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Politicians and trade unionists across Europe are campaigning for their respective governments to adopt a four-day working week. They claim reducing working hours is essential for the “advancement of civilisation” and would help mental health while also reducing carbon emissions.

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is a leading voice in favour of the proposals, alongside Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union.

The campaigners, which includes politicians from Germany and Spain, have written a letter to push for the change to be considered.

They argue for a reduction in working hours, while remaining on full pay.

In the letter, they suggest the approach could help rising unemployment levels, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The group wrote: “Throughout history, shorter working hours have been used during times of crisis and economic recession as a way of sharing work more equally across the economy between the unemployed and the overemployed.

“For the advancement of civilisation and the good society, now is the moment to seize the opportunity and move towards shorter working hours with no loss of pay.”

In the lead up to the 2019 general election, the Shadow Chancellor pledged to reduce working hours.

Mr McDonnell proposed cutting the average working week from 37 to 32 hours within 10 years, without cutting pay.

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Other campaign groups have argued a reduction in hours could increase productivity and improve mental health.

Research by the Health and Safety Executive showed 17.9 million days were lost due to work-related mental health issues in 2019/20.

It also showed that 828,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression and anxiety in the same year.

This is up from 602,000 recorded in the previous year.

Responding to the statistics, 4 Day Week Campaign activist Joe Ryle said: “These statistics are shocking and show that the UK desperately needs shorter working hours and a four-day working week to allow workers the time to breathe.

“It’s very worrying that for the first time ever, mental health is now the biggest single cause of work-related ill health and working days lost.

“The four-day working week is popular across the country and it’s time for the government, businesses and the trade unions to work together to make it a reality.”

But not everyone is in favour of reducing working hours, with Britain’s biggest lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry, arguing a four-day week would be a “step in the wrong direction”.

Some economists have also suggested working less would harm living standards.

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