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And on the fifth day the office worker went home and did the garden...

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

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How would you fancy a four-day week with the fifth working day spent on your garden? As Emily Beament reports, it is an idea being seriously suggested in some circles.

All employers should introduce the option of a four-day working week, with gardening promoted as a beneficial way of using the extra time, it has been suggested.

Spending less time in the office and gardening both have a range of benefits, and a scheme to provide a shorter working week and space for growing plants and food could "provide the answer to every headline problem at the moment", it was claimed.

Gardening and growing food are good for physical and mental health, improve the environment and boost wildlife in towns and cities and even help make urban communities more resilient against food price spikes and climate change.

But to harness the growing interest in gardening and "growing your own", more time and space for growing plant and vegetables in cities are needed, a leaflet by Andrew Simms, of the New Economics Foundation, and co-author Mollie Conisbee said.

So, all private and public employers should offer new recruits, and possibly existing staff, the option of a four-day week, either with the same amount of hours compressed into four days or a shorter working week with less pay.

Alongside the four-day week, employers should seek to provide urban growing spaces where people can grow vegetables and fruit, as well as plants and flowers which make cities look nicer and provide wildlife havens, their leaflet suggests.

Options range from rooftops, such as Thornton's Budgens supermarket in Crouch End, North London, which has a "food from the sky" project, to individual parking spaces in car parks which are being taken over in Los Angeles in the US as "parklets".

The shorter working week could increase employment, relieve pressure on public services as people are healthier and have more time to be carers, and allow people to save money doing tasks they would otherwise have to pay someone else to do.

The authors point to other places in the world where a shorter week has delivered benefits, such as Utah in the US where the working week for state employees was compressed into four days, saving the state millions of dollars.

Absenteeism, overtime and official transport use were reduced and carbon emissions cut by 14% in the experiment introduced as a response to the economic crisis in 2008.

Any UK scheme must be flexible in how the four-day week works so people on lower incomes can still earn the same amount of money, but Mr Simms suggested that higher-paid employees may find the benefits of the extra time outweigh a reduction in pay.

Reducing the amount of days worked could give more people the benefit of employment while cutting the worst excesses of, often unpaid, overwork, he said.

"I think it's not only feasible, it provides in one single initiative the answer to every headline problem we have at the moment. It answers everybody's problems and I see it as the next logical step in a very long historical process of whittling down the length of the working week.

"It has the potential of reducing pressure on public services as people are healthier and happier, as well as preparing urban spaces for climate change."

Growing trees and plants in urban areas could reduce the impact of rising temperatures in cities, and provide space for floodwater as extreme weather becomes more likely.

Mr Simms is outlining the scheme at the Horticultural Trades Association Garden Futures conference in London.

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