Green Party calls for a 'Free Time Index' to measure wellbeing

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GDP should be replaced as a measure of national wellbeing by an index showing how much free time people have to enjoy, according to the party

The policy, which follows another Green Party proposal for people to work a four-day week, will be unveiled by its new co-leaders, Siân Berry and Jonathan Bartley, at the party’s annual conference in Bristol today.

The 'Free Time Index' would measure how much leisure time people have, taking into account both working hours and their commutes. It would be published once a year as part of the Budget, with the aim that it should increase every 12 months.

The Green Party argued that leisure time can contribute more to overall happiness than wealth. The new measure is intended to both improve people’s work/life balance and move society away from a culture of long working hours, given the changing expectations around employment from new technology.

In advance extracts from the leaders’ speech, Berry, who is a member of the London assembly and a councillor in Camden, said it was “time to shift away from the culture that sees us work harder and harder for longer and longer, often without reward or satisfaction, and to recognise that true freedom will only be found when people have more control of their time and how it is spent”.

Bartley, who leads the Green opposition on Lambeth council, said the aim is to allow people “the time to have a family life, relax, and pursue the things they care about”.

“It should be an aim of the government to see a yearly increase in this Free Time Index, so that the quality of time that is truly our own becomes the real measure of wellbeing,” he said.

However, Ben Dellot, head of the Future Work Centre at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), said that trying to achieve a good work/life balance can’t be done through a simple policy change alone.

"Enthusiasm for a four-day working week is gathering steam, and rightly so. An RSA/Populus survey in 2017 showed that a third of people often put in 'excessive hours’ in the workplace. But a healthier work/life balance won’t be realised at the flick of a policy switch. Just look at the case of France, which tried to establish a 35-hour working week in 2000 with dismal results,” he said.

He added that employers should also work on improving working cultures where excessive hours are encouraged.

“Employer practices are what determines whether people toil excessively, not edicts from Whitehall. We need to put more social pressure on employers to remove ‘expectation clauses’ in staff contracts, to limit the use of work technology outside of working hours, and to stress upon their employees that burning the midnight oil is not part of organisational culture. At the very least employers should pay people for any overtime they do," he added.

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