In the News

How did furlough affect mental health?

Liz Blamire

18th August 2022

A recent study reports that people who were furloughed were 14% more likely to report low life satisfaction compared with those who remained employed, while people who lost their jobs altogether were 32% more likely.

During the Covid-19 pandemic the UK government introduced a job protection scheme that came to be known as furlough. The scheme aimed to keep people in a job and maintain an income, whilst their employers were assisted financially to pay their wages.

Being employed is known to be associated with improved life satisfaction and so this study wanted to assess how furlough compared to employment. What the study found - Mental and social wellbeing and the UK coronavirus job retention scheme: Evidence from nine longitudinal studies - is that furlough was not as good as employment at maintaining people's mental health at this difficult time, but it was better than unemployment.

In their own commentary on The Conversation - Furlough had a protective effect on mental health – but it wasn’t as good as working - the study authors suggest a possible reason for this. Furlough maintained what sociologists would call the 'manifest function' of work (those deliberately designed to benefit society), for example financial security, but not the 'latent functions' (unintended consequences), such as feeling useful. The authors are also quick to point out that furlough was experienced differently by women, who were at higher risk of poor self-rated health compared with men. Whilst the researchers do not comment on this, possible explanations could be that we know that women are more likely than men to report poor mental wellbeing, but could it also be that the latent functions for work are more important for women? Lots to consider, particularly for students studying BTEC Nationals Unit 10: Sociological Perspectives.

Liz Blamire

Liz is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author and is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care.

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