These claims about our idleness just don’t add up

How's your week been so far? Working hard? Put in a full shift? Me too, although to be honest, being as I'm getting on a bit, I no longer do the workaholic hours my loved ones used to accuse me of.

My children do though. For them, spending 12-hour days earning a living, working time directive or no, is quite usual.

Unpaid overtime and weekend shifts are often expected too.

None is in a worthwhile pension scheme. None complains, they're pleased enough to be in gainful employment.

You can imagine though, that they would've been less than delighted to learn from the business secretary last week that, henceforth, they can get fired at the drop of a hat.


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But even that wouldn't have hurt as much as being labelled 'among the worst idlers in the world' by one of their local MPs.

In Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity, the South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss and four other co-author Conservative MPs put forward the view that school kids are fickle and workers lazy. In the classroom, they say, British pupils avoid the more difficult subjects.

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Then, on entering the workplace, they become idlers, working among the lowest hours, producing little and retiring early.

Stereotypically, they assert that, unlike Indian children who aspire to be doctors or businessmen, our children are more interested in football and pop music.

Let me try to defend our MP and her colleagues.

First, they might suggest that she wasn't necessarily talking about my children.

Something like: we're not saying all children avoid the hard subjects at school nor that all British workers are idlers.

Then, it could be said: of course, in South West Norfolk we have some of the hardest working people in the country.

I realise that politicians have access to shedloads of statistics and a veritable army of researchers, but before the conclusions of this true blue hued book become folk law, let me introduce a little fact-finding of my own.

Take that bit about UK students favouring 'easier' options.

The latest authoritative stats I could find show that the biggest uptake of GCSE subjects (by a country mile) is for mathematics (89pc), English (84pc) and science (62pc).

Media studies comes in as the lowly 21st choice of just 8.8pc of students.

At A-level, mathematics, psychology and biology are the top three choices while the most popular combination is biology, chemistry and maths. Sure, much maligned general studies is up there too, but don't knock it. As the OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations) awarding body says, the subject 'allows learners to gain a greater perspective and a clearer understanding of the world they live in... producing a more rounded, balanced world view.'

Which sounds like a must for everyone.

Media studies, by the way, still scores just 8.9pc.

As for that bit about our kids being besotted with football and pop music... PE/sports studies and music come in at 13th and 24th respectively in the list of most favoured GCSEs and 15th and 30th at A-level.

There's some interesting stuff about the limiting effects of deprivation on choice too, but that'll have to be a column for another day.

Now, about those idle British workers who our would-be JK Rowling thinks have a hankering to make it on X-Factor or play for the Canaries in the Premiership.

The data varies a little, but presents similar pictures.

At an average 43 hours, Britons work some of the longest days in Europe.

Only in little Austria, where the workers among its eight million inhabitants put in an average 44 hours, and that other whipping boy of the western world, Greece (43.7 hours), do they work longer than us.

Productivity is calculated, roughly speaking, by counting the number of people it takes to complete a particular task.

The fewer people, the higher the productivity rate. And one thing we don't need in this country is more people out of work.

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