Whitehall staff have no life

MySociety’s new travel-time maps are a fine piece of data visualisation / mashing, and a sociological warning.

In his book Bowling Alone, Harvard professor Robert D Putnam concluded that ‘every ten minutes of commuting reduces all forms of social capital by 10%’. By which calculation, if you live more than 50 minutes’ travel from your workplace, your involvement in your community and society reduces to – er – zero.

Meanwhile, the latest data from the Council of Mortgage Lenders shows first-time buyers are typically having to borrow 3.3x their income. And National Statistics data puts the median gross salary of a civil servant at ‘approximately £20,000 on an FTE basis’ (Sept 2006, see PDF).

Put those numbers together with the MySociety maps, and the picture is pretty bleak: Whitehall staff on all but the highest salaries can’t expect to live anywhere near their work, and hence can’t expect to have any kind of a social (capital) life. We end up with a central government bureaucracy ever further distanced from the citizenry it’s trying to service. Or am I stretching things too far?