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NEWS: Unemployment better for health than poor work, finds study

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A university professor has called on the government to make creating good quality work a ‘reality not a pipedream’ after a study found that unemployment was better for workers’ health than some jobs in the UK.


The study of 1,116 unemployed adults by the University of Manchester, compared health and stress levels of those remaining unemployed with those transitioning to different quality jobs.

It measured the adults’ chronic stress-related biomarkers such as body fat, blood pressure, insulin and cholesterol levels.

It then assessed levels of job quality based on three dimensions – earnings, labour market security and quality of the working environment.

The adults aged 35 to 75 years were asked to score out of five, how far they had felt tense/uneasy/worried/depressed/gloomy/miserable about a job in the past week, with five being ‘all of the time’.

Just two or more adverse job factors meant a person was more unhealthy than unemployed peers. Photograph: iStock / ookawaphoto

They were also asked how much influence they feel they have over their tasks and working hours – low autonomy being a stressor that can affect health.

Results showed that two or more adverse job measures produced worse health and wellbeing outcomes than peers who remained unemployed.

It found the highest levels of all the ill health indicators for adults who transitioned into poor quality work.

Tarani Chandola, professor of medical sociology at the university, said: "Working in a terrible job does all sorts of negative things to your health and wellbeing right now. And although there is a lot of research showing just how bad it is for a person’s physical and mental health to work in a poor quality job compared to someone in a good quality job, most people assume at least the person in a terrible job is better off than someone unemployed."

He said he hoped the study would highlight just how important it is to create better work for people. 

“With the publication of Matthew Taylor’s review of modern work practices, the importance of good quality work should be high on the government’s agenda,” he said.

However, he said that even Taylor had made a mistake in saying that the “worst work status for health is unemployment”.

“Our research shows that is not necessarily the case, and our findings, together with more research in this area, should be considered carefully as strategies are hopefully developed to make his call to “make all work good” a reality not a pipedream, especially in the current political climate.”

To read the full study published in International Journal of Epidemiology click here 

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