Big Society and the 21-hour week

A shorter working week would not only slash the benefits bill but drastically improve public life.

David Cameron's Big Society proposal, supposed to breathe new vigour into Britain's public life, appears to have been dead on arrival. Denounced by many Conservatives as too "wooly", damned by others as a fig-leaf for cuts, and said to need major government spending to have any chance of working, Cameron must be wondering how to get his big idea off the ground.

Had he been sitting in a packed-out LSE lecture hall last week for the "About Time" presentation, he would have found the low-cost, practical solution to make the Big Society take off: the panel made the case for Britain adopting a 21-hour working week.

On a recent walkabout in Brixton, where I am a Councillor, I met Sandra, a single mum juggling work and child care. She was excited about a new scheme which gave local people a more direct say over youth services, but was frustrated she couldn't be involved. "I'd put the Big into the Big Society if I could," she said. "But when am I going to find the hours?"

If David Cameron really wants people like Sandra to "Join the Government of Britain" he needs to make more than just a call to arms. With a 21-hour week Sandra would not have to choose between work, caring for her family and being a more active part of her community: she could do all at the same time.

As well as providing the freedom for people to make a Big Society happen, a shorter working week would help create the conditions to make it viable. The demand for funded organisations to provide services on society's behalf would reduce as the entire nation became able to both work and volunteer. Britain's benefits bill would also be slashed by the full employment a 21-hour week would bring.

With free time making up the majority of the week, the improvements for family life, the environment and equality would also translate into lower crime, happier communities and better health. All of this would cost the state less as people could do more with their own lives. All they need to be given is the time.

To make a successful transition happen, government would need to take certain steps. One would be wealth redistribution to those with the lowest incomes, to ensure a dignified standard of living. There would also be a reduction of overall consumption; a socially agreed exchange in return for higher living standards in other areas.

Cameron would need to forge landmark agreements between employers and unions to increase the flexibility of work as hours were gradually reduced. He would also need the courage to see down those who decry these measures as utopian. They offer the best hope of bringing his promise of a Big Society to life.

Alex Holland is a Labour Councillor for Brixton Hill, Lambeth

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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.