21-hour working week could cut unemployment and boost productivity says NEF

The working week should be cut to 21 hours to boost employment and the economy, a think-tank has suggested.

The New Economics Foundation said the reduction in hours would help to ease unemployment and overwork, while helping staff to become more productive.

The think-tank admitted people would earn less, but said they would benefit from an improved quality of life and would have more time to carry out worthy tasks.

Employees would have better scope to look after children or other dependants, there would be more opportunity for civic duties, and older people could delay retirement, it said.

The 21 Hours report, published by the New Economics Foundation, says that researh shows that since 1981 two-adult households have added six hours – nearly a whole working day – to their combined weekly workload. Meanwhile, nearly 2.5 million people are unemployed.

The report says the nine-to-five, five-day working week was “just a relic of the industrial revolution”, and adds: “A 21-hour working week could help distribute paid work more evenly across the population, reducing ill-being associated with unemployment, long working hours and too little control over time.

“With a 21-hour working week, businesses would benefit from more women entering the workforce, and from men living more rounded, balanced lives. Stress would also be reduced because employees would no longer need to juggle paid-employment with home-based responsibilities and family commitments. There is evidence that people who work shorter hours are more productive, hour for hour.”

Anna Coote, co-author of the report, 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 could even become better employees – less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive.”

The report adds that for shorter working weeks to be successful employers’ National Insurance contributions would have to be reformed so that costs to employers were accrued in relation to the number of hours worked, not the number of employees on the books.

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