Most working Britons will get a taste of a four-day week either side of the upcoming Easter break. The thought must sound appealing as you trundle into the office on your Monday morning commute, dear reader.
The inevitable popularity of less work and more play has been pounced upon by the Green Party, which has endorsed a three-day weekend as standard, to be rolled out throughout the year and across the economy.
The party’s co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley appeared on the BBC yesterday to explain the thinking behind their “bold new idea”. Unfortunately this consisted of meaningless student union-style socialist soundbites and the kind of neo-Malthusian claptrap one usually hears from the local pub bore.
“We’re facing the 21st century, a very uncertain world with big pressures from corporate globalisation,” said Bartley.
Attempting to put more tofu on the bone, Lucas added: “People are working ever more hours, getting ever more stressed, getting ever more ill health...”
Hold on a second. Sometimes, granted, it may feel as if we’re working harder than ever, but the facts suggest otherwise. The average number of hours worked per worker has fallen in OECD countries since the start of the millennium, from 1,840 hours per year to 1,766 in 2015. It has fallen in the UK, where we work fewer hours than the OECD average, at 1,674 per year.
The long-run picture is even more positive. The proportion of British life hours spent working dropped from 50 per cent in the mid-19th century to 20 per cent by the 1980s.
Read more: Over 3m want to extend their working hours
And how about that ill health? The latest Office for National Statistics report, published last month, says the average number of working days lost to sickness per worker in 2016 was “the lowest recorded since the series began in 1993”. It continues: “Since 2003, there has been a general decline in the number of days lost to sickness absence.”
Technological and medical advances, free trade and wealth creation have given us longer and happier lives, with more time for leisure. The chances are, they will continue to do so. The Green Party’s vision of a regular four-day week could become a reality, but if so it will happen organically and be thanks to tomorrow’s technologies and rising prosperity. It will not come from the shallow promises of attention-grabbing politicians.