The Britain of the future will work a 21-hour week, with positive consequences for employers and employees, according to the New Economic Foundation’s (NEF) report. The group said working fewer hours could solve a myriad of problems. Unemployment, inequality and climate change could all be tackled by promoting a shorter week as standard.
Currently, people are working longer hours than 30 years ago with 40 or more being the norm. This is driving over-consumption and damaging the environment, but wellbeing levels have not risen in line with the increase, the report said.
This growth of working hours means the “unpaid areas of life”, such as family and friends, suffer and contribute to “Broken Britain”, the think tank said.
Since 2.5 million people are out of work, cutting labour to save money without changing working hours means some people are overworked while others lose their jobs, it added.
The report examines the case for a radical rethink of what most people regard as permanent: a nine-to-five, five-day working week. But it is, the report said, a relic of the industrial revolution, and something that can be changed. The authors also propose a higher minimum wage and restraints on top pay to make earning more equal; discouraging overtime by rewarding employers for taking on new staff; and reforming National Insurance, so costs to the employer are accrued via the number of hours worked rather than the number of employees and standardising flexible working hours. Furthermore, the report calls for active training to prevent skills shortages.
Anna Coote, co-author of the report and head of social policy at NEF, said: “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.”