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The lower paid work shorter, not longer, hours

Summary:
Another one of those Mark Twain things, beliefs that just ain’t so. The argument is that the poor eat horribly junky food because they’ve not got the time to prepare anything else. To busy slaving away at low wages to be able to do anything else, d’ye see? The problem being that it ain’t true: The latest campaign against obesity feeds into this history, too. Obesity is a significant health issue and an important factor in Covid-19 deaths. But the reason poor people eat junk food is not because they are ignorant or lack middle-class virtues. It’s because of the circumstances of their lives. Britons work the longest hours in Europe. Many are forced into two or more jobs. Few have the time or the resources to cook like Jamie Oliver.There are, obviously, those who are both poor and working

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Another one of those Mark Twain things, beliefs that just ain’t so. The argument is that the poor eat horribly junky food because they’ve not got the time to prepare anything else. To busy slaving away at low wages to be able to do anything else, d’ye see?

The problem being that it ain’t true:

The latest campaign against obesity feeds into this history, too. Obesity is a significant health issue and an important factor in Covid-19 deaths. But the reason poor people eat junk food is not because they are ignorant or lack middle-class virtues. It’s because of the circumstances of their lives. Britons work the longest hours in Europe. Many are forced into two or more jobs. Few have the time or the resources to cook like Jamie Oliver.

There are, obviously, those who are both poor and working long hours. Just as there are those swanning around on a high income and doing very little for it. That’s not the way it works out in general though. As the Resolution Foundation reported only this past week:

As we have shown previously, both men and women in lower-paid jobs work fewer hours than those in higher-wage roles

The correlation works the other way. The lower the income the greater the non-working time. Thus the more that can be devoted to that unpaid household labour of cooking a decent meal.

This being more than just a gotcha on an Observer columnist - that’s far too easy a sport. It is actually an important point. Assume that the diet of the poor is indeed a problem. If this is so it is necessary to work out why it is so that something can be done about it. Identifying the wrong cause - a poverty of time to ally with the agreed paucity of income - will mean the crafting of an incorrect plan for dealing with the problem.

As Twain pointed out it’s the things you believe are so that ain’t which are dangerous.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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