It’s all right to do nothing

Yesterday: after college, (I attend two hours a week), I sat and did nothing. Nothing is a strange concept for me. I rarely do nothing! Despite not working full-time since 2004 (I trained and worked around 50 hours a week, giving up one of my precious days off to study an HNC in Social Care). I also studied at night school, for a Higher in Anatomy, Physiology and Health. I did this for a year, not noticing the occasions, while waiting to go to my evening class; the hot cup of coffee slipping from my hand. I’d wondered why my crotch was dark brown, my jeans damp. I hadn’t noticed this happening.

Then one night: I was meant to finish work at 11pm (often I was starting at 7am the next morning). It was nearly midnight, and I was still writing up my case notes, as I was expected to ‘run’ two houses, my clients being adult men with special needs. As I drove home, eager to be home and in bed, I hadn’t noticed that the car was slowly arching; just a few degrees, but enough that the car was not travelling in a straight line! It happened for what felt like just a few seconds, before I woke up, just in time to grab the steering wheel, as the car’s tyres made a rough sounding contact with the grass verge. I was shocked, but too tired to fully grasp that I had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Luckily – I was not hurt, no one else was involved. Had they been I’d have been charged with Dangerous Driving, yet it’s highly unlikely that my work would be charged with over-working me; this is still not a crime.

Last week; I saw listed a TV programme; a man who works 100 hours a week. Independent research shows that people that work more than 10 hours a day and over 40 hours a week experienced various negative effect, such as ‘fatigue and depression’. I won’t bore you with all the statistical analysis, as you’ll likely be aware of the many side- effects of ‘overwork’. In fact: for employees working 50 hours and more ‘little productive work occurs’, yet we’re still expected to work!

So why do we do it, why do we put ourselves through these physical and mental trials, that seem more and more acceptable to society and employers’ than ever before. Decade after decade we’re asked or is that forced to work more and more hours. We even have to sacrifice our free time, to attend work meetings and staff training on our day off. And what’s with the five day week, which if you ask me is the eleventh commandment: Thou shall work five days. Or six or even seven. Maybe it’s just as well we don’t have an 8th day, because you can bet your day off we’d be working that too.

Counter to popular belief, and the Tory ethic “Work Pays” many people find themselves in low-paid, manual, contracted, part-time work – which hardly ‘pays’ the bills, and cements one is poverty.

Another recent study; ‘surprisingly’ found that workers ‘who were tasked with working 55 hours a week showed cognitive results that were worse than those who were retired or unemployed.’ I’m surprised that the ‘unemployed’ – there’s that capitalist dirty word again are perceived as being less cognitively proficient simply because they don’t work. Again this depends on the definition of the word ‘unemployed’, which has been manipulated grossly by successive governments – or should that be the definition of the unemployed [already] in-work? Whatever; unemployed people rarely as conventionally portrayed by the mass media sit around doing nothing all day!

Has anyone else noticed, in many of the charity shops, a sign in the window pleading for volunteers? I have my own theory, after spending years volunteering for local charities. I once volunteered for one of a big charity, while I was on holiday from University – yes unemployed people go to university part-time, when I can drag myself off the stereotypical lazy bastard couch, and dreary discord of day-time TV. Now with the Department for Work and Pensions attitude towards disabled people – I became, can one ‘become’ disabled around 2007, after being diagnosed with Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), which ended the career I had studied, worked hard, and specialised in. I wonder if the culture of government oppression towards disabled people, and the fact that there is no no-man’s land when it comes to the ability to work; now makes both being fully fit for work and unable to work due to disability one and the same? Possibly the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has something to do with the visible lack of volunteers? After all, you can hardly be on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because you are unfit to work, yet be fit enough to undertake (‘permitted work’) up to 16 hours a week and earn up to £131.50 per week – and still be expected to be deemed unfit for work! Even voluntary work is now classed by the DWP as ‘work’.

