(Upcoming Event) HAVING ENOUGH GOOD FOOD IN THE MANCHESTER REGION: Shaping a viable food economy to multiply our impact

Saturday 18 October 2014, 1.30-5pm, Methodist Central Hall, Manchester

Book a free place today!

Food DiagramThere are many dimensions to the value of food in our lives; we are spotlighting food as an economic issue as this is an area getting less attention than other dimensions. We will consider the implications of wider changes for example; food prices are likely to escalate in coming years and the nature of work and its value is changing. We recognise that no dimension can be separated from others; we need a whole system approach.

We will focus on how we can rapidly stimulate availability of enough food in the region which is safe, affordable, sustainable, healthy and available for local consumption to make the big difference needed.

Who will be at this workshop?

  • People with all sorts of relationships to food including growers, eaters and sellers, activists, ‘professional foodies’, academics and others.
  • People who are interested in a viable economy and /or sustainable food.
  • People who are curious to know more about where what they are doing fits into the jigsaw of ensuring food in this region is affordable, locally produced and sustainable.

What we will achieve? A sense of what we all need to do to:

  • multiply the impact of current brilliant food related work to ensure enough affordable, locally produced sustainable food is available.
  • stimulate movers and shakers especially in low income areas

By the end of the workshop we will have recommendations and know who else we need to involve and how. We will all be able to take our learning forward including at the Greater Manchester Sustainable Food Cities seminar in November

The workshop will be draw on all participants’ strengths. It will include 3 minute presentations and group work to familiarise participants with what we are all doing. Together we will develop priorities and agree how to make them happen.

What difference will a viable food economy make?

It will work towards:

  • Reducing carbon footprint by maximising local food production for local consumption and minimising waste
  • Providing jobs

In the first instance we may need to identify ‘quick wins’ to get politicians, businesses and housing trusts on board. What should they be?

Do we need a shared vision of what a viable food economy for Greater Manchester looks like?

A vision may include:

  • What food would we be eating – meat, dairy, cereals….?
  • The role of hi-tech methods
  • What kind of economic production? To what extent will food be produced by households, communities, small, medium and large scale enterprises? What does this mean in terms of what work may look like?
  • Cost and access issues – how will food be distributed?

Book a free place here

For more information contact: ipogworkshop@gmail.com

Vermont re-orientates Economic Strategy to ‘Genuine Progress’ « Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy

In this post from CASSE Eric Zencey explains how the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) has been adopted as a measure of success by Vermont’s ‘Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy’. It aims to improve the GPI  by 5% over 5 years.

The GPI subtracts from GDP the social and environmental costs of economies, and includes other measures of value and prosperity, which are left out by the measures broadly used to gauge economic success, like GDP and its regional variant GVA.

The GPI takes into account the costs of crime, pollution, commuting and inequality, and the value of education, volunteer work, leisure time and infrastructure.

The above all sounds pretty agreeable and also un-exceptional for ‘community strategies’ or ‘economic development strategies’, isn’t this the kind of stuff public policy makers weigh up already?

The significance of bringing these social and environmental factors into a single metric like GPI, which is not without its dangers, is nevertheless demonstrated in graphs like this below.

Globally GDP and the broader measure of progress GPI rose in tandem to a peak in the mid 70’s after which the relationship breaks down with the GPI going into reverse. The increases in incomes are cancelled out or outweighed by increasing environmental and social costs. GDP growth, or the aggregate economic development pathway pursued, has arguably become uneconomic.

The graph for the UK where recession, unemployment and austerity in the 80’s caused a lurch in the GPI followed by a recovery, shows the fragile and complex relationship between economic stability and genuine prosperity. GPI cannot be restored by simply sending GDP into reverse.

Recession and austerity destroyed progress in the GPI by an order of magnitude higher than the downturn in GDP. This highlights the importance of a post-growth economics being about a coordinated approach to employment, incomes and well-being. Not, as it is sometimes misconstrued by those unable to see outside of the orthodoxy, a blasé attitude to recession.

Nevertheless, although GPI eventually recovered in the UK there has been little progress in the 20-30 years since the 70’s, despite continuous growth; GDP has not been a very good measure of economic progress for quite some time.

It demonstrates what economists are so familiar with at the micro-economic level, that diminishing marginal returns result in an equilibrium condition and an optimum size for an economic enterprise.

The national and global economies are the total of economic enterprise, subsets of the planetary eco-system and also have an optimum size defined by the finite nature of the planet. In developed countries we have exceeded our share.

This does not mean economic development ends. We must have more economic change not less and improve the social and ecological inefficiency of our uneconomic system. There is still plenty of room for the deployment of more ecologically efficient technologies, but most importantly, and most often overlooked, qualitative development in the organization of employment, well-being and quality of life. We need to work and consume less and focus on equality.

The adoption of GPI as a measure in Vermont, Maryland and Oregon is a good example for regional and local government in the UK to focus on economic development that better serves there citizens, as opposed to a blind pursuit of GDP. It is not however a fix-all.

Vermont’s Economic Development strategy still aims for growth in GDP, incomes and jobs alongside an increase in the GPI. Which as Zencey points out, suggests a failure to realise the impossibility of infinite GDP growth. It is nevertheless an important step in re-examining the way economic development is pursued.

The adoption of GPI won’t make bring a sustainable, prosperous, post-growth economy into being by itself. There are significant national and international reforms needed to do that. But a focus on genuine progress would be a vast improvement on current regional economic development policy making.

It would be interesting to see how Manchester has performed in relation to the GPI in recent years, I have yet to come across an attempt to measure this. What priorities for economic development would it now throw up?

Chances are it would throw into question some of the priorities currently taken for granted under the deceptive idea that Economic Growth is still a relevant measure of economic progress or prosperity.

Greater Manchester still needs to join up its policies – for a Viable Economy.

The focus of GM policy is driven by economic development and growth, with comparatively less emphasis on environmental or social considerations, or at least, less integration between them. In particular, there is less policy emphasis placed on social inclusion, equality and diversity of opportunity, with the possible exception of addressing fuel poverty.

From Beth Perry’s article about the SURF research on ‘sustainability governance’ in Greater Manchester, a year ago.  Nothing much has changed since then.

Steady State Manchester continues to press for a Viable Economy where Economic, Social and Ecological well-being and justice are of integrated, equal importance.

Supermarkets, levies and the social franchise

(open clipart)

(open clipart)

We have referred in recent posts to the idea of the social franchise.  This framework for local policy has been advocated and developed by colleagues at the CRESC research unit (Manchester and Open Universities).  The idea is simple: by operating in a local area, businesses have an obligation that goes beyond mere market considerations.  They are in effect operating a franchise from the local population and its elected (local) government – they get to make a profit and we provide labour, a market, and favourable conditions such as planning permission and often hidden subsidies (like the UK’s low and frequently avoided rate of corporation tax).  What do we, the community get back in return?

The social franchise particularly applies to those large businesses that are place-based.  They are part of what CRESC call the Foundational Economy: that mundane but large and relatively resilient part of the economy that isn’t going to go away, that keeps on going despite economic storms – utilities, retail banking, health and social services, food processing, and much distribution and retail.  Quite a world away from the glamorous hi-tech, financial, media industries beloved of the orthodox city leaders and the priesthood of advisors – although let’s remember that the boundaries of the Foundational Economy are not necessarily fixed or total – it may be a matter of degree.

How do we get big firms to deliver on the social franchise?

Enfield council has shown the way with its work with the utilities and supermarkets.  They called them in for a discussion. Not all played ball but some did, including British Gas which agreed to employ more staff locally.  Contracting with local small businesses was also under discussion.

There are other ways too.  Derby council, together with 18 other authorities has just approached the ‘government in London’ proposing a levy on big supermarkets under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.

Specifically the proposal is for government to give local authorities the power to introduce a levy of 8.5% of the rateable value on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable annual value not less that £500,000 and for the revenue to be retained by local authorities in order to be used to help improve their local communities. This could generate hundreds of millions of pounds for local authorities across the country to spend on making their areas more sustainable.
http://sustainablefoodcities.org/newsevents/news/articleid/41/supermarket-levy

It already exists in Scotland (9.3% levy) and Northern Ireland (8.5%), so we know its possible.

