UK Study: A four-day work week would help workers and small businesses

A four-day work week in the public sector would create up to half a million new jobs in the United Kingdom, a new report suggests.

The number of people unemployed in Britain has suffered the biggest hike since The Great Recession and signs are growing that the COVID-19 pandemic will take a heavier toll on the labor market as the Treasury’s furlough scheme is wound down. The Bank of England warns of historic unemployment as some jobs are redundant. In its latest forecasts, the Bank predicts the jobless rate will double to 7.5%, and only fall slowly in 2021.

In its latest forecasts, the Bank predicts the jobless rate will double to 7.5% by the year, and only dwindle slowly in 2021.

Amid concerns of rising unemployment rate due to COVID-19, study by the progressive thinktank Autonomy suggests the time is right to pioneer a four-day work week. If British workers do not return to their officers, £480 billion ($641 billion) could be wiped off the UK economy.

Is the four-day work week a win?

The solution? The left-leaning thinktank has called for a reduction in working week from five days to four, with the UK government picking up the tab for the extra day off.

The unique solution comes at a steep price though. According to the thinktank, if the scheme was only applied in the arts and entertainment sector, which has been hard hit by the pandemic, it would cost the government cost £3.8 billion in its first year alone. The food and hospitality industries would add another £22billion to the tab. If this four-day work week scheme was solely applied to the public sector, it would cost the government another about £9 billion a year.

Four Day Work Week

Four Day Work Week Policy

The question remains: Would any government provide such endowments to specific sectors without raising bedlam from other industries?

Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, says: “As the furlough scheme comes to an end and firms across the economy continue to suffer, bold economic strategies are required to support the economy now and forge a recovery process that prioritizes secure and decent work.

A separate study suggests that a four-day work week could create 500,000 new jobs in the UK.

According to a study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), a consultancy owned by Douglas McWilliams, a former chief economic adviser to the Confederation of British Industry, suggests that in a worst case scenario, the British economy would not return to its size before the coronavirus pandemic until 2025 if people continue to work from home.

But with the government’s budget deficit fasting reaching in excess of £300billion, the plan is unlikely to get even a glimpse from the Treasury.

Britons urged to return to offices

Ninety years ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that within a century, we would all we working a 15-hour week. With 10 years to go, it seems that we have somehow missed the mark. Official figures show that the average Briton spends 42.5 hours a week in the workplace.

All summer, the UK government has been coaxing Britons out of their homes and back into their offices. Although, many companies have said they will allow their workers to continue working from home, some until the end of 2021.  Officials are worried this may have a knock-on effect, with local eateries and shops facing huge declines in business.

The move contrasts with situations in New York where workers are being discouraged from returning to their offices. Less than one-tenth of Manhattan office workers. Less than one-tenth of Manhattan white-collar workers returned to the office a month after the state of New York gave companies the green light to reopen operations at limited capacity.

The concept of four day work week first gained momentum during the 2019 December election, and is slowly getting popular with workers. According to a poll last year, 74 percent of workers support the idea of a four-day week.

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Diana Coker
Diana Coker is a staff writer at The HR Digest, based in New York. She also reports for brands like Technowize. Diana covers HR news, corporate culture, employee benefits, compensation, and leadership. She loves writing HR success stories of individuals who inspire the world. She’s keen on political science and entertains her readers by covering usual workplace tactics.

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