Monthly Archives: November 2017
Owen Jones recently called for shorter working week and harked back to a 2014 article by Anna Coote, head of social policy for the New Economics Foundation.
We have long called for shorter and more flexible hours of paid work, firstly in our report 21 Hours and more recently in our book Time on Our Side. Any move towards a shorter working week would need to be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to strengthen wage levels across the economy. But as long as that’s understood, there are clear benefits for environment, economy and society:
- A smaller carbon footprint: Countries with shorter average hours tend to have a smaller ecological footprint. As a nation, the UK is currently consuming well beyond its share of natural resource. Moving out of the fast lane would take us away from the convenience-led consumption that is damaging our environment, and leave time for living more sustainably.
- A stronger economy: If handled properly, a move towards a shorter working week would improve social and economic equality, easing our dependence on debt-fuelled growth – key ingredients of a robust economy. It would be competitive, too: the Netherlands and Germany have shorter work weeks than Britain and the US, yet their economies are as strong or stronger.
- Better employees: Those who work less tend to be more productive hour for hour than those regularly pushing themselves beyond the 40 hours per week point. They are less prone to sickness and absenteeism and make up a more stable and committed workforce.
- Lower unemployment: Average working hours may have spiralled, but they are not spread equally across our economy – just as some find themselves working all hours of the day and night, others struggle to find work at all. A shorter working week would help to redistribute paid and unpaid time more evenly across the population.
- Improved well-being: Giving everybody more time to spend as they choose would greatly reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being, as well as mental and physical health. Working less would help us all move away from the current path of living to work, working to earn and earning to consume. It would help us all to reflect on and appreciate the things that we truly value in life.
- More equality between men and women: Women currently spend more time than men doing unpaid work. Moving towards a shorter working week as the ‘norm’ would help change attitudes about gender roles, promote more equal shares of paid and unpaid work, and help revalue jobs traditionally associated with women’s work.
- Higher quality, affordable childcare: The high demand for childcare stems partly from a culture of long working hours which has spiralled out of control. A shorter working week would help mothers and fathers better balance their time, reducing the costs of full-time childcare. As well as bringing down the cost of childcare, working fewer hours would give parents more time to spend with their children. This opportunity for more activities, experiences and two-way teaching and learning would have benefits for mothers and fathers, as well as their children.
- More time for families, friends and neighbours. Spending less time in paid work would enable us to spend more time with and care for each other – our parents, children, friends and neighbours – and to value and strengthen all the relationships that make our lives worthwhile and help to build a stronger society.
- Making more of later life: A shorter and more flexible working week could make the transition from employment to retirement much smoother, spread over a longer period of time. People could reduce their hours gradually over a decade or more. Shifting suddenly from long hours to no hours of paid work can be traumatic, often causing illness and early death.
- A stronger democracy: We’d all have more time to participate in local activities, to find out what’s going on around us, to engage in politics, locally and nationally, to ask questions and to campaign for change.
Anna’s article followed a call for a four-day week from Dr John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health. He called for the country to switch to a four-day week to help combat high levels of work-related stress, let people spend more time with their families or exercising, and reduce unemployment. Bringing the standard working week down from five to four days would also help address medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and the mental ill-health associated with overwork or lack of work.
In October, Dylan Matthews (US Occupy website) wrote about a forthcoming Basic Income pilot.
Next year, a random sample of the 300,000 residents of Stockton, California – the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy during the financial crisis – will get $500 per month with no strings attached. It’s the latest test of basic income, funded by the Economic Security Project, a pro-basic income advocacy and research group co-chaired by Facebook co-founder and former New Republic publisher Chris Hughes and activists Natalie Foster and Dorian Warren; Hughes provided the group’s initial funding.
Many of Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs and investors see basic income, as a necessary way to support Americans if artificial intelligence and other automation advances lead to unemployment for vast swathes of the population, redistributing the wealth that Silicon Valley creates to poorer people and localities left behind.
Ontario, Canada, Finland, and the international charity GiveDirectly in Kenya have all launched basic income experiments of their own and Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire and Fife in Scotland are jumping into the ring too. A list of ongoing and announced basic income pilots can be found on the BIEN website.
In 2011, a pilot BI project was launched in rural Madhya Pradesh through the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), in collaboration with UNICEF.
See this excellent video account – well worth twelve minutes of your time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWW9XY27ocI
For 12 to 18 months, over 6,000 individuals received ‘basic income’. The grants were universal, unconditional, and were given to individuals, not the head of the household, to ensure that there is no harassment and ensuring financial inclusion of women, children and the elderly.
Two pilot studies were conducted under this project: in one, 8 villages received the basic income, while 12 similar villages didn’t. In the other, one tribal village received the income while another tribal village was taken as control group. The studies covered over 15,000 individuals in all.
The results of these pilots, published in the book Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India. (2014, London: Bloomsbury, by Professor Guy Standing of BIEN who speaks in the video), showed many encouraging developments, debunking the myths that basic cash transfers in rural India would inevitably lead to a decrease in work or that money would be wasted in alcohol consumption and other pursuits:
o Basic living conditions, starting with sanitation, better access to clean drinking water, improvements in cooking and lighting energy sources, improved significantly.
o There was a major increase in food sufficiency, improved diets, better nutrition and reduction in seasonal illnesses.
o Better health of children led to higher school attendance and improved performance. The basic income also facilitated spending on school uniforms, books and stationery.
o The cash transfer facilitated small scale investments such as buying better raw materials and equipment, which resulted in a higher income.
o There was also a shift, especially in the tribal village, from wage labour and bonded labour to owning farms and to other forms of self-employment.
o Women’s empowerment was another outcome of the pilot studies: their participation in economic decision making in the household improved.
The basic income also enabled indebted villagers to pay back the money lenders and borrow less from them.
Readers who wish to know more about the Indian pilot may do so by using the links at the foot of this blog.
The Times reports that Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a member of the Scottish government’s council of economic advisers, had reservations about Basic Income, saying that it would be better to focus on targeting those who have particularly strong needs and on creating jobs while ensuring the most vulnerable were supported. But Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has vowed to press ahead with plans to explore such a policy, where welfare payments are replaced with a guaranteed income for everybody, and has offered government funding for research schemes.