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Hairdressing and the UK economy: discuss...

A report coming out of the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests that scrapping bank holidays would add £19bn to Britain's annual economic output, because of the extra contribution that the service sector would make over those additional eight working days. The news station covering the report spoke of the importance of the service sector to the UK economy, citing - in the same breath, and without a hint of irony or the merest trace of a smile - the contributions of banking and hairdressing.

I, like many others listening to the report I suspect, did something of a double-take at this point. Was the reporter seriously suggesting that hairdressing was as key to UK economy as banking? And if he was, would we really be so much better off if hairdressers did the decent thing and worked an extra eight days a year?

Outside of shoes and handbags, there is little that is more important to a girl than her hair. We all tend to have a set number of times a year when have our hair done, perhaps increased when there is a particularly special occasion in the social calendar. So what happens if our favoured stylist happens not to be working on a given Monday? Do we think to ourselves, "Ah well, that's it for this month then"? Of course not. There are a fixed number of women looking to have their hair done a given number of times per year. Opening the salon eight extra days a year will make no difference to the economic balance sheets whatsoever. Even for men, I'm given to understand, a hair cut is rarely an all-or-nothing spur of the moment decision. Rather, it's a case of "really must get than done sometime soon".

What about the banks, then? Well, if one were being especially glib and petty, one might argue that seeing as it was the bankers who got us into the current financial crisis, the fewer days they worked the less damage they could do.

But it's not just about income lost, is it? Bank holidays tend to be the times when we take long weekends away, or visit tourist attractions, or hit the shops, or undertake those crucial bits of DIY. How much do the bank holidays actually generate in additional wealth for the country? I'd be willing to bet that it was more than enough to offset any loss in earnings by the service sector being off work.

Perhaps there is an argument for having fewer bank holidays, but citing banking and hairdressing makes for a very poor case indeed. On the other hand, we are frequently praised in this country for our high levels of productivity. How much of that is due to the superior work/life balance provided by a little bit of extra holiday each year?

Becky Silverton, 14 April 2012

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