Commuting in, DIY out: UK’s new ‘new normal’ after end of Covid controls

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Britain’s love for green fingers and blackened thumbs during the first Covid lockdown has since evaporated as people again find a “new normal” after the ending of restrictions, a survey suggests.

The amount of time people spent gardening and doing DIY soared in March and April 2020, with people spending 40 minutes a day improving their homes and gardens compared with just 15 minutes in 2014-15. But it plummeted back to 20 minutes a day in March 2022, Office for National Statistics data shows.

Lockdown lie-ins are also a thing of the past, with people sleeping 30 minutes less than they did in early 2020, while the amount of time people spend watching television and streaming is down by 34 minutes on average.

Taking the time to pick up books, magazines or newspapers also took a tumble: while people managed to find 27 minutes a day to read during the earliest stages of the lockdown in March and April 2020, that had fallen below 17 minutes in March 2022.

People are exercising more than they did seven years ago – 25 minutes a day on average compared with 19 – and are taking more downtime, spending almost 20 minutes more a day on leisure activities.

Those aged 60 and over are now spending more time keeping fit than their younger counterparts. People in the 60-plus age category report an average of 29 minutes a day spent exercising, almost four minutes more than under-40s. And while all three age groups are spending less time on their fitness compared with 2021, they were all doing more than in 2014-15 or during the spring 2020 lockdown.

While people are working from home less than in March 2021, the figures indicate the shift towards home working remains in place, with workers spending five times as much time working from home compared with seven years ago: up from an average of 22 minutes a day then to 101 minutes now.

It also means people are travelling less, averaging 52 minutes a day in March of this year following the lifting of all remaining Covid restrictions, an increase on the 32 minutes they spent doing so in March 2021 but down significantly from 84 minutes in 2014-15.

How much time people spend socialising has changed compared with a year ago as they increase the amount of time they spend in the workplace. Employees – including full- and part-time workers – on average spent four hours and six minutes working outside home in 2014-15. That fell to just two hours and 36 minutes in March 2021, before rising to about three hours in March.

The same group spent almost 16 minutes less a day on entertainment, socialising and other leisure activities in March compared with a year earlier, offset by a significant increase in the time spent travelling to go out, see family and friends and commute to work and almost eight minutes less on exercise a day.

However, domestic activities, including housework, unpaid childcare, DIY and food shopping reverted to pre-pandemic levels take up as much time as they ever did, at three hours and 17 minutes in March 2022.

Women continued to carry out more unpaid household work and childcare this year, but when compared with the pre-pandemic period, the gender gap had narrowed; on average, women spent 51 minutes more a day doing unpaid work in March 2022, whereas in 2014-15 it was 98 minutes more.

The survey was carried out a month after Boris Johnson announced the end of all remaining domestic Covid restrictions in England in February.

Home improvement sales soared during the early months of the pandemic with many “non-essential” retail outlets forced to close while DIY stores were permitted to stay open to allow people to carry out essential maintenance.

The B&Q owner, Kingfisher, reported that like-for-like sales in the three months to April this year were 16% above the same period in 2019 at £3.2bn, although they had dropped back by 5.8% overall compared with 2021.

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