Following the expansion of flexible working rights earlier this week, one of the UK’s leading medical experts has called for a switch to a four day working week to help combat stress and work-related illnesses.

Professor John Ashton, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, has called for the introduction of three-day weekends to tackle what he calls a “maldistribution of work”, which results in full-time employees overworking themselves and high unemployment levels. In an interview with The Guardian, Professor Ashton – who worked in the NHS for over 40 years – said:

“When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, mental health is clearly a major issue. We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs.

“The lunch-hour has gone; people just have a sandwich at their desk and carry on working. We need a four-day week so that people can enjoy their lives, have more time with their families, and maybe reduce high blood pressure because people might start exercising on that extra day.

“If you’ve got two people in a couple working, they need to be able to work in such a way that they can spend time together with their children. It’s a nightmare.”

The Trade Union Congress, which represents 6.2 million unionised UK workers, supported Professor Ashton’s idea.

“Too few people in the UK are able to work the hours they want and need. Far too many still work part-time when they want a full-time job, leaving them struggling to make ends meet.

“A four-day week won’t work for everyone, but at the moment it’s way beyond the grasp of many who would like to change the hours they work. The new right to request flexible working should be strengthened so that those who need shorter hours have a better chance of getting it.”

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