British workers 'among worst idlers', suggest Tory MPs

Car plant Unions say British workers put in some of the longest hours in Europe

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British workers are "among the worst idlers in the world", a group of Conservative MPs has claimed.

The UK "rewards laziness", does not encourage risk-taking and must strive to emulate the work ethic and low-tax culture in parts of Asia, the five MPs argue in a book due out next month.

The authors include Elizabeth Truss and Dominic Raab, both tipped to be promoted in a future reshuffle.

"Too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work," they argue.

The other contributors to Britannia Unchained are Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Kwasi Kwarteng, influential members of the "class of 2010" - MPs elected to Parliament at the last election.

Unions described their comments as "ridiculous" and said the most serious challenge facing the economy was a "severe lack of jobs".

'Rewarding laziness'

The MPs' arguments will intensify the debate in the coalition government about how to reverse the slide in the economy, which has seen the UK slip into a double dip recession.

Many Conservatives on the right of the party argue the government's pro-growth initiatives are inadequate and that changes to the labour market, tax cuts and other "supply side" measures needed to boost competitiveness are being held back by the Lib Dems.

The five MPs - who are all members of the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs - say the UK needs to reward a culture of "graft, risk and effort" if it is to compete with fast-growing nations.

"Britain will never be as big as China and Brazil but we can look forward to a new generation, ready to get to work," they argue in excerpts of the book published in the Evening Standard.

"If we are to take advantage of these opportunities, we must get on the side of the responsible, the hardworking and the brave.

"We must stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk and rewarding laziness."

The UK, they argue, is being held back by an excessive public sector, substantial public sector pension liabilities and a welfare system which does not provide sufficient incentives to work.

'Poor productivity'

Most controversially, they suggest "poor productivity" is due in part to attitudes to work in the UK - which they compare unfavourably with countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.

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

Start Quote

The problem with the UK economy is not its workers, but a severe lack of jobs”

End Quote Brendan Barber TUC General Secretary

Under the EU Working Time Directive, most employees cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours although the UK has an opt-out enabling people to request to work longer if they choose.

The coalition government is currently planning to raise the retirement age for men and women to 67 by 2025, eight years earlier than previously planned.

In contrast, new French president Francois Hollande has said he wants to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers.

'Lack of demand'

Unions said the millions of people out of work or working fewer hours than they wanted would find the MPs' arguments "deeply irritating".

"The problem with the UK economy is not its workers, but a severe lack of jobs," said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

"It's not the UK work ethic which is holding the country back but a lack of demand in the economy - a situation that is being made considerably worse by government spending cuts.

He added: "Economic success won't come about by turning the screw on British workers, but by investing significantly in jobs, skills and infrastructure for the future."

Ministers say efforts to reduce the deficit and to unlock growth in the economy go hand in hand.

The government has promised further initiatives to boost employment and investment in the autumn on top of recent announcements on housebuilding, broadband and train building.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1429.

    Spot on. It's about time this problem is acknowledged. Having moved to Singapore from the UK, the difference is unbelievable. Businesses are relocating from the UK because of the double whammy of punitive taxation and a poor workforce.

    The choice is to be in denial, attack the MPs who said this and watch the jobs slip away, or tackle the problem head-on and bring prosperity back to the country

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    I cannot believe what I am reading. In which country does these MP live in ?
    I have worked for several companies in the UK, and always encountered hard working people (even working extra hours and taking on extra-duties for the sake of the company).
    Strange coming from MPs who probably never did a hard day work in their lives (and certainly do not know what working in bad conditions means)

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    How dare you, Tory MP's, tell me that I am lazy. How dare you.
    I am a very hard working single parent (single due to a relationship breakdown not due to choice). I work in the public sector, I sit down at my desk at 9am and I don't look up til I take a 30 minute lunch break, then I start again for the afternoon. I do this week after week and I take home less than £800 per month.
    You digust me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    The Germans work less hours, take more holidays, have a better quality of life, their children have shorter school days and are more productive. Mainly because they have a better government, better management and an investment culture, rather than a quick profit 'city' culture. Perhaps a fact finding mission might be in order to see what we can learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 756.

    Well done to the MP's for having the courage to say what many people know but are afraid to say. Have a look around your city/town centres today at not only the unemployed but also the unemployable, generally young men with no ambition or direction. Jobs are there for those who want them, my father had to find another job in his 60's when the shipyards closed so why cant the young do the same.


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