In praise of lie-ins

A group of influential young Tories have accused Britons of being "lazy".

A new book by the "young guns" of the Tory party – Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, all of whom are MPs of the 2010 intake – accuses Britons of being among "the worst idlers" in the world.

The Evening Standard reports:

The “young guns” from the new Right of the party called for a culture of “graft, risk and effort” to propel Britain into the “superleague” of nations. . .

“Too many people in Britain, we argue, prefer a lie-in to hard work,” they said. . .

“Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world,” they said. “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.”

The economic crisis should be a “wake-up call” of the need to “rediscover the lost virtue of hard graft”.

Of course Britons prefer a lie-in to hard work. Hard work is hard, whereas lie-ins are easy and refreshing. You get to sleep, which is really nice, and then when you stop sleeping, you don't have to go to work, which can be a real effort. What's not to like?

The line is emblematic of a growing fetishisation of work qua work. There is indeed evidence that long-term unemployment can be hugely damaging to people's health, both mental and physical; but at the same time, it should not be forgotten, as it so frequently is by the professional classes, that many people hate their jobs.

If you are an MP, it's possible to go to work, and feel enormously satisfied with all that you have achieved throughout the day. If you are a very energetic MP, maybe you really do prefer to go to Parliament in the morning than stay in bed.

Good for you. But if work is a nine to five grind, that attitude is hard to take.

As LabourList's Mark Ferguson wrote following a similar fetishisation of the value of work from David Cameron:

That’s not to say that I didn’t learn anything from my time working at my local supermarket. I spent many evenings there, and weekends, and long, hot depressing summers that I thought would never end. Working at a supermarket wasn’t (by and large) fun, but it was a necessity. It allowed me to earn a wage that gave me a sense of independence and helped pay my way first through sixth form, and then university. You’ll have noticed a crucial word there – “pay”. I can guarantee that none of the people I worked with in that Gateshead supermarket were there for job satisfaction. They were there for the money.

Not everyone can do jobs they like. It's an unfortunate truth of society. But patronising talk and accusations of "laziness" from MPs who have the good fortune to like their career doesn't make that unfortunate truth any more palatable.

A couple lie in bed in Sydney. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.