And you’ll be shocked by Disability Rights UK: Factsheet 35, Permitted Work if you receive Universal Credit (UC). ‘If you have to search for work for 35 hours a week, and you spend up to 35 hours of that time volunteering, your still required to look for work for at least ‘17 hours a week’. Wait a minute! I thought folk on UC didn’t work? That’s a 52 hour week (and you’re not even employed!) No wonder no-one has the energy to volunteer! The advice to carers’ – the unsung back-bone of the burgeoning ‘volunteer’ social care system is even more demeaning. ‘You can volunteer for as many hours as you like, as long as you can still provide at least 35 hours of care each week.’ Okay, so caring for someone at ‘least 35 hours a week’, when the hell do you get time to volunteer or do permitted work, or even have a life?

Last week, while on-line, I read a reply on a Universal Credit support group. Someone had posted the usual retort, which I’ve always equated to the generic, and base rhetorical “Get back to where you belong:’ ‘that’ll be Ipswich then……………..!’ Brilliant reply – to an obvious racist! This time it was the equally bombastic; ‘Get a job……!’ Yes the bloody answer to everything in the capitalist ideology. The reply from the woman, who was worried about her UC payment, and her ability to pay her rent was simple; ‘I have a job.’

Most benefits are in work-benefits, and not just because the Tories have ‘tied- up’, more like gaged and suffocated the social security system; but because most folk that claim social security (benefits) do work. Of course I do not wish to spread Tory propaganda, and the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey’s reply to those workers’ struggling financially, despite working – to ‘take on more work.’ I’m simply stating that benefits are not the soul reliance of the unemployed.

According to Professor Colin McKenzie: ‘people over 40 are at their most productive when they’re only working three days a week…’ Work is also ‘a driver of stimulation for the brain, and so the main cause of fatigue, tiredness and stress.’ So, let me try and understand this. Work, and too much work is bad for you, it makes you ill, and in some cases it can kill you! I remember reading an article of work related injuries and death. For example: take last week’s government, public and media outpouring regarding the death of a police officer while on duty. As being a police officer is a high risk job. Actually it isn’t, besides most high-risk jobs are well paid; and that comment/fact is in no way support for the police! In fact police officers are not even in the top ten of ‘Most Dangerous & Hazardous Jobs in 2019.’ After all, when was the last time we had a nationally broadcasted one minute silence for a vet crushed by a large animal, or a delivery driver/courier carriers killed in a road accident? Even the armed forces is a safe occupation. ‘In 2018 the UK Regular Armed Forces were at a ‘significant statistically lower risk of dying’ compared to the UK general population.’ In 1999, ‘there was a loss of 99 (Army) lives due to hostile action.’ So even under conditions of war you’re statistically safer in an Afghan war zone than you are at work.

So why this obsession, and it is an obsession, monitored more than any other human practice – not only with the amount we work, but the conditions many of us work under. Take any morning on the motorway, and one witnesses the long tailbacks of traffic laboriously trudging to work. Why not stagger start times, so these are flexible, so everyone is not competing for the same space at the same time? That would be too convenient, plus the capitalists’ like us struggling, conforming, being forced into situations (like going to work) that we are compelled but loath to do!

Should work be classed as an illness? After all, how many people are ill because of having to work? There was an illness ‘neurasthenia’, albeit ‘ill-defined’, pardon the pun, first used in 1829 and also called ‘“American nervousness.”’ The ‘illness affected ‘fast-paced lives.’ Today modern illnesses’ affect the over-worked body and nervous system, such as ‘clinical depression, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum depression, and perhaps chronic fatigue syndrome and mononucleosis.’ For some reason ‘poverty’ or simply being ‘over-worked’ do not appear on the list.

But one does not need to crash and burn to suffer from over-work. ‘Novak and Auvil-Novak [1996] classed ‘Extended Work Shifts’ as 40 hours or more. It’s alarming that most of us in the UK already work a minimum of 48 hrs. In fact the government ‘working time directive’ or ‘working time regulations’ are set at 48hrs (although there is an opt out). Today there are people working up to 18 hrs a day, and up to 120 hrs a week! And what about time spent travelling to work, how many hours does that add to our working day in a job where you’re only entitled to ‘one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break if you work more than 6 hours a day?

We spend 13 years/90,000 hours of our lives feeding the capitalist machine that chews us up, and in many cases like mine – spits you out again as a mangled physical and mental wreak. We could be doing so much more with our one life, doing so many other things, and enjoying our lives. Job satisfaction – stuff it. I want life satisfaction!

David Adam