Sunday trading fails Cameron’s family test

First published 19 March, 2012, on Mail Online

Before the last election, David Cameron said that he knew that ‘reviving society’ was as important as reviving the economy. He talked about transferable tax allowances for married couples to recognise the social importance of marriage and the commitment of time taken out to be a full-time parent. He re-envisioned ‘loving your neighbour’ as the ‘Big Society’, with citizens taking back power from the state to volunteer or run co-operative organisations.

But as the news broke at the weekend that extending Sunday opening hours was part of the vision for economic revival and supply-side reform, I couldn’t help but wonder how the Prime Minister reconciled this with his determination to ‘revive society’?

George Osborne claimed on the Andrew Marr show that to keep Sunday trading times as they are sent the message that Britain was ‘closed for business’. It seems to me that extending them sends the message that we are open for exploitation.

Take those who already work on Sundays in the big retailers. It is totally naive to think that they will be given a choice over whether to work longer. With our unemployment levels and ineffective employee safeguards, people will have to work longer or risk losing their job. And as the large retailers open for longer, smaller retailers will feel greater pressure to extend their opening times – there aren’t many levels on which the small guys can compete with the large boys but opening times has been one of them.

Instead of reviving society this will lead to the coercion of thousands of people into leaving their families for the entire two days at the weekend.

We already know through the outstanding work of Sir Michael Marmot that those who lack status in the workplace, i.e. those who have little control of their work circumstances, are those who experience the greatest inequalities. Imposing longer hours will make the situation of shop-assistants, some of the lowest paid, worse. We are stretching their resilience to breaking point; many families struggle already with parents holding down and juggling family needs with two or more jobs each. This proposal will impact childcare, access to healthcare, educational support and thus children’s long-term life chances.

Added to this the vision for the Big Society is dependent on people having the time to give to their communities: to know that they are needed beyond their workplace and front-door. If we have economic policies that increase inequalities and societal burden, the opportunity for people to be the ‘needed’ part of the Big Society will diminish, thus increasing not reducing their dependence on the state.

I’ve thought about the impact on where I live in Peckham. Local people won’t have any more money to spend; there will be no extra Olympic visitors contributing to the legal economy here. Yet the burden of extended opening hours will be felt by those on small wages and low status. There will be greater pressure on families, and in a community with a large Christian, ethnic minority presence, the support given by community gatherings at church on Sunday will be diminished.

This is a bad proposal. Economists may see the Sunday trading restrictions as red tape, but the whole thrust of Cameron’s pre-election narrative was that there should not be a trade-off between economic and societal gain. Last August he said, ‘from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.’ It is a good test, this proposal fails it, and George needs to find more creative ways of declaring the UK open for business.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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2 Responses to Sunday trading fails Cameron’s family test

  1. Pingback: Family test | Upriverranch

  2. Tony Lohnes says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. I have been fighting Sunday trading for years in Nova Scotia , Canada and you can learn more from our web site- . Has anyone thought about how Sunday trading will effect you if you do not work in retail? In my area, since we have wide open Sunday shopping, banks are starting to open up on Saturdays and one bank has already opened up on Sunday. I can remember before we had the vote on Sunday trading, I was to a local bank. One employee wanted Sunday trading, while the other employee was opposed to it. She asked her would you want to work on Sundays? She never commented on it. This is my point, don’t think by allowing these stores open seven days a week, that it won’t effect you. People want to shop, and they will want to bank, they will want to go to a government office or a dentist..and so on. People you are hurting you’re self’s . We were always told what comes around, goes around. This is the case in my area. And it will be the case in yours. Not to mention, hello…the environment. What about that? Lights in these stores open day and night. Cars on the roads seven days a week. Sunday trading is not helping the environment. It’s not helping families who need that one day off to relax.

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