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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Wrists, knees, terrible rages – I felt overwhelmed when Barry came to see me

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state.

To begin with, it seemed that Barry’s wrists were the problem. He told me about the pain he was experiencing, the pins and needles that came and went in his hands. I started to examine him. His palms were calloused, his fingers thick and stubby, veterans of the heavy work he’d undertaken throughout his 57 years. Even as I assessed this first problem, he mentioned his knees. I moved on to look at those. Then it was his back. I couldn’t get to grips with one thing before he veered to the next.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state. Barry was making me feel overwhelmed, the more so as I learned that he’d been experiencing all these problems for years.

“Why are you coming to see me about them now,” I asked, “rather than six months ago – or in six months’ time?”

“I need some time off, doc.”

There was something about the way he wouldn’t meet my gaze. And again, that feeling of being overwhelmed.

“What’s going on at work?” I asked him.

His tone hardened as he told me how he’d lost his temper a couple of days earlier. How one of the others had been winding him up, and something inside him had snapped, and he’d taken a swing at his workmate and landed a punch.

Barry had walked out and hadn’t been back. I tried to find out if he’d heard from his boss about the incident, if he knew what was likely to happen next.

He told me he didn’t care.

We talked some more. I learned that he’d been uncharacteristically short-tempered for months; his partner was fed up with being shouted at. Sleep had gone to pot, and Barry had taken to drinking heavily to knock himself out at night. He was smoking twice his usual amount. Men like Barry often don’t experience depression as classic low mood and tearfulness; they become filled with rage and turn in on themselves, repelling those closest to them in the process.

Depression is a complex condition, with roots that can frequently be traced right back to childhood experiences, but bouts are often precipitated by problems with relationships, work, money, or health. In Barry’s case, the main factor turned out to be his job. He’d been an HGV driver but at the start of the year his company had lost its operator’s licence. To keep the business afloat, his boss had diversified. Barry hated what he now had to do. He was now a “catcher”.

I didn’t know what that meant. Getting up at the crack of dawn, he told me, driving to some factory farm somewhere, entering huge sheds and spending hours catching chickens, thousands upon thousands of them, shoving them into crates, stashing the crates on a lorry, working under relentless pressure to get the sheds cleared and the birds off to the next stage of the food production chain.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he told me. “It’s crippling me, all that bending and catching.”

It wasn’t really his joints, though. Men like Barry can find it hard to talk about difficult emotion, but it was there in his eyes. I had a sudden understanding: Barry, capturing bird after panicking bird, stuffing them into the transport containers, the air full of alarmed clucking and dislodged feathers. Hour after hour of it. It was traumatising him, but he couldn’t admit anything so poncey.

“I just want to get back to driving.”

That would mean landing a new job, and he doubted he would be able to do so, not at his age. He couldn’t take just any old work, either: he had to earn a decent wage to keep up with a still sizeable mortgage.

We talked about how antidepressants might improve his symptoms, and made a plan to tackle the alcohol. I signed him off to give him some respite and a chance to look for new work – the one thing that was going to resolve his depression. But in the meantime, he felt as trapped as the chickens that he cornered, day after soul-destroying day.

Phil Whitaker’s novel “Sister Sebastian’s Library” will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt