Saturday, 13 November 2010

When part time becomes 'workshy'

THERE can't be a part timer alive who hasn't come across someone convinced they are taking the easy way out: that doing 'only' two days a week means you're slacking, not serious, or spending the rest of your time watching Trisha.
But whatever people's private prejudices, until now the state has not ruled on whether and when we 'should' be working more hours. Is that about to change?
There's a strange little clause buried in last week's welfare reform plans which suggests it might be. The headlines were all about taking benefits away from dole claimants who won't take a job, but the small print of the white paper's chapter on conditionality suggests in future, ministers might also target people working limited hours.
It's technical and complicated but would basically involve raising the threshold for intervention to include people who are working but not earning much, and so still get some benefits intended for the lowpaid - like, for example, housing benefit. These people could then presumably be told to increase their hours or risk losing some of that state help. As the paper explains, the government could then 'encourage people to increase their earnings and hours in a way that we have never been able to do before', until they're weaned off benefits all together.
In other words, if you're a part-timer not earning much (and many jobs that fit around school hours are badly paid), you could be forced to try and work more.
There's very little detail about this will work, so perhaps it wouldn't apply to parents of young children. Perhaps it's just about ensuring people don't keep a black market job on the side, while doing the minimum in 'official' work to keep the JobCentre happy. But it sets a dramatic precedent.
Mothers who work part time often face the rather bitter comment that it 'must be nice to have the choice', as if we were all the pampered wives of rich spouses. But part time work exists in all income brackets and sometimes it's not a banker husband but the state that makes it feasible to spend time with your children.
Perhaps ministers think it's no longer fair for taxpayers who may themselves be doing long hours to subsidise other people's family lives. But if so, they should start a public debate about whether that's what we really want - preferably without reinforcing the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong, or lazy, about working less than five days a week.


  1. Arrgh!

    I'm beginning to think that this government is terrified of civil disorder, and is doing everything it can to reduce people's free time...

  2. Although we still have to fit in the expected Big Society volunteering...

  3. Some of us want a part-time job so we can move off Incapacity. We wouldn't be able to handle a full working week.

    Devil is always in the detail.

  4. I'm not sure that there is actually that much part time work outside of London for anyone that doesn't involve sitting at a till and making it go "bleep". My wife spent the best part of a year looking for something in East Sussex or west Kent that would allow for the school run and reflected a professional career spanning nearly 20 years. It seems that, outside of London and outside of "meejah", there really is very little for part-time professional women. So, should those women be forced to take any part-time job that is offered, even if it is Tesco? Well, probably they should - if there is work available and nobody else to fill it, then why should the state pay for a life without work? But how can the state ensure more part-time professional roles exist without putting yet another layer of law and paperwork onto business?

  5. Can I point Graybo towards the award-winning "Women Like Us" which exists to find part-time work for professional women. I hope it's helpful!

    On a wider point, I'm concerned about much of the language being used about welfare reform. We seem to be being encouraged to see the "workshy", scrounging masses as a drain on everyone else, without any recognition that society is a complex thing and people's needs may not be straightforward.

  6. Finding part time work that pays enough to cover the cost of child care is difficult. Before I went on maternity leave I had a few battles with my manager and considered resigning and looking for another job. Because I only wanted to be part time though I realised the options were limited, badly paid with a lack of options for those in professional roles. In the end I managed to negotiate a 50% job share under the flexible working policy. I work wonderful hours for more double I would get in a 'usual' part time role. I thank my lucky stars every day.

    As for what the new government is up to, I find my self torn between my selfish self interest and my higher principles. Do I think some people need society to protect them and fund a decent standard of living? Yes, of course. Do I resent that some of them have much nicer electronic goods than I do? Yes that too I'm afraid.

  7. I hadn't realised that was included - its a difficult area, not least in the absence of decent, affordable childcare