Debbie So reviews Time on Our Side, a book that advocates a shorter working week
Time On Our Side is a collection of essays compiled by the New Economics Foundation as part of its 21-hours campaign, which aims to reduce a ‘normal’ working week to 21 hours.
The essays provoke and challenge orthodox assumptions of what can be achieved through a redistribution of time. What’s most exciting is that the idea is not only theoretical – examples of real action from around the world can be studied and shed light on how we can disrupt our own lives.
What happens if we let go of our fetish for traditional labour and high productivity? How can we make an economy work when it isn’t chasing continual growth? How does an abundance of time impact our social, environmental and gendered economies? Once we understand that human labour is at the heart of society, we can rethink how we experience the value of time.
Looking beyond the workplace, we see how an abundance of time affects people and planet. Shorter working hours would leave more time to be parents, carers, friends, neighbours and active citizens.
Studies across the UK and the Netherlands have shown that people who work shorter hours have a smaller ecological footprint. So a shorter working week could help to safeguard natural resources and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
There is also a case for how redistributing paid and unpaid time would radicalise gender equality. Historically, women have done the brunt of unpaid, time-consuming and undervalued work in society, such as caregiving or household work. A shorter working week would allow for a rebalance of time within public and private spheres, leading to an increase in men’s responsibility for household and family tasks. This would create a less pressurised, more care-oriented society.
Once we understand “Why make the time?,” the question quickly becomes “Will we do it?” The irony is clear for a collection of essays on time, which one can struggle to find the time to read in the first place – if we’ve learned anything – make the time, it’s worth it.
Time On Our Side, edited by Anna Coote & Jane Franklin (NEF, 2013).