The public sector should switch to a four-day week to create 500,000 jobs and help ease a predicted spike in unemployment following the coronavirus outbreak, according to a report.
The Autonomy thinktank said “the time has come” for a shorter working week as the end of the government’s furlough scheme in October is expected to cause an unemployment crisis.
Research by the thinktank suggests public sector workers could move to a 32-hour week without any loss in wages at a cost of up to £9bn a year.
This figure, according to Autonomy, represents 6 per cent of the public sector salary bill and costs the same amount as the furlough employment scheme brought in to save jobs during the peak of the pandemic.
Moving to a four-day week would have the biggest impact in so-called “red wall” seats in the north of England and the Midlands which were taken from Labour by the Conservatives in the December general election, according to the study.
The report stated: “’Red Wall’ areas including Barnsley, Bradford and Doncaster, where around 20 per cent of overall employment exists in the public sector, would stand to benefit much more than the South East where public sector employment takes up a relatively lower proportion of employment.”
The think tank said such a move could also have a beneficial impact on people’s health, adding: “More than two-thirds of UK workers are stressed or overworked in their jobs and according to the Health and Safety Executive, one in four of all sick days lost are the direct result of overwork.”
Will Stronge, of Autonomy, said: “The time has come for a four-day working week and the public sector should act as the pioneer for it, both as employer and as procurer of services.
“To help tackle the unemployment crisis we are facing this winter, a four-day week is the best option for sharing work more equally across the economy and creating much-needed new jobs.
“The four-day week makes so much sense as it would boost productivity, create new jobs and make us all much happier and healthier.”
The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was created to help pay the wages of workers “furloughed” – placed on leave – because they could not do their jobs during the pandemic.
Employers have been able to claim up to 80 per cent of a worker’s salary, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.
From this Tuesday, 1 September, businesses will have to pay 10 per cent of furloughed staff’s wages.
This will rise to 20 per cent in October, before the scheme finally ends on 31 October.
Additional reporting by Press Association
Video: “Grant Shapps says employers should start encouraging people to get back to work” (Evening Standard)