Keyworkers and the million people who will be working on Christmas Day

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By Professor John Bryson
Department of Strategy and International Business, University of Birmingham


On Christmas Day 2021 we should all reflect on those who must work to ensure that most of the UK population are able to enjoy this festival.

Christmas Day is set aside for family and friends and is a time for gift-giving and for feasting. It is not a day which many people associate with work. Nevertheless, this year, whilst you are enjoying Christmas Day and standing back from the pressures of your working lives, consider all those people who must work on Christmas Day.

In 2016, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated the number of people across the UK who must work on Christmas Day. The estimate was that 3.4% of the UK working population must work on Christmas Day. More women are engaged in paid employment on Christmas Day (547,000) compared to men (535,000). There are some obvious Christmas Day workers of which perhaps ‘clergy’ and ‘organists’ stand out. In 2016, the estimate was that 23,000 clergy would be working on Christmas Day, but the ONS overlooked organists.

The largest group of Christmas Day workers are ‘care workers and home carers’ with 145,000 working or 19% of employees in this category. This is then followed by ‘nurses’ (82,000, or 12.4% of employees in this category) and ‘nursing auxiliaries and assistants’ (55,000 or 16.6% of employees in this category). Next in line were ‘chefs’ (37,000), ‘cleaners and domestics’ (29,000) and ‘kitchen and catering assistants’ (28,000). On Christmas Day, retailing continues with 2.4% of ‘sales and retail assistants’ working (28,000). One should not forget the police, as 10.4% of ‘police officers (sergeant and below)’ were estimated to be working on Christmas Day in 2016.

Christmas Day comes with high domestic energy consumption related to Christmas tree lights and cooking. Nevertheless, Christmas Day is one of the annual low spots for energy consumption as over the festive period schools, universities, offices, shops, and factories are closed. Household energy consumption patterns highlight that people follow daily routines. Electricity demand increases in the morning as people get up and go to work or school and then peaks at dinner time. However, Christmas Day has a very different energy consumption pattern with the energy peak occurring much earlier around lunchtime as ovens are switched on to cook the Christmas feast. In 2018, peak demand on Christmas Day was at 1:30pm. Those involved with the National Grid examine the TV schedules for Christmas Day to try to predict peak energy use. This usually occurs at the end of the most popular television programme as households decide to boil a kettle. Across the UK, during Christmas Day, it is important not to overlook all those workers involved in providing utilities like electricity, gas, and water.

Boxing Day comes with more people returning to work. The 2016 ONS estimate was that just over 1m worked on Christmas Day, but 1.5m worked on Boxing Day. This includes a dramatic increase in ‘sales and retail assistants’ with 133,000 working on Boxing Day. There was also a minor increase in ‘care workers and home carers’ with 149,000 working on Boxing Day highlighting some reduction in employee coverage on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day 2021 we should all reflect on those who must work to ensure that most of the UK population are able to enjoy this festival. There is, however, another side to those who must work on Christmas Day, and this is the fact that most of these keyworkers will be on low pay. COVID-19 highlighted the valuable role that keyworkers play in facilitating everyday living across the UK. It is this group that played a critical role during COVID-19 lockdowns and will play a critical role in ensuring that households across the UK are able to enjoy Christmas Day 2021



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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