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All work and no play

31 July, 2020

This week, the Resolution Foundation published The Time of Your Life, providing a comprehensive and really interesting look into how we split our time between paid work, unpaid work and leisure, and how this has changed over time.   

From very similar amounts of paid work in 1974, the bottom quartile of households by income had less than half the amount of paid work in 2014 compared with all other households, and many low-paid workers are not happy with their shorter hours. With a big impact on earnings and quality of life, this is a largely hidden frontier of growing inequality, particularly considering that low-income work is largely limited in quality as well as quantity.  

It is clear that the UK simultaneously suffers from overwork, unemployment and underemployment, but there remain big questions around how these problems can be tackled. A key suggestion is to distribute work better to ensure that everyone has the access to enough good-quality and reasonably paid work. Employment has a powerful impact on well-being, and too little or too much work can have significant consequences. 

The four-day working is put forward as a possible solution to this. While it is a topic that raises its head regularly, it is usually in the context of a single organisation, driven by employee wellbeing considerations. Now it is being considered as a solution to system-wide inequalities. And, of course, there is a Covid-19 angle to this discussion (isn’t there always?). The lockdown restrictions have put many people out of work and four-day working weeks have been put forward both as a way of better redistributing work in the short-term as the furlough scheme comes to an end, and to stimulate the hospitality and tourism sectors, which have been hit particularly hard. 

The world of work has been shaken up and is ripe for improvement. It’s not clear that a four-day week is a workable solution for all industries or organisations, but the idea that work can be allocated or accessed more equitably is one worth exploring further.  

By Patrick Bapty

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