Those of us whose ideas of the future were forged in Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” remain disappointed about jet packs. We thought we’d all have them by now, and Uber is an extremely poor substitute. But I, for one, am even more crestfallen about another future vision that never came to pass. Baby boomers grew up believing that “leisure” was the coming thing. Little did we know that in the 21st century, time spent neither producing or consuming would be seen as time squandered.
Late last year, the government appeared to concede that it wouldn’t get its plans to relax the rules on Sunday trading through parliament. But, no. Business secretary Sajid Javid continues to insist that Sunday commerce is an issue that ought to be devolved to local councils. Javid has said that the change would end the “Whitehall knows best” approach to what should be local regulation. The “Whitehall knows best” approach, needless to say, continues to apply when the aim is stuff like getting junior doctors to concede that Saturdays aren’t part of the weekend after all.
This should be quite heartening for those among us who believe that “everything” is controlled from Europe. Weekends are just the sort of sentimental claptrap that Europe would force on everybody if it could get away with it. Who will speak for England (and Wales)? Who will say: “Down with weekends?”
Not me. I still think weekends are too short, like I did when I was seven. We all know that Friday is part of the weekend, in our heart of hearts. Why, oh why, can’t we pick this idea up and run with it? If we want people to work harder, play nicer and produce and consume more wisely, surely this is the way to do it?
Paradoxically, extending the weekend is a really good way to support seven-day working. You have the guys working four days a week. You have the guys working three days a week. Boom! Your productivity’s up and you’re not wasting money on offices that lie empty two days a week. In London, it could even mean less commercial space and more living space. God knows that’s a step in the right direction.
Plus, that’s loads more jobs. That’s loads more people with a bit of money to spend and a bit of time to spend it. Yes, some people would lose a day’s pay. But working five days a week is expensive, because you end up spending so much more money on saving time.
That’s loads more time to study or train, or to turn a hobby into a small business. Loads more time to exercise or play sport. Loads more time to cook. Loads more time to volunteer for the Big Society.
That’s loads more evenings to have a night out and a lie in. That’s loads less pressure on rush-hour transport. That’s loads more long weekends away without bank holiday traffic. Loads more time to relax. That’s loads more family-friendly flexibility.
All this can be done while exploiting an already existing infrastructure more efficiently.
Drop the school week down to four days, with shorter holidays. Yay! Fewer stressed children and less scrambling around trying to work out what to do with them over summer. Have a whole different staff at schools on the other three days, offering drop-in activities of the type teachers complain they haven’t time to do any more. Shoving in a bit of on-site social work would do no harm either. Further education is in the doldrums too. Schools, at the weekend, seem like good places to help adults increase their skills and pass some exams. What’s not to like?
It’s possible, I suppose, that a longer, less well-defined weekend could dilute the concept of the weekend rather than affirming it. But that doesn’t have to be the case. No one argues that people shouldn’t work at weekends. People do – loads of people. The reason why junior doctors are up in arms about the government’s proposed changes to their contracts is because they already work at weekends, not because they don’t.
What junior doctors are fighting for, among other things, is the idea that by working at the weekend you are missing out on time to see family and friends, time to be part of your community – not just a worker or professional but a private citizen, with self-determination and freedom. You’re missing out on enriching your actual life by working at the weekend, and should be financially compensated for that noble forfeiture.
The important thing to cherish, to bolster, is the idea that the week has a different basic character with different important priorities, and that asking people to cross that line is asking them to literally give more of themselves. That’s the crux of it. The junior doctors are so, so right on this.
And really, doctors are in an excellent position to understand exactly what that sacrifice entails. A 2010 study led by Prof Richard Ryan confirmed what we all know anyway. The Telegraph ran a piece with a snarky headline: People ‘happier’ at weekends, scientists ‘discover’. But as the study confirms, people are also healthier when they’re happier, physically and mentally. It’s quite an irony. If the government’s plans for a seven-day NHS are successful, if they manage to win their daft argument that the weekend isn’t important and necessary, and other organisations follow the NHS, then more people will end up ill.
De-leisurisation. You can see, just by looking at the neologism and wincing hard, that de-leisurisation is a horrible, nasty idea. What will our great leaders do when they run out of days to deleisurise? I don’t know what they’ll do. But it’ll be no more pretty than that terrible portmanteau word they just forced me into coining. I’m sure of that.
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