This morning on Week in Westminster, the MP for Wyre Forest Mark Garnier was invited to reflect on the Governments decision to slash tax credits for 1000’s of working families. He responded to a challenge from Frank Field MP who argues that these cuts will hurt the very people that the Government has claimed it wants to help, those it has described as the strivers. The men and women who George Osborne described as getting up early in the morning and walking to work past the homes of people on benefits who have the curtains shut because they are still in bed. Mark Garnier did not duck the issue (probably the only good thing that could be said about his contribution on the programme) and instead agreed with Frank Field that this was the case. He attempted to justify the decision by pointing out the need to repay the national debt as quickly as possible, something that Frank agrees with. However the erudite Mr Garnier did have a solution in mind. This is either that employers would need to pay their workers more, or else these workers will need to work for a few extra hours each week. This is what I would term horological easing, a new Government way of balancing the books for our society.
The idea of finding a few more hours in the day in which to work (even assuming that there is more work for these men and women to do) is hardly a new one. Most workers wanting to increase their incomes will have already considered this and pressed it as far as they can. The down side is that the longer hours that existing workers work, will reduce the prospects for new workers to get a job. Working a few hours extra is not simply a matter of turning a handle. In some businesses it is very straightforward, particularly where there is a shortage of employees. However for those on zero hours contracts, they are entirely dependent on the work that is available. Even in businesses that could expand, by increasing the hours at work, employees are thereby reducing their time to rest, to spend with their family, to volunteer in the community. Its a shame that Mr Garnier is not bright enough to think through the consequences of his actions and ideas. Would this work in the House of Commons? Perhaps if those MPs that unlike Mr Garnier do not already work 100+ hours a week (he claimed this in 2012) were to stop their extra curricular roles and focus on their constituencies and their neighbouring constituencies, we could see a drop in the number of MPs. After all they have just had an 11% pay rise. If we cut the number of MPs by say 11% the cost saving would more than cancel out the increase in this pay settlement. Sadly Mr Garnier who has a background in investment banking was not really thinking about people like himself, he was instead thinking about people like some of his constituents who are on much lower salaries than his publicly funded wage. It is fine for them to be forced to work longer hours, while he continues to do what he has been doing for the last 5 years. No pressure on MPs to work more for less, indeed the very opposite.
Of course horological easing is something other people are already aware of. Children attempt it when being sent to bed (a few minutes more please is their cry). All of us in our adult lives can think of situations where only a few more minutes would resolve the matter in hand. Sadly all too often there is no more time to be had. The truth is that horological easing is as real as Unicorns and Mother Goose. Clearly if Mr Garnier wants to believe in those things, no one would want to stop him. However he should be stopped from saying such stupid things on national radio, when vulnerable people might be listening!