Leading article: The great British worker

Average hours for full-timers in the UK are virtually the highest in Europe

Share
Related Topics

The rebranding of the compassionate Conservative party is in trouble. "Too many people in Britain," argue five ambitious Tory MPs in a new book, "prefer a lie-in to hard work." As an analysis of the economic problems of a country in double-dip recession, it lacks credibility. As an argument, in a book that seeks to confront pessimism, it lacks logic. As a piece of political positioning, it is too clever by half.

Its authors, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, offer a lively tour of the economic success of China, Brazil and Canada, and suggest that they offer lessons in how Britain could complete the Thatcher revolution. They start, however, by insulting us: "Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor."

Not only is this factually doubtful, but it would also be a poor starting point, even if it were accurate, for explaining Britain's comparatively weak economic performance. Average working hours for full-timers in the UK are the highest in Europe apart from those of Austria and Greece. Germany, the most successful economy in Europe, has one of the lowest full-time averages. Britons retire a little later on average than Germans and Americans. As for productivity, no two economists can agree how to measure it, so it is perhaps unsurprising that five Conservative MPs should settle merely for wishing it were higher.

Even if the analysis were confined to the problem of unemployment and economic inactivity, which is undoubtedly a problem in Britain (although it is worse in many other European countries), to ascribe it simply to laziness is, well, lazy. There will always be a small minority in any population that is work-shy, but there is no evidence that the British population is genetically or culturally more prone to lying in than working. There is a specific problem of "troubled families", in which habits of worklessness and poor parenting are passed from one generation to the next. And there are some young people whose attitude to hard work compares unfavourably with that of the keenest immigrants from central Europe.

That said, however, the vast majority of British people who are out of work, or working fewer hours than they want, are keen to work and to work hard. As one of the unions said, they will find the MPs' arguments "deeply irritating". Not least because the book is being published in the middle of a seven-week parliamentary recess, which will be followed, after a two-week session next month, by another month off for party conferences. Also, it is August. And there is a heatwave.

There is nothing wrong, or surprising, in a group of MPs praising the work ethic. But there is more to government's role in stimulating economic activity than exhortation. The Independent on Sunday believes that the scale of public spending cuts has reduced demand too quickly, which is a more important explanation of unemployment than laziness.

If only the five Conservative MPs had devoted more of their energies to setting out policies that stimulate growth, provide more incentives for people to set up their own businesses and prepare young people more effectively for the world of work, we could have praised them for their productivity as well as for their hard work.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner
 

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power