Towards Wellbeing For All - Time Use

Posted on Friday, 9 December 2022
Main Image
time use
Page Content

The Programme for Government acknowledged that our “existing measures of economic performance fail to measure matters such as damage to the environment and voluntary work. They also overlook equality of opportunity, distribution of wealth and income and only value public expenditure on the basis of the inputs used, not the outcomes achieved” and committed to introducing a series of indicators that would more accurately measure wellbeing to provide a “holistic view of how our society is faring”. 


A ‘Wellbeing Dashboard’ was then developed to provide a snapshot of progress. In developing the Dashboard, the Inter-Departmental Working Group established a list of 35 indicators chosen to be balanced, add value or be of policy relevance, provide for aggregation and dis-aggregation, be readily available and of sufficient quality, and be internationally comparable.

So how are we doing? To gauge public opinion on what matters, and what should therefore be counted as an indicator of Well-being, Social Justice Ireland produced a survey asking people to rank a set of six indicators under each of the Well-being Framework dimensions from one to six, with one being the least important and six being the most important. The six indicators included the indicators used in the Dashboard and datasets readily available from the CSO and other reputable sources. This survey was circulated over the Summer months through our social media channels, our Weekly Digest, and our Members Bulletin. What follows is based on the responses to this survey and our policy proposals under each of the 11 dimensions.

The proportion of people who work 49 hours per week or more increased from 8.6 per cent in Q4 2016 to 11.1 in Q4 2017, before decreasing to 9.5 per cent in Q4 2021. Eurostat also uses the threshold of 49 hours per week or more in its dataset on the proportion of people working “very long hours in main job”. According to that dataset, 8.6 per cent of Irish people worked very long hours in their main job in 2021, compared to an EU-27 average of 7.4 per cent. As with other aspects of the labour market included in the Wellbeing Framework, the average proportion conceals inequalities, with proportions ranging from 4.2 per cent of people employed in the Human health and social work activities sector to 46.6 per cent of people employed in the Agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.


Average commuting times increased from 27.5 minutes in 2011 to 28.2 minutes in 2016. At a European level, Ireland is joint third (with Belgium) in terms of length of average commuting time, at 28 minutes (Chart 1). These datasets will likely have been impacted by changes to work arrangements resulting from the pandemic.

Chart 1: Average Commuting Time, minutes

Average Commuting Time, minutes

While the data on caring relates to just one year, the gendered and age-related dimension must be considered. The Government’s Wellbeing Dashboard report contains no data on the European level, however an article in the International Journal of Health Policy and Management, published in 2022 and based on data from 2016, contains some detail on the average weekly caregiving hours per carer and indicates that Irish carers were fourth in the EU-28 in terms of average weekly caregiving hours per carer (Chart 9.2) and had the highest Annual non-Professional Caregiving Value per Carer at €15,002 (followed by Luxembourg at €14,702 and the United Kingdom at €13,470). [1] 

Chart 2: Average Weekly Caregiving Hours per Carer, EU-28, 2016

Average Weekly Caregiving Hours per Carer, EU-28, 2016

According to the CSO’s Irish Health Survey 2019 – Carers and Social Supports, 31 per cent of people aged 15+ provided at least 20 hours of care. There is both a gender and age-related dimension, with a higher proportion of women (37 per cent) than men (23 per cent) providing this level of care, and 51 per cent of people aged 75+: the highest proportion across all age groups.

Policy Priorities

  • Recognise that the term “work” is not synonymous with the concept of “paid employment”. Everybody has a right to work, i.e. to contribute to his or her own development and that of the community and the wider society. This, however, should not be confined to job creation. Work and a job are not the same thing.
  • Give greater recognition to the work carried out by carers in Ireland and introduce policy reforms to reduce the financial and emotional pressures on carers. These should focus on addressing the poverty experienced by many carers and their families and on increasing the provision of respite opportunities to carers and to those for whom they care.
  • Request the CSO to conduct an annual survey to discover the value of all unpaid work in the country.