Letter: Work and the family

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Three things are stopping us moving to a sub-40-hour working week.

First, it remains cheaper to employ a few people for many hours rather than many people for a few hours, not just until the employees are occasionally absent or exhausted, but until they are severely debilitated.

Second, managers have no incentive to consider the effects of their decisions on society as a whole; indeed, those who persist in considering such things rarely achieve influence and may be lucky to stay in work.

Third, for every worker who has something else to do, there is usually another, either single or divorced, who does not, and such employees will remain good for profits for as long as the NHS pays for their physical and psychological repair. Employers' practices will only veer towards Deborah Orr's ideal if corporations are forced to pay all those charges themselves.

The entry of middle-class women with high-earning partners into the job market has raised housing costs in the South-east beyond the means of most ordinary people who want to give time to their children; it has shunted about a million men into more or less permanent unemployment, where they are marginally maintained by the state; and it has raised the age at which young people can become independent and start their own families. Small wonder that people marry later or that the middle-class birth-rate is declining.

A middle-class woman with a high-earning partner may have a "right to work", but, until full employment returns, high-earning couples living at the same address, with or without children, should be taxed on the full costs of enforcing that right against society as a whole.


Centre for Legal Studies

University of Sussex