A 21 hour working week? Earth calling nef….

I don’t like to admit it in public, but I kind of like my work.  I’m self-employed, in IT.  I probably do around 35 hours a week ‘client facing’ work and probably about 10 hours a week grubbing up new work, invoicing, etc.  I’ll work longer hours when needs be, and slack when I can.  I don’t regard work as the be all and end all of my life – far from it.  But I have found that when I don’t work, bad things happen, usually presaged by letters from the people who hold my mortgage, my bank manger, the utilities companies, etc.  Because when I don’t work, the money doesn’t appear.

I have worked with people from the New Economics Foundation (nef) and have quite a bit of time for them, but this latest suggestion blows my mind, I’m afraid.  They suggest a working week of 21 hours.  Very early on in this piece they do admit that people would have a reduced income.  Yes, typically by about 40 to 50%, assuming a straight reduction.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree with this comment made by the report’s author, Anna Coote:

“So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume, and our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources.

“Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours.

“We could even become better employees – less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive.

“It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.”

But I’m afraid that this approach is typical of the new left – legislate and push the impact of policy on to the people.  Changes in people’s habits come from the people themselves.  I consume less than I used to, spend more time being a better citizen, and am more productive in my working life not because I work less hours but because I manage the time I do spend working more effectively.  The idea of breaking the old industrial clock is another piece of left wing thinking.  Guys, don’t know how to tell you this, but the old industrial clock has already stopped and some of the biggest issues around working conditions today are not hours based but revolve around:

  1. When and where the hours are worked  employers are inflexible, often insisting on the 9 to 5 regime sitting at a desk when it’s not actually necessary to get the job done.
  2. The nature of the job – many job types are fleeing the UK leaving us with skilled technical service work, the professions, retail, leisure and service sector.  Most of these jobs rely on people being there to deliver.  A 21 hour working week means that to cover time when people will want to do things, 2 people will need to be employed where one was before. 
  3. The fact that the cost of living has greatly increased – people are working the hours they work because they need to to keep a roof over their heads.

I’m not at all impressed by this report.  The report acknowledges a massive cultural shift – indeed it will be, making a MORE stressed workforce as people start wondering where the money to pay their bills is going to come from.  More people will have to be in the workforce; whilst we have 2 million unemployed, I doubt that that would cover the requirements of halving the working week for most people.  And the idea that everyone will join hands and walk happily in to tomorrow’s rainbow future of good parenting, good charitable works and a new worker’s paradise is rubbish.  Good parents are good parents because they want to be, irrespective of the hours they work.  People doing good works in the community – again, many of these do this not because they have time in abundance but because they make effective use of what time they have.

People are not necessarily going to go and do worthy things in their communities, no matter what we may wish to believe.  As a pragmatist, I look around me and see that what most people want to do with their time off is chill out, relax, consume and make full use of the recreation industries.  I doubt taht this would change if they were given more time to do it in.

Give people a 4 day weekend and I’m not sure that people will actually thank you for it.  Especially when the bills come in.  But Governments will love it – they get to reduce the unemployment figures at one fell stroke.  And it puts all of our finances on that much more of a knife edge – all the better to keep us in line.