The recent riots in London and elsewhere have got me thinking about the great imbalance in our society, the biggest being the imbalance of work - some people work forty plus hours a week, others are completely unemployed. In fact, I think there’s a clear divide of opinion in the country, with those that work feeling a deep resentment towards those that don’t and those that don’t feeling a deep disenfranchisement and frustration. To me, the only realistic solution to all this is to shorten the working week. Clearly it would be better to have everyone working, say, twenty hours a week and have full employment, than to have some doing all the work and others doing nothing.
It’s clear from the current levels of unemployment, both here and around the world, that we don’t need everyone working a forty hour week. This situation is a consequence of our technological advancement, and as our technological capability increases this trend will continue. If we don’t rebalance our social structure accordingly we can only expect more and more division in society, and, no doubt, more and more rioting. I think any government worth its salt should now be pursuing policies that can bring about this change in an incremental way. Offering incentives to companies that hire more workers at fewer hours would be one way of doing this, another way would be to increase the minimum wage.
The benefits, both economic and social, of having a shorter working week would also be immense. People would be less stressed, which would lead to better health and a reduced bill for the NHS. People would also have more time to spend with their children - clearly beneficial to any society. In fact, the number of hours children spend at school could likewise be reduced to reflect this change in working habits. After all, true education is more about the culture people grow up in than it is about the number of hours spent in a classroom - just look at how obvious the link between educational achievement and home life is. The responsibility for education could be shifted back to the parents somewhat, and at the same time we could maybe even save some of the money we spend on education. A more balanced society would also lead to a reduced crime rate - another massive burden on the public purse.
Clinging to the concept of a forty hour week is, in my opinion, the biggest mistake we’re making as we move into this new era of human history. A reduced working week is the most realistic solution to the problems now facing us. It would make sense, both economically and socially, and it would create a happier, healthier society. It’s the obvious missing link in Cameron’s idea for a big society where people spend more time in socially useful, non-profit activities.
If we’re truly smart about all this, and our technological capability continues to increase, we can maybe even begin to look forward to a point in the future where our average working week starts to approach zero hours.