 Evidence shows that the revenue from the Northern Ireland levy has helped over 8,000 small businesses in Northern Ireland and has had no negative impact on jobs. The levy is being used to help public services in Scotland.  (source as above)

 63 other local authorities have also backed the call.  I can’t find the list of which these are – maybe some Greater Manchester authorities have also backed the Derby 19.   Is Manchester one?……

…….NO.  Astonishingly, the council has said it will not back the proposal.  Jeff Smith, executive member for housing and regeneration, is quoted, by the Evening News as saying:

“We work very hard to bring in big supermarkets because they provide much-needed regeneration.

“we want to encourage them and not run the risk of putting them off.”

He said they brought both regeneration and jobs to more deprived areas – and created large retail developments which meant investment in the surrounding areas.

But as Councillor Ranjit Banwait, Leader of Derby City Council says:

Research has shown that 95% of all the money spent in any large supermarket leaves the local economy for good, compared to just 50% from local independent retailers; this levy is a modest attempt to ensure more of that money re-circulates within and continues to contribute to local jobs and local trade.
http://www.derby.gov.uk/whats-happening-in-derby/news/supermarket-levy/

The evidence for this claim can be found in work from New Economics Foundation.  The idea that supermarkets can help local regeneration seems to come from a report from Demos that was roundly criticised on the basis of the evidence from here and in North America, when it appeared.

Supermarkets siphon money away from local communities and towards shareholders and distant corporations. A study by NEF (the New Economics Foundation) found that £1 spent in a local shop selling local produce puts twice as much money back into the local community as £1 spent in a supermarket. An analysis of procurement spending conducted by Northumberland County Council with NEF has shown that£1 spent with local suppliers is worth £1.76 to the local economy, while £1 spent with suppliers out of the area is worth 36 pence. A Friends of the Earth study of local food schemes found that on average just over half of business turnover was returned to the local economy, compared to as little as 5 per cent for supermarkets.
http://anotherstirchley.wordpress.com/whats-wrong-with-supermarkets/

I had a brief conversation with Jeff about this on twitter:

 

So we’ll see.  Maybe Manchester is, as Jeff suggests in the MEN article, ‘different’.  But if so it really needs to demonstrate the economic benefits, taking into account the well documented outflow (a.k.a “leaky bucket”, “leaching effect”) of the big supermarkets on the local economy.  Exam question to our council:  “How do you secure the social franchise for Mancunians?”.

For now at least we are stuck with these giants.  We need to see how we can tame them, capturing some of their money flows to use them in for the public good.

And while we are on it – how about we all refuse to use those automatic tills that are springing up everywhere.  That could be an agenda item for Manchester’s first calling to account meeting with the supermarket chains.  OK, supermarket jobs are not the best ones in the world, but they do (did?) make a contribution to many families’ income.  If the council’s priority is as Sir Richard has, I think said, “Jobs, jobs, and jobs”, what are they doing with their friends Aldi, Asda, Tesco and the like to protect them?

updated, 31 July, 2014

Can we end aviation dependency, and meanwhile how to spend the profits?

 

Last year Manchester City Council received what was described as a windfall of some £14m from its share of Manchester Airport Group. The other Greater Manchester councils have received a smaller, proportionate share.

This year the figure is £16.23m according to Manchester Evening News. It might seem puzzling that this is termed a windfall, since so long as Manchester Airport Group returns a profit, then there is a constant stream of money. But maybe it is safe to regard it as an unreliable, since levels of aviation are vulnerable to economic downturns, and while we know that there will be another financial crash, we don’t know when it will come.

In this piece we will,

1) consider what the airport contributes to Manchester’s well-being, and the costs involved,

2) suggest that there should be a strategy to use the funds the airport brings in to reduce levels of flying while building up other areas of the economy,

3) comment on how the money might be used, suggesting some principles to guide the use of non-recurrent monies.

1) The airport’s contribution to our well-being.  £16 Million sounds like a lot of money, but in relation to the council’s overall budget of £555,164 it is relatively small (2.88%). The airport does make a significant contribution to levels of employment and income in the city and region (although this is often over-estimated), but if our assertion above about the vulnerability of aviation to economic shocks is correct, then putting a lot of eggs in this basket is not a good strategy. Elsewhere we have criticised at greater length the strategy of reliance on aviation-based inward investment.

We should also make the obvious point that, in addition to noise and green belt encroachment, air traffic is a very significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, yet there is a taboo about even discussing the matter in relation to Manchester’s carbon reduction plan: try inputting the search term aviation on the MACF website.

Here are our calculations on the carbon emissions and their rate of growth (note that we have not factored in the ”aviation multiplier” commonly used to recognise the particularly damaging impact of jet aircraft).

Airport growth and emissions: Manchester Airport Group
 
Manchester reported reported projection
  2011 2014 2015
tons CO2 2,201,717 2,488,779 2,607,293
annual growth   4.35% 4.76%
passengers 18,577,805 21,000,000 22,000,000
per capita 0.1185 0.1185 0.1185
       
       
Stansted reported reported projection
tons CO2 1,013,173 1,130,000 1,243,000
annual growth   -0.44% 10.00%
passengers 18238050 18,000,000 19,800,000
per capita 0.0556 0.0628 0.0628
       
Sources 1 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4
Key to Sources
1 http://awsw.co.uk/allco2/index_co2.html
2 http://stopstanstedexpansion.com/documents/Estimation_of_CO2_emissions_2014_R.pdf
3 http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/business/greater-manchester-councils-30m-windfall-7421612
4 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/36bd3f1a-0b8a-11e4-8693-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=uk#axzz37cmialAm
calculated
Emissions estimates do not include a multiplier for the additional impact of aviation emissions.
Growth rates for 2014 are based on the average since 2011.

 

2) A strategy to reduce aviation dependency. Our view is that in a world with an outside chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we should have a strategy to firstly cease airport expansion and secondly to downsize this sector, reducing and ending the ‘aviation dependency’ of the region’s economy. Some of the profits from the current operation could and should be used to build this strategy. Again we have discussed this elsewhere, suggesting that we need to construct a post-growth replacement economy, that is selectively grown while the damaging sectors are progressively shrunk. But while we live in awe of ‘the market’ and depend on the growth of other economies (China comes to mind), then our leaders will remain too timid to take this necessary plunge.

3) Spending it. So that’s one way to spend some of the ‘windfall’. What principles should guide the spending of the rest of it? We know that one off sums can be difficult to put to good use. Much council expenditure, directly or in directly, is recurrent. That is to say it isn’t a one-off expenditure but requires money to be spent every year. That’s mostly because it pays people’s wages, and services the council pays for, whether direct, such as looking after people are labour intensive.

It is perhaps therefore not very surprising that the council’s ideas on how to spend last year’s windfall were seen by some as vague and cosmetic, although doubtless some good was achieved through the “clean and green” scheme.

There are some tricks in spending non-recurrent monies to get the best benefit. Here are some of them (and we aren’t suggesting that all the examples we mention can be funded from this year’s £16M).

Principle one is to spend on things that will make a positive impact on people’s lives. So spending on affordable housing, in the context of a shortage (as a result of years of neoliberal government policy), is a good example. It also means a ‘multiplier effect’ as jobs are created, and people spend their wages in the local economy.

So that’s principle number two: spend in ways that multiply the benefit. Spend on fitting highly effective insulation to the 90% of the housing stock that need it would save residents money by reducing fuel bills, create jobs and build skills, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions – not to mention reducing fuel imports to improve the UK’s trade deficit and reduce vulnerability to external shocks. That’s the idea behind the New Green Deal Group’s proposal for Green Quantitative Easing, but it could be done locally.

That in turn suggests principle three: spend for the benefit of future citizens and for environmental benefit. We need to really ‘clean up the city’, so it reduces its ecological footprint. Retrofitting insulation is just one example of this. How about kick starting community energy generation, community food production, or community textile production? Our idea of investing to reduce airport dependency is another.

