Office for National Statistics
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The first coronavirus Christmas saw fewer hospitality staff working over the festive period

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just updated its figures for the number of people who work on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Commenting, ONS Head of Labour Market Statistics David Freeman said:

"Normally well over a million employees are at work on Christmas Day, as we've seen in recent years. Staff in areas such as hospitals and the emergency services have to provide cover over the festive period as usual, and this year there are no restrictions on people getting together, eating or drinking out and shopping. However, in 2020 when the Alpha variant was on the rise, the figures for that year paint a rather different picture than we normally see."    

The new figures show that in health and social work, 10.5% of staff worked on 25 December 2020, only slightly down on 11.2% two years previously. In both years this was the area with the highest proportion of employees working. Public administration - which includes emergency workers such as police officers and firefighters - saw 4.3% at work, again this was little changed from 4.6% two years previously.

By contrast, however, only 3.6% of employees in the hospitality sector worked on Christmas Day that year as coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions and furloughing disrupted the normal pattern of festive celebrations. This is sharply down on the figure from two years previously, when 8.6% of them worked.

The same pattern is seen when looking at different types of jobs. In all, 21.4% of care workers worked on Christmas Day, as did 15.6% of nursing auxiliaries. Both figures were little changed from two years before, 21.1% and 16.7% respectively. By contrast, the proportion of chefs working fell to 9.3% in 2020 from 15.8% two years previously. Meanwhile, neither waiters nor bar staff featured in the top 15 occupations for working on Christmas Day in 2020, whereas both appeared in previous data.

In all, 950,000 employees worked on Christmas Day 2020, down from 1.1 million on Christmas Day two years previously.

The Boxing Day public holiday also saw fewer hospitality staff working than two years before: the proportion fell from 13.4% to 7.9%. The retail and wholesale sector normally sees an increase in working between Christmas Day and Boxing Day, when many big stores often start their sales. In 2020, the proportion of people working went from 1.2% on 25 December 2020 to 9.1% on the Boxing Day public holiday. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, this figure was little changed from Boxing Day two years before, when 9.4% of staff in this sector worked. However, in 2020 this public holiday did not fall until 28 December, which might have affected this.

Overall, about 1.6 million people worked on the Boxing Day public holiday 2020, down from about 1.75 million two years earlier.

David Freeman added:

"With over 1.1 million hospitality jobs furloughed in December 2020 after the resurgence of COVID-19 led to new restrictions, up from 625,000 just three months earlier, we can see why this sector, which usually sees a lot of people at work over the holiday, did not in 2020."   

Notes to editors

  1. The full data are available in our Number of employees working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, UK: 2020 release.
  2. The question about working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day is only asked in the Labour Force Survey every other year, so 2020 is the most recent year available and 2018 is the last pre-coronavirus pandemic figure.
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