THE introduction of a four-day week would require a universal basic income to ensure everyone has the opportunity to cut their hours, an academic has warned.

Abigail Marks, professor of the future of work at Newcastle University, said the idea of reducing the working week was problematic as it is likely to lead to some people being excluded, such as those on zero-hour contracts.

She said while a four-day week was a “brilliant idea” in principle, it would need to be made affordable for all employees by measures such as a universal basic income.

Scotland has become the latest country to announce the trial of cutting the working week, with other nations such as Ireland and Spain also examining the idea. The Scottish Government is currently developing a £10 million pilot scheme to help companies explore the benefits.

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Marks said: “Most organisations – considering the state that the economy is in – are going to find it very difficult to support in effect an eight-hour working day over four hours.

“They are not going to want to recruit more people.

“The most problematic thing about it is you are not going to get people who are on zero-hour contracts being afforded the same privilege, you are certainly not going to get people in hospitality where there is a massive shortage of labour.

“So what worries me is you are going to get a very clear division, predominantly on socioeconomic status, which goes against this idea of equality and improved life that the four-day week is supposed to have.”

She added: “I don’t think it is doable unless there is a basic income, which then allows everyone to have that opportunity, as people on zero hours would then have the opportunity to work a four-day week.

“While I think it is a brilliant idea in principle – the old pattern doesn’t work, it is too stressful – I don’t think the four-day week within the current structures is going to work.”

A report published by think tank The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) earlier this month found more than 80% of people in Scotland supported the introduction of a four-day working week with no loss of pay.

A number of employers have already announced a move to this pattern, ranging from top Edinburgh restaurant Pompadour to Glasgow packaging firm UPAC Group.

Marks said: “Individual workplaces can make it work really nicely. It is great for them, but it is very different working in small organisations or small territories to then generalise it across countries.

“From those small samples of the four-day week, what we have is evidence it is much better for people – people are healthier, people are happier.

“We know we need to cut working hours – but introducing a four-day week unilaterally is going to be hugely problematic.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The pandemic has served to intensify interest in and support for more flexible working practices, which could include a shift to a four-day working week.  “Reductions in the working week might help sustain more and better jobs, and enhance wellbeing.

 “We are in the early stages of designing a £10m pilot that will help companies explore the benefits and costs of moving to a four-day working week.

“The pilot will allow us to develop a better understanding of the implications of a broader shift to a shorter working week across the economy.”