year has also seen some of the oldest bus routes in the UK axed: including route 144 between Worcester and Birmingham, route 477 between Dartford and Orpington, and route 84 between north London and Hertfordshire. At least 135 bus routes countrywide currently face cutbacks or permanent cancellation.

The standard justification for public transport closures is economic feasibility – a lack of profitability for the service provider.

As our work shows, however, such discussions often miss much of the full value of public transport to society. In addition to making profits for operators, public transport opens up labour market opportunities for workers, increases residential choice, and reduces crowding in inner-city areas.

A double-decker bus in 1930s east London. Alan Farrow/flickr

The advent of working-class commuting

Our research examines the consequences of working-class access to public transport in London in the 1920s and 1930s.

We know from a survey of working-class London conducted in the 1890s, entitled The Life and Labour of the People of London, that Victorian-era workers were typically employed in the immediate area of their home. Indeed, the homes themselves were often extensions of factories as “outwork” was a common phenomenon.

This absence of commuting in the 19th century led to widespread urban crowding, as industry typically clustered geographically due to economies of scale and agglomeration. Social reformers commented on how crowding caused poverty and what they perceived to be “vice”, as well as the spread of diseases.

Over the next 40 years, growth of the transport networks opened up opportunities for working-class commuting. By 1930, most residents and workers in the north and west of London had access to the Underground, most in the south and east had access to a tram, and almost everyone had access to at least one bus route. Only 1% of Londoners lived more than 560 metres from a public transport stop.

We have used the New Survey of London Life and Labour, a 1930 follow-up survey which contains a large sample of working-class Londoners, to examine how early public transport networks affected the labour market. This data contains, among other things, each worker’s place of residence and work.

By “GIS coding” this information, along with the entire extant public transport system in the London area, we were able to calculate their commuting distances, the centrality of their residences and workplaces, and their access to public transport.

Our research shows that commuting in 1930 followed many of the same patterns as today. The largest number of workers (about 38%) commuted inwards towards the city centre. The next-largest group (29%) worked within a kilometre of their residence. The remaining workers were evenly split between people travelling away from the centre for work and others travelling across the city.

To illustrate the typical commuting patterns, let’s look at where residents of Wandsworth Borough, located about nine kilometres southwest of the city centre, commuted for work.

Share of commute from Wandsworth by borough, 1930:

We found that the average residence had 212 employers (in any industry) within a one-kilometre radius, 1,700 within three, and 4,333 within five. Moreover – holding age, gender, occupation and workplace area as constants – an additional kilometre commuted increased earnings by 1.5% to 3.0%, although the additional returns on longer commutes were likely less. These higher earnings considerably outweighed the monetary cost of public transport.

Access to transport leads to increased job opportunities

To understand the importance of public transport networks to labour markets, it is necessary to understand the reasons behind these large returns to commuting. We focus on two explanations why a commuting worker might have earned more than a local worker.

Search theory suggests that individual workers are better suited to some employers than others. Someone who can only work near to home, as was typical for workers in the Victorian period, only has a small number of employers to choose from.

But a worker who can travel using public transport, as had become the norm by 1930, can potentially work for more different employers. This in turn implies there will be a higher probability of a good match between workers and employers, and thus higher productivity and wages.

In the 1930s, British economist Joan Robinson in her book The Economics of Imperfect Competition formulated a theory of microeconomics she called monopsony. A slightly modified version of this theory suggests that, in the absence of public transport, local employers have a degree of monopoly power over their workers.

Employers can pay less than the market wage because it is costly for workers to switch to more distant jobs. The construction of London’s public transport networks in the early 20th century opened up remote employment opportunities for workers, and thus reduced local employers’ monopoly power.

An archival photo of a bus in a city centre, in black and white.
A London bus crossing Charing Cross Road with Tottenham Court Road underground station to the left. George W Baker | Geograph, CC BY-SA

Public transport improvements between 1890 and 1930 broke the link between residence and workplace. This allowed first the middle class and then the working class to move away from the city centre.

One result was a dramatic decrease in urban crowding and the associated concentration of poverty and spread of disease. As we have shown in our research, another implication was that workers were no longer constrained to working locally, and could seek out better employment opportunities further form home. This led to substantially higher wages for the working class of London.

These lessons about public transport from the 1930s still resonate today. If historical improvements in public transport increased the efficiency of London’s labour market, more recent cuts to infrastructure and increases in ticket prices will likely have the opposite effect. Workers who are no longer able to commute large distances or who face higher costs of doing so will likely also face a restricted set of employment opportunities.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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First-ever social responsibility report of Chinese enterprises in Saudi Arabia incorporates BGI Genomics projects

On December 1, 2022, the Social Responsibility Report of Chinese Companies in Saudi Arabia was officially launched, which is the first such report released…

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On December 1, 2022, the Social Responsibility Report of Chinese Companies in Saudi Arabia was officially launched, which is the first such report released by the Contact Office of Chinese Companies in Saudi Arabia. BGI Genomics projects in the Kingdom have been incorporated into this report.

Credit: BGI Genomics

On December 1, 2022, the Social Responsibility Report of Chinese Companies in Saudi Arabia was officially launched, which is the first such report released by the Contact Office of Chinese Companies in Saudi Arabia. BGI Genomics projects in the Kingdom have been incorporated into this report.

This event was attended by around 150 representatives of Chinese and Saudi enterprises, Saudi government officials, experts in the field of sustainable development, CCTV, Xinhua News Agency, Saudi Press Agency, Arab News and other media professionals. This Report presents the key projects and best practices of Chinese enterprises to fulfil their social and environmental responsibilities while advancing the Kingdom’s industry development.

Chen Weiqing, the Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said in his video speech that the Report highlighted Chinese enterprises’ best practices in serving the local community, safe production, green and low-carbon development and promoting local employment. The release of the Report helps Chinese enterprises in the Kingdom to strengthen communication with the local community, laying a stronger foundation for future collaboration.

Epidemic control and accelerating post-COVID 19 recovery

BGI Genomics has been fulfilling its corporate social responsibilities and worked with the Saudi people to fight the COVID-19 epidemic.

In March 2020, Saudi Arabia was hit by the pandemic. The Saudi government decided to adopt BGI Genomics’ Huo-Yan laboratory solution in April 2020. At the forefront of the fight against the epidemic, the company has built six laboratories in Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Dammam and Asir within two months, with a total area of nearly 5,000 square meters and a maximum daily testing throughput of 50,000 samples.

By the end of December 2021, BGI Genomics had sent 14 groups of experts, engineers and laboratory technicians to Saudi Arabia, amounting to over 700 people, and tested more than 16 million virus samples, accounting for more than half of the tests conducted during this period. The company has successfully trained over 400 qualified Saudi technicians, and all laboratories have been transferred to local authorities for the operation.

In the post-epidemic era, the Huo-Yan laboratories can continue to make positive contributions to public health, working with local medical institutions and the public health system to make breakthroughs in areas such as reproductive health, tumour prevention and control, and prevention.

Enhancing genomic technology localization and testing capabilities

In July 2022, BGI Almanahil and Tibbiyah Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Saudi Faisaliah Group, announced a joint venture (JV) to establish an integrated, trans-omics medical testing company specializing in genetic testing.

This JV company will help improve Saudi Arabia’s local clinical and public health testing and manufacturing capabilities, promote the localization of strategic products that have long been imported, contribute to the implementation and realization of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 roadmap, and significantly enhance local capacity for third-party medical testing services as well as local production of critical medical supplies.

BGI Genomics attaches great importance to fulfilling its corporate social responsibility and has released its social responsibility report for four consecutive years since 2017. Since its establishment, the company has always been guided by the goal of enhancing health outcomes for all, relying on its autonomous multi-omics platform to accelerate technological innovation, promote reproductive health, strengthen tumour prevention and control, and accurately cure infections, and is committed to becoming a global leader in precision medicine and covering the entire public health industry chain.

The company will continue to work together with all stakeholders to contribute to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the Belt and Road Initiative and looks forward to growing with our partners.

 

About BGI Genomics

BGI Genomics, headquartered in Shenzhen China, is the world’s leading integrated solutions provider of precision medicine. Our services cover over 100 countries and regions, involving more than 2,300 medical institutions. In July 2017, as a subsidiary of BGI Group, BGI Genomics (300676.SZ) was officially listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

 


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Alcohol deaths in the UK rose to record level in 2021

Nearly 10,000 people died from alcohol in 2021.