Principle four is about another kind of multiplier effect – invest to reduce ongoing expenditure, so that the council has more money available, recurrently in future years. To give just one example, supported housing for learning disabled people is expensive to staff because it is based on the ordinary housing stock. Investing more money in well designed supported housing options could pay for itself quickly. Without any wishful thinking about ‘reducing welfare dependency’ or promoting overall economic growth (or returning to institutional human warehousing), judicious investment can mean there is more to spend in future years.

Local government has the responsibility to make good use of its resources. To do that, our present system, like it or not, vests that responsibility in elected members and officers. But it is always good practice to consult in a meaningful way and get ideas from people in the city.

Mark H Burton

 

Germany: a case study in the post-growth economy?

Old German cityscape

Cityscape of Rothenburg, Germany by Helm42 via http://openclipart.org

We can’t possibly do without economic growth! This is the mantra repeated by the political and economic establishment, from the far right to the Trade Union movement’s leadership. This claim we know to be illiterate in terms of social welfare, distribution and ecology but could an economy actually function without growth?

There have been attempts to answer this question by ecological economists Peter Victor and Tim Jackson. Victor conducted macroeconomic modelling based on the Canadian economy to demonstrate that growth is not necessary to prevent poverty, unemployment, and economic collapse. Jackson used this material in his Prosperity Without Growth report and book.

But it has also been argued that capitalism relies on, is for the purpose of, capital accumulation and therefore has a built in requirement for growth. However, it is instructive to look at what is by most accounts a successful modern developed economy with low growth rates to try and understand the issues. What follows is an initial look at some of the statistics about the German economy, in comparison with that of the UK, in relation to this question.

click to READ MORE (.pdf document) Germany as a case study in post growth

Manchester’s new housing deal: more questions than answers.

Manchester City has signed a new housing deal with Manchester City! Yes, that’s what we said, where “Manchester City” of course means Manchester City Council and strangely enough (in Manc. English) “Manchester City” also means Manchester City Football Club.

Even stranger, that football club is owned by an investment company the

On the right, Sheikh Monsoor, whose company Manchester City Council has signed the deal with. (via wikipedia)

On the right, Sheikh Mansoor, with whose company Manchester City Council has signed the deal (via wikipedia)

Abu Dhabi United Group, the personal fiefdom of one Mansoor bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minster of the United Arab Emirates, the federation of small absolute monarchies on the Arabian Peninsular, with innovative social policies such as the use of torture, capital punishment, high levels of labour exploitation, and 14-year prison terms for homosexuality. It is also the country with the world’s highest per capita ecological footprint, although reported to be concerned to reduce it.  It is actually with this company that the deal has been signed.

According to the council’s news story:
The partnership will see, as Phase One of the programme, the provision of more than 830 homes in Ancoats and New Islington, bringing significant impetus to both areas and helping to complete their redevelopment. The agreement forms the first phase and foundation of the Manchester Life initiative and builds on the regeneration activity that has been led by Manchester City Council in collaboration with a range of partners over the last 15 years.

The predominantly privately rented homes will strengthen Manchester’s economic growth trajectory by providing much needed residential units, helping the city achieve its Residential Growth Strategy to build tens of thousands of new homes by 2027.

and quoting Richard Leese, it goes on to say:

“Today’s announcement adds another commercial dimension to the already significant investment made by Manchester City Council and ADUG in East Manchester, and in doing so progresses the regeneration story which began in the 1990’s and was accelerated by the 2002 Commonwealth Games and ADUG’s recent development of the Etihad Campus.

“The planned transformation of the eastern edge of the City Centre is the single biggest residential investment Manchester has seen for a generation. Building thousands of quality new homes will be a fundamental part of our growth story and will deliver significant socioeconomic impact. We look forward to working with Abu Dhabi United Group to create a world class exemplar of regeneration.”

Everything else that is available to us public can be found in the report to the Council’s Executive Group this week. Among other things, this gives the background to Manchester’s “Residential Growth Strategy”. There is a further “commercially sensitive” report that we are not allowed to see.

