Jobs and society  |  Publications  |  24.06.2011

21 hours: Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century

This New Economic Foundation report sets outs arguments for a shorter working week, which offers a new route out of the multiple crises we face today.

A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.

The report argues there is nothing natural or inevitable about what is considered ‘normal’ today. Time, like work, has become commodified – a recent legacy of industrial capitalism. Yet the logic of industrial time is out of step with today’s conditions, where instant communications and mobile technologies bring new risks and pressures, as well as opportunities. The challenge is to break the power of the old industrial clock without adding new pressures, and to free up time to live sustainable lives.
To meet the challenge, we must change the way we value paid and unpaid work. For example, if the average time devoted to unpaid housework and childcare in Britain in 2005 were valued in terms of the minimum wage, it would be worth the equivalent of 21 per cent of the UK’s gross domestic product.

The report proposes a radical change in what is considered ‘normal’ – down from 40 hours or more, to 21 hours. While people can choose to work longer or shorter hours, we propose that 21 hours – or its equivalent spread across the calendar year – should become the standard that is generally expected by government, employers, trade unions, employees, and everyone else.

Edited extract from the executive summary.

Back to Overview