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Deaths from alcohol in the UK have risen to their highest level since records began in 2001, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In 2021, 9,641 people (14.8 per 100,000) died as a result of alcohol: a rise of 7.4% from 2020.

The leading cause of alcohol-specific deaths (deaths caused by diseases known to be a direct consequence of alcohol) continues to be liver disease. More than three-quarters (78%) of all alcohol deaths in 2021 were attributed to this cause. The remainder of the deaths were due to “mental and behavioural disorders because of the use of alcohol” and “accidental poisoning by, and exposure to, alcohol”.

Although there is no such thing as a safe level of drinking, and many people would feel the health benefits of reducing consumption, most of the risks of developing health problems and dying are skewed towards those who drink the most.

Between 2012 and 2019 alcohol-specific deaths remained relatively stable. It is no coincidence that deaths rose sharply during the first two years of the pandemic: those that were already drinking at harmful levels increased their consumption further during this period. Although liver disease can take years to develop, this process is accelerated when those drinking at harmful levels increase their consumption further.

Other statistics show that unplanned alcohol-related hospital admissions decreased during this period, which may have meant missed opportunities to provide help for those people experiencing problems with alcohol.

Looking beyond the headline figures, there are important differences in various groups within the population. Alcohol-specific deaths were not spread equally. For example, men were twice as likely to die as women. In 2021, 20.1 men per 100,000 died compared with 9.9 women.

Where you live in the UK matters, too, as deaths in Scotland are the highest, followed by Northern Ireland, Wales then and England – although the gap between the nations seems to be narrowing.

In England, deaths are highest in the north-east of England (20.4 per 100,000), which is twice as high as those in London (10.2 per 100,000). Although rates have increased in all regions; for example, there was a rise of 38% in south-west England from 2019 to 2021. This reflects what is already known about the relationship between deprivation and harm from alcohol. There is a two to fivefold higher risk of dying among lower-income groups compared with those from the higher-income groups.

Reflecting the growing trend of young people drinking less than older age groups, it is those aged 50 to 64 that account for most deaths due to liver disease. In 2021, for example, 39 people aged 25 to 29 died from alcohol-related liver disease, compared with 1,326 of those aged 50 to 59. This is related to a greater number of years of drinking but is also a general reflection that when older adults were younger, they tended to drink more than younger people do now.

Numbers of alcohol-specific deaths, by five-year age group and individual cause. Office for National Statistics – Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK: registered in 2021, National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency

Addressing harms

So what can be done to begin to address alcohol harms? It has been estimated that almost a quarter of drinkers in the UK drink above the recommended low-risk drinking guidelines. So this is a health and social issue that requires a national response. Low-impact initiatives, such as education and awareness raising, may not be enough.

The costs of alcohol to society are significant. A recent review estimated this to be £27 billion annually, with only half of this offset by tax revenue on alcohol products.

Timely access to specialist treatment can help to reduce the health risks associated with alcohol. Unfortunately, there have been significant cuts to funding for this type of intervention.

Around 80% of people classed as dependent on alcohol in England are not currently getting treatment support. While there has recently been extra funding for drug services to try and correct historic cuts, this has not been extended to alcohol. Reversing this by investing in services could help to reduce the rising number dying prematurely from alcohol.

A new strategy is long overdue

The last government strategy for alcohol was published in 2012, so there is a pressing need for a new one. This must address all the ways that the harms from alcohol can be tackled, from marketing and pricing to specialist treatment and recovery services.

A group, led by Liverpool MP Dan Carden, with cross-party support, recently called on the government to initiate an independent review of alcohol harm, along the lines of the review led by Dame Carol Black, which had a significant influence on drug policy and treatment funding.

Without such a review and strategy based on it, the harms caused by alcohol including premature death will continue to rise year after year. So much has changed since the last alcohol strategy in 2012 not least the current cost of living crisis. The outlook for investment in public health looks bleak, added to which this government doesn’t seem willing to curtail the efforts of the alcohol industry in marketing and protecting its products.

Harry Sumnall receives and has received funding from grant awarding bodies for alcohol and other drug research. He sits on grant-awarding funding panels, and is an unpaid scientific adviser to the MIND Foundation.

Ian Hamilton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Alcohol deaths in the UK rose to record levels in 2021

Nearly 10,000 people died from alcohol in 2021.

Published

on

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There has been a record rise in deaths from alcohol in the UK, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In 2021, 9,641 people died as a result of alcohol: a rise of 7.4% from 2020.

The leading cause of alcohol-specific deaths (deaths caused by diseases known to be a direct consequence of alcohol) continues to be liver disease. More than three-quarters (78%) of all alcohol deaths in 2021 were attributed to this cause. The remainder of the deaths were due to “mental and behavioural disorders because of the use of alcohol” and “accidental poisoning by, and exposure to, alcohol”.

Although there is no such thing as a safe level of drinking, and many people would feel the health benefits of reducing consumption, most of the risks of developing health problems and dying are skewed towards those who drink the most.

Between 2012 and 2019 alcohol-specific deaths remained relatively stable. It is no coincidence that deaths rose sharply during the first two years of the pandemic: those that were already drinking at harmful levels increased their consumption further during this period. Although liver disease can take years to develop, this process is accelerated when those drinking at harmful levels increase their consumption further.

Other statistics show that unplanned alcohol-related hospital admissions decreased during this period, which may have meant missed opportunities to provide help for those people experiencing problems with alcohol.

Looking beyond the headline figures, there are important differences in various groups within the population. Alcohol-specific deaths were not spread equally. For example, men were twice as likely to die as women. In 2021, 20.1 men per 100,000 died compared with 9.9 women.

Where you live in the UK matters, too, as deaths in Scotland are the highest, followed by Northern Ireland, Wales then and England – although the gap between the nations seems to be narrowing.

In England, deaths are highest in the north-east of England (20.4 per 100,000), which is twice as high as those in London (10.2 per 100,000). Although rates have increased in all regions; for example, there was a rise of 38% in south-west England from 2019 to 2021. This reflects what is already known about the relationship between deprivation and harm from alcohol. There is a two to fivefold higher risk of dying among lower-income groups compared with those from the higher-income groups.

Reflecting the growing trend of young people drinking less than older age groups, it is those aged 50 to 64 that account for most deaths due to liver disease. In 2021, for example, 39 people aged 25 to 29 died from alcohol-related liver disease, compared with 1,326 of those aged 50 to 59. This is related to a greater number of years of drinking but is also a general reflection that when older adults were younger, they tended to drink more than younger people do now.

Numbers of alcohol-specific deaths, by five-year age group and individual cause. Office for National Statistics – Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK: registered in 2021, National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency

Addressing harms

So what can be done to begin to address alcohol harms? It has been estimated that almost a quarter of drinkers in the UK drink above the recommended low-risk drinking guidelines. So this is a health and social issue that requires a national response. Low-impact initiatives, such as education and awareness raising, may not be enough.

The costs of alcohol to society are significant. A recent review estimated this to be £27 billion annually, with only half of this offset by tax revenue on alcohol products.

Timely access to specialist treatment can help to reduce the health risks associated with alcohol. Unfortunately, there have been significant cuts to funding for this type of intervention.

Around 80% of people classed as dependent on alcohol in England are not currently getting treatment support. While there has recently been extra funding for drug services to try and correct historic cuts, this has not been extended to alcohol. Reversing this by investing in services could help to reduce the rising number dying prematurely from alcohol.

A new strategy is long overdue

The last government strategy for alcohol was published in 2012, so there is a pressing need for a new one. This must address all the ways that the harms from alcohol can be tackled, from marketing and pricing to specialist treatment and recovery services.

A group, led by Liverpool MP Dan Carden, with cross-party support, recently called on the government to initiate an independent review of alcohol harm, along the lines of the review led by Dame Carol Black, which had a significant influence on drug policy and treatment funding.

Without such a review and strategy based on it, the harms caused by alcohol including premature death will continue to rise year after year. So much has changed since the last alcohol strategy in 2012 not least the current cost of living crisis. The outlook for investment in public health looks bleak, added to which this government doesn’t seem willing to curtail the efforts of the alcohol industry in marketing and protecting its products.

Harry Sumnall receives and has received funding from grant awarding bodies for alcohol and other drug research. He sits on grant-awarding funding panels, and is an unpaid scientific adviser to the MIND Foundation.

Ian Hamilton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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