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

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition