Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Moving towards much shorter hours of paid employment could be a critical factor in heading off environmental, social and economic catastrophe. That’s why nef (new economics foundation) has proposed a new standard of 21 hours a week – or its equivalent spread across a month or year.
We are facing a deadly combination of escalating climate change, widening social and economic inequalities, imploding financial systems and an intractable global economic downturn. These factors are closely linked. To tackle them together, we need a more equal distribution of paid and unpaid time.
In the developed world, most of us are consuming well beyond our economic means, well beyond the limits of the natural world and in ways that ultimately fail to satisfy us. Economic growth has depended on a volatile mix of depressed wages and escalating material consumption. So people have worked punishingly long hours and then borrowed to consume what they still cannot afford. Now the credit bubble has burst. Politicians are urging us to buy more things to help the economy recover and grow. Yet natural resources are critically depleted by high-rolling consumerism and the climate clock is ticking.
Meanwhile, there are growing concerns about inequalities, fragmented lives and social discontent. While the economy has grown, there has been no parallel growth in well-being. Nearly 2.5 million are unemployed, while many others find long-hours employment increasingly stressful and struggle to combine it with family responsibilities.
Leading economists are turning their attention to how we can manage with little or no economic growth, on the basis that continuing growth in the developed world cannot be ‘decoupled’ from carbon emissions in time to avoid disastrous climate change. Shorter working hours are one way to reduce labour and output without intensifying hardship or widening inequalities: share out the total of paid work more evenly across the population.
This way, we could get off the consumer treadmill and leave a smaller footprint on the earth. We could spend less on energy-intensive ‘convenience’ items designed to save us time – from processed foods and household gadgets to cars and airline tickets. We’d have more time to care for friends and family, and to look after our own health. We’d have more time to keep learning and take part in local activities. We could reassess how we value different kinds of activity, regardless of whether or how it is paid.
There would be benefits for business, with more women in paid employment, more men leading rounded, balanced lives, less workplace stress and greater productivity hour for hour. The driving force towards a prosperous economy would no longer be credit-fuelled consumerism, which has proved so destructive, but financial stability, creativity and collaboration, with good work distributed fairly across the population.
Politicians of all hues remain hooked on the mantra of growth. They won’t contemplate a new politics of time (yet) because they can’t handle the cross-sectoral complexities or the long-sighted timescale, or the need for a radical shift in values and expectations. Nor can they face voters who ask them ‘How will I pay the mortgage if I work shorter hours?’
nef is not proposing sudden or imposed change, but a slow shift across a decade or more – so that wage increments could be exchanged gradually for shorter hours. There would be time to adjust incentives for employers, to discourage overtime, reduce costs per employee, improve flexibility in ways that suit employees, and extend training to offset skills shortages. There would be time to phase in a higher minimum wage and more progressive taxation, and to adjust to low-carbon lifestyles that absorb more time and less money.
Sometimes the weight of public opinion can swing from outrage and antipathy to acceptance and approval over just a few years. This happens when there’s a combination of new evidence, changing conditions, a sense of crisis and a strong campaign. There’s a growing body of evidence to support a shorter working week; circumstances are changing and there’s a mounting sense of crisis. What’s needed now is a campaign that brings together people who are unemployed, underemployed, employed, over-employed and not seeking paid work at all. We have a shared interest in finding routes to a better life for everyone, now and in future, rather than succumbing to the destructive demands of a discredited capitalist economy.
21 Hours: Why a 21-hour week can help us thrive in the 21st century, by Anna Coote, Jane Franklin and Andrew Simms, is published by nef (new economics foundation)
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook