Time for Life

In a ‘Time for Life’, a report recently published by The Reid Foundation, we argue the case for a 4-day, 30-hour working week in Scotland. We demonstrate how our current work/life apportionment is highly imbalanced, creating stressors and how our fast paced, consumption-led lifestyles are not making us happy. ‘Work to earn to consume’ is a seriously flawed mantra by which to live our lives. The report advocates a complete rethink in how we value and distribute our time. By redistributing labour and creating a high pay economy, a more equitable, inclusive society is possible. A ten year transition plan accounts for the needs of workers, employers and government alike, demonstrating a cohesive and realistic approach. The proposal is not a panacea, we emphasise the need to combine it with wider measures to strengthen the economy and tackle inequality.

Challenging the dominant narrative of work, that many people are ‘work shy’, the report highlights our time-imbalanced labour market. Many people are working excessive hours whilst others cannot find enough, or indeed any, work. No one would have intentionally designed a system like this. We highlight the far reaching consequences associated with overwork. The report argues that time-stressed households tend to drive faster, eat out more, and generally engage in more carbon intensive activity. The effects of low pay, zero hours contracts and unpaid overtime all negatively impact upon workers’ quality of life. Absenteeism is strongly linked to overwork, costing the Scottish economy £630million (2011/2012). The flip-side to this is the lack of work opportunities for those un(der)employed and associated welfare costs. £461million is spent on Jobseekers Allowance in Scotland, £670 million on income support and £1.7 billion on housing benefit. Shorter working hours is of course not the only way to tackle these issues but it could be part of the solution. By re-defining full-time work as 30-hours per week, we can allocate hours for all those seeking work, whilst also managing the problem of overwork.

A key question is how will those currently in work be able to afford working fewer hours? These proposals must not make low earners worse off. The report includes numerical evidence of how a living wage, enhanced by a citizen’s wage, would deliver the same financial remuneration for 30 hours as over 47 hours at the current minimum wage rate. A high pay economy with increased industrial democracy is a core issue within the paper.

Case studies and evidence from Europe prove that a shorter working week does not equate to lower levels of productivity, an understandable concern for employers. The comprehensive transition strategy details incentives for employers, such as alternative National Insurance policies and additional lifelong learning training to reduce skills gaps.

Gender imbalances are also examined. Women account for over 48% of the Scottish labour force. However, 42% work part-time compared to 13% of men. Additionally, 26% of men work over 45 hours per week compared to 8.5% of women. A shorter working week will create more gender equality in raising children, managing domestic labour and caring as already occurs in the Netherlands. The paper emphasises the importance of employee-led flexibility and floats the idea of school hours contracts to encourage women back into the workforce and improve status.Freeing up more time for family and friends, cultural and leisure pursuits and civic participation will benefit society as a whole. A 4-day, 30-hour week provides the opportunity for a more equal society, helping to create a healthier economy and offering all of us the chance to reclaim some Time for Life.