A report published today by the New Economics Foundation (nef) forecasts a major shift in the length of the formal working week as a consequence of dealing with key economic, social and environmental problems.
According to nef, there are several forces pushing us towards a shorter working week: lasting damage to the economy caused by the banking crisis, an increasingly divided society with too much over-work alongside too much unemployment, and an urgent need for deep cuts in environmentally damaging over-consumption. These combine with a growing interest in people spending more time producing and delivering a share of their own goods and services – from co-produced care and neighbourhood-based activities, to food, clothing and other necessities.
“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”, says Anna Coote, co-author of the report and Head of Social Policy at nef. “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. And 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.”
If we are to seize these opportunities, says nef, the inevitable consequence is a much shorter standard working week, with 21 hours as the goal. The report shows that:
- Many people work longer hours than 30 years ago. Since 1981 two-adult households have added six hours – nearly a whole working day – to their combined weekly workload.
- Today, nearly 2.5 million people can’t find jobs. Cutting labour to save money without changing working hours means some are burdened with overwork while others lose their livelihoods.
- As a result of this growing inequality in working time, the unpaid components of life are suffering. Family life, neighbourhood networks, time with children and quality of life for older people are all diminished, with painful results for society that sometimes get lumped together and lamented as ‘Broken Britain’.
The authors of 21 hours argue that a much shorter working week could help to tackle a range of urgent and closely related problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life. It would enable many more people to join the workforce and allow for measures to reduce damaging levels of inequality. [Read more…]