Time poverty is destroying family life

Keep Sunday SpecialJohn Alexander, March 2005

Although greeted with scornful and derisive laughter, we in the Keep Sunday Special Campaign tried hard in the 80s and 90s to convince the country that the destruction of Sunday as a day of rest and recreation would have terrible consequences. We argued that it would damage society in a way that all of us would regret in the years ahead.

Widely expressed at the time was the view that this was a victory for those who demanded the freedom to do what they liked when they liked. Few took into account the diminishing freedom of those who were called upon to service the tills and stock the shelves , and hardly anyone thought that the Sunday Trading Act 1994 would herald a change in society which went way beyond the facility to buy a piece of furniture on a Sunday.

Recent headlines

Recent headlines tell the story of a society which has totally lost its way. Most of the really horrid statistics point to the fact that the family as a stable unit is falling apart at the seams.

One in four boys aged 10–17 has been involved in serious crime or binge drinking. Violent behaviour on the streets is a national problem and the proportion of children being brought up by lone parents has increased by a quarter. The fact that only one in a hundred crimes ever get as far as a courtroom demonstrates that the police are totally overwhelmed by the volume of criminal activity.

To suggest that the downward slide is due to Sunday trading would be to invite something more abrasive than sarcastic laughter. But deep within the decision to axe the day of rest, to impose all sorts of impossible hours on low-paid parents struggling to maintain the harmony of family life, was a destructive element which few had anticipated.

Unintended consequences

One example of this was the effect the 24/7 society would have on single Mums. Short of cash they may have been but at least there was time at weekends to turn their attention to children who had been at school all week. Now the temptation to man the supermarket checkouts for extra cash was overwhelming.

A Joseph Rowntree Foundation study carried out recently demonstrated that a large percentage of the three million parents who work on both Saturday and Sunday say they have no choice in the matter; it is a job requirement. Seventy-eight per cent of mothers regularly working on Sundays would prefer not to do so. Quickly forgotten was a clause in the 1994 Sunday Trading Act allowing shopworkers to opt out of Sunday working.

The heart of the matter

The Keep Sunday Special Campaign still believes that a vast number of people would like to see Sunday restored as a day of rest for the majority. There is no shortage of supporters who would say that the 1994 Act was ‘a national blunder.’

Nevertheless, changing attitudes in society have made it necessary for us to broaden our horizons and focus our attention upon a deeper dysfunction in our society than a desire to shop around the clock. Toward that end we set up a new project called Keep Time For Children. It poses the question, how can a child enjoy the confidence and security which comes from a close family relationship when both parents work at weekends?

It is only gradually being realised that time is the currency of good relationships . If Dad goes to work early and comes home late, if Mum is burdened by having to manage a job as well as running the family, then it doesn’t need a psychiatrist to tell us that where family matters take second place destructive relational consequences are bound to follow.

Tony Blair has not helped matters. Although he has thought of numerous ways of helping parents of newborn and very young children, he has done nothing to help the parents of school age children. And it is children in the 6 to 16 age range who are causing much havoc in this country and who desperately need the care and attention of loving parents.

We recognise that many people have to work on Sunday and therefore Saturday must be considered as an alternative rest day for some, especially those in the emergency services. At the end of the day, though, even doctors, paramedics and nurses, as much as anyone else, need time with their loved ones. Most of us come to the conclusion in the end that families that spend time together generally stay together.


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Category: News and Reviews

March, 2005

Comments (2)

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  1. Phil Torre says:

    Hi would like to be kept up to date on Sunday trading issues as I was co-ord for KSSC in our area back in the eighties understandably things have changed now,have been keeping watch on Easter/Christmas times as I see these being side lined.Phil

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