Monday 23 September 2019 / 12:06 PM Economy / John McDonnell

McDonnell commits Labour to shorter working week and expanded free public services as part of Labour’s vision for a new society

Outlining Labour’s commitment to “transforming lives, increasing fulfilment”, John McDonnell MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, today committed Labour to reducing the average working week to 32 hours within a decade and eliminating in-work poverty in the first term of a Labour government.

Alongside Labour’s pledge on free personal care, a shorter working week forms part of a radical set of policies that will enable people to live rich, fulfilling lives with the time and resources to spend in a clean, safe and pleasant environment.

Promising to “lay the foundations of a new society”, John McDonnell pledged a three-pronged approach to transforming the economy: expanding free universal public services, driving up wages and driving down living costs, and strengthening the social security system.

Drawing on a motion from the Communication Workers Union which was passed by Labour Party Conference earlier, McDonnell committed Labour to reducing the working week by setting up an independent Working Time Commission, based on the Low Pay Commission, to recommend increases in minimum holiday entitlements, and rolling out collective bargaining to enable trade unions and employers to negotiate how to meet the target in each sector. John McDonnell said:

“It’s not just about a fulfilling life at work, we should work to live, not live to work.

“As society got richer, we could spend fewer hours at work. But in recent decades progress has stalled and since the 1980s the link between increasing productivity and expanding free time has been broken. It’s time to put that right.

“So I can tell you today that the next Labour government will reduce the average full time working week to 32 hours within a decade. A shorter working week with no loss of pay. We’ll end the opt-out from the European Working Time Directive. As we roll out sectoral collective bargaining, we’ll include negotiations over working hours. We’ll require working hours to be included in the legally binding sectoral agreements between employers and trade unions. This will allow unions and employers to decide together how best to reduce hours for their sector. And we’ll set up a Working Time Commission with the power to recommend to government on increasing statutory leave entitlements as quickly as possible without increasing unemployment.”

McDonnell also launched Labour’s policy document, “Universal Basic Services:The Right to a Good Life”, promising to expand public services free at the point of use including childcare, post-school education, public transport for under-25s and school meals. On Universal Basic Services, John McDonnell said:

“My generation inherited a treasure of public parks, libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres.Free or affordable for all. But in too many cases they’re now gone. They’ve been privatised or have priced out the families they were built for.

“These public assets meant a better life for millions of us and were part of the strong welfare state that our movement fought for and built. But we mustn’t limit our ambition to repairing the damage caused by ning years of Tory cuts. We must go much further.

“I’m launching today our document on Universal Basic Services. It lays out our belief that everyone has a right to a good life, that the state has responsibility to make good on that right by providing public services free at the point of use. As socialists we believe that people have the right to education, health, a home in a decent safe environment and, yes, access to culture and recreation.”

As part of the expansion of Universal Basic Services, Labour will make personal social care free at the point of use, at an estimated annual cost of £6 billion according to the King’s Fund. Launching “Towards a National Care Service: Labour’s Vision”, John McDonnell said:

“As the first building block in our new National Care Service the next Labour government will introduce personal care free at the point of use in England. Funded not through the Conservatives’ gimmicky insurance schemes but, like the NHS and our other essentials, through general taxation.

“And we’re publishing the first steps of our National Care Service vision today. Investing in the workforce and ensuring they are employed on local authority rates of pay, working conditions and training to deliver high quality care, as Unison and GMB have advocated. 

“And over time, we will bring those services back into public ownership and democratic control. We’ll make sure that local councils have the necessary resources after years of savage cuts.Building up capacity in local government for both care homes and domiciliary care. And we’ll require all providers – public, private or charitable – to adhere to strict criteria on ethical standards.”

Pledging to eliminate the “modern evil” of in-work poverty, John McDonnell said:

“Labour has traditionally been committed to full employment. We have always believed that getting a job should be a means to lift yourself out of poverty. But under the Tories the link between work and escaping poverty has been broken. So I commit today that within our first term of office Labour will end in-work poverty.”

Paying tribute to the school climate strikers, John McDonnell said:

“They have shamed older generations of politicians into taking climate change seriously and with the urgency it needs. Now it’s essential that the labour movement continues to join in solidarity with those young people to help lead that fight. For my part, I will make sure the Treasury puts in whatever resources are necessary to meet our obligations.
“A Sustainable Investment Board, coordinating the Treasury, BEIS department and Bank of England. £250 billion of green government investment in a National Transformation Fund and two £250 billion more of lending through our National Investment Bank, delivered at grassroots level by regional development banks and our new Post Bank.

“And while the Labour government will need to take the lead, we’ll make whatever reforms are necessary to ensure the finance sector isn’t pushing the other way by investing in carbon-intensive sectors. We’re mobilising financial resources on a scale not seen since post-War reconstruction to achieve the twin goals of a sustainable future and a better today.”

On Brexit, John McDonnell said:

“I warn those who would revoke Article 50 without a democratic mandate, ask yourselves what message that sends to our people. An old professor of mine Bernard Crick was once asked to define socialism in one sentence. He said socialism is the achievement of equality through democracy. We can’t say to people ‘Labour wants you to share in the running of your workplace, your community and your environment, but we don’t trust you to have the final say over Brexit’”


Notes to Editors:

  • Labour’s commitment to a 32-hour average full-time working week within a decade is to be delivered by
    • Setting up a new independent Working Time Commission, modelled on the Low Pay Commission, to advise government on raising minimum holiday entitlements
    • Rolling out sectoral collective bargaining and putting working time at the heart of binding sectoral agreements, recognising that different sectors will need to respond in different ways, and trade unions will be at the heart of that.
    • Ending the “opt-out” from the Working Time Directive (see below), which allows employers to pressure workers into regularly working over 48 hours a week, and ask the Working Time Commission to recommend reductions from 48 hours.
  • The New Economics Foundation recommended in their report ‘Time for Demand’ “an external body be created to make independent recommendations to government on regular increases to annual statutory leave entitlement, and on a similar basis to the work currently done by the Low Pay Commission on minimum wages”
  • IPPR recommended in their report ‘The Future is Ours’ that working hours should be reduced by increased annual leave entitlements and the Working Time Directive opt-out should be abolished. 
  • UK workers currently work among the longest hours in Europe.
    • The centuries-old fall in average working hours has stalled since the 1980s, with some estimating we could be working 13% less if pre-1980 trends had continued:
    • The EU Working Time Directive limits working hours to 48 a week, but in the UK workers can “opt out” – something which is widely abused by employers pressuring staff to agree to longer hours. Trade unions have long campaigned against the “opt-out” and Labour will end it.
  • Labour’s new report “Universal Basic Services: The Right to a Good Life” can be downloaded from
    • Free personal care joins free higher and further education, childcare, school meals and bus services for young people as new pledges for Labour’s expanded vision of universal basic services.
  • Labour’s new social care document “A National Care Service: Labour’s Vision” can be downloaded from Labour will
    • Introduce free personal care for all older people, providing help with daily tasks such as getting in and out of bed, bathing and washing, and preparing meals in their own homes and residential care;
    • Address the funding gap in social care;
    • Support local authorities to directly provide, rather than outsource, care;
    • Support the care workforce better, to ensure that older people receive support from trained staff who have the time and skills needed to provide care.

The King’s Fund recently estimated the cost of free personal care would be £6bn in 2020/21, rising to £8bn in 2030/31 [p17]