Now, we don’t want to pour cold water on a scheme to provide modern housing in the

It's desolate there

It’s desolate there

desolate areas to the North East of Great Ancoats Street. The Keynesian part of our thinking would also acknowledge the effectiveness of housing construction in facilitating local economic activity, through the multiplier effect of jobs and incomes being created locally. Although the ecological economic part of our thinking would also want to consider how that prosperity could be kept local, instead of leaching out to other economies and to damaging, emission-intense consumption. Moreover, increasing population density in the city could be a good thing, ecologically – although the motives for doing this are as usual tied to the dreary and unimaginative economic growth mantra rather than to any considerations of re-localisation of economic and social activity. But there are some questions that need answers if the Manchester public (and electorate) is to be able to form an informed view about the benefits of the deal.

1) Where is the social housing in the scheme? The documents emphasise the private rented sector. Does a Labour council really want to be encouraging more of this? And are there any plans to follow the example of some of the London boroughs to introduce a mandatory register of private landlords?

2) The documents also talk about stimulating the housing market. Alarm bells ring here for two reasons: firstly, what scoping studies have been done to model the supply and demand for such housing, and what are their assumptions? or are we going to end up with yet more empty properties, as with the boom in office space? Secondly, if the strategy was successful in encouraging a stimulation of the housing market, what would be the consequences for house prices in the city? We know that it is house price inflation that is driving the bubblecovery in GDP in the UK (that and the return to rising personal and household indebtedness). So is the council actually playing with fire here. Wouldn’t affordable rented accommodation in the (now) quasi-public sector (housing associations, housing trusts, arms length management organisations, housing co-operatives) be a better priority?

3) The details of the deal remain completely opaque – to those of us outside the ‘golden circle’ anyway. How much money is the Abu Dhabi company putting in, and what do they expect to get out of it? So can the council assure us that this is what University of Manchester researchers at CRESC call the “social franchise”? That means capturing a share of corporate profits, that owe their existence to the ‘license’ the firms have to operate in the council’s area, something Manchester should be doing with the many companies (especially utilities, supermarkets, and financial institutions) that operate on its territory. Or, is this just another instance of corporate rent-seeking, with the council’s approach being little more than hoping for trickle-down of benefits to the multiply deprived districts of the city? We remain agnostic about this: it could well be a case of the former (social franchise) – but if so the council needs to explicitly state this and explain how the city will benefit. Otherwise we can be forgiven for assuming the latter (rent-seeking).

4) The reports talk about two deals. One is with the Abu Dhabi group. The other is with the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA). This one looks like a pragmatic approach to overcoming the barriers to using the assets from land sales for further housing investment, and to pull in further investment for house building. Again, it would be helpful to know more, and specifically what will the criteria be for:

a) Selecting investors? Can anyone play, or will there be a preferential option, for example, for socially responsible companies, some of which are players in the construction industry?

b) Approving construction proposals? What will be the energy and ecological characteristics of these new housing units?

c) Designing the physical, and most importantly the social dimensions of the new developments? Previous regeneration has emphasised physical regeneration, building, that is, and had little real understanding of how communities work, how they develop, and how real community can be facilitated.

In short, how will this Manchester Place deal secure the maximum social, ecological and economic well-being?
Finally, how will the public interest in these questions be represented?

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The oppression of long working hours

Employees in the UK worked a record amount of unpaid overtime during 2013, with the number of people regularly doing unpaid work at the highest levels since comparable records began in 1998.In the North West we are working at an above average rate of 7.9 hours per week. This is indicative of a workforce here in the North West which is under increasing pressure to work extra hours, without actually getting paid for the work they are putting in. These telling statistics should also be considered in the context of the fact that in the UK full time employees worked the third longest working hours in Europe at the last count. Long working weeks can be typical in a capitalist system where corporations produce items or provide services solely to maximise profit. Or as Marx described ‘ the prolongation of the working day, beyond the limits of the natural day, into the night…quenches only in a slight degree the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour. To appropriate labour during all 24 hours of the day is, therefore, the inherent tendency of capitalist production.’

Adding to this pressure to work longer the two main political parties seem intent on pedalling a ‘hard working families’ agenda. I recently attended Ed Miliband’s keynotes speech on the NHS here in Manchester where I was dismayed to see the words ‘ Hardworking Families Better Off’ draped on all four corners of the stage. As was pointed out by an audience member on the evening this could easily have been a conservative party tag line, whose own MP’s, MEPS and councillors never fail to mention ‘hardworking families’ in any interview they give on television or in the press. It is no wonder then that there seems to have been a cultural shift in Manchester where workers feel that if they are not working long hours then they are clearly not working hard enough and will be caricatured as a ‘shirker’ by peers and colleagues in line with the vicious characterisation by the right wing media in their constant attack on the welfare state since 2010. Indeed I have noted during the course of my working life the tactic of management accusing employees of not working as hard as their colleagues. I often wondered to myself whether every employee was in fact accused of this.

Despite this fetishizing of the hardworking families not one of the 3 main political parties has, at the present time, actually pledged to cap working hours during the next electoral term or even put in place measures to reduce them. This is in spite of the negative health, social, environmental and economic impacts that long working hours have. Without being in any way exhaustive I list a few of the more immediately apparent impacts below:
1. Long working hours for some means less jobs for many. If someone is regularly working 70 hours a week then it should be apparent that in fact there are two jobs available. Reducing working hours would redistribute paid work more evenly across Manchester;
2. There are numerous physical and mental health problems associated with working long hours on a regular basis. These include hypertension, heart disease, fatigue, stress, depression and diabetes;
3. Long employed working hours have an adverse effect on the amount of unwaged ‘work’ we can do which is equally vital to society. For example, we have less time to look after elderly relatives, our children or other friends and family who require care; and
4. John Bekken observes that automation and other innovations result in output per hour doubling every 25 years or so, yet average working hours are not decreasing. As Don Fitz additionally notes as far back as 1989 J.W Smith argued that ‘we could eliminate much industrial pollution and conserve our precious dwindling resources by eliminating the 50% of industry that is producing nothing useful for society.’

A reduction in working hours therefore is vital if we are to cut back on the amount of natural resources we are using when we are currently using the equivalent of 1.5 planets worth of resources each year. Back in May 2013 Steady State Manchester suggested to the Manchester City Economic Scrutiny Committee that a campaign should be launched to ban the opt out option on the European working time directive and to also extend the councils own 35 hour week maximum to its contract partners via its procurement exercises. These proposals would certainly be an achievable and viable short term goal in order to tackle the immediate effects of unpaid overtime. However, if, as Jon Bekken observes, we have been doubling output per hour for the last 25 years then a much shorter week is not only desirable but wholly necessary in order to have profound long term effects on the four outcomes listed above. To this end the New Economic Foundation have argued in fact we should be moving towards a 21 hour working week. That work pattern would comfortably provide us with necessities such as healthcare, housing and energy but would significantly reduce the amount of disposal, consumable items that are being produced and harming the planet. Such a reduction would give people back control over their time allowing them to decouple from carbon intensive past times, care for others and act as equal partners with professionals and other public service workers in co-producing well-being.

The most difficult element of attempting to drastically reduce the average working week would seem to be offsetting the associated drop in incomes. For such a system to flourish for all we would undoubtedly need a more progressive taxation system enabling large scale investment in free public services, as well as the enforcement of a living wage across all sectors. A further, more radical proposal would be the introduction of a ‘universal basic income’ as was proposed at the Future of Work Event organised by ‘We Are Plan C’ in Manchester recently. In other words each person in Manchester would be entitled to a set amount each year from the state which would cover the basic needs such as housing, food and energy. This would be very definitely un-means tested and would be a right with no potential for sanction. With the material necessities in life taken care of it may be that in these circumstances people decide to work much less 21 hours. The crucial element however would be that people would have control over their time and would be empowered to be able to make choices as to how they wish to work and for how long. After all if we are not working for a healthier, happier life and in jobs we feel make a positive contribution to our communities then why are we working?

Robert J Brown