For our country to prosper we must do more than build roads and railways, we must also be the builders of families and communities. On Sundays, much of the infrastructure of families and communities is built. According to recent polling, 61% of the public agree with me that Sunday should be a different day which must be cherished. That is why I am so concerned about the government's proposal to tamper with the current Sunday Trading regulations by devolving them to Local Authorities - who will inevitably compete with one another to gain a commercial (though sadly not community) advantage over neighbourhood authorities, by extending Sunday Trading hours.
Family life in Britain is under strain; only 25% of parents are content with their work life balance and 77% believe work impinges on time they can spend with their children. This is magnified further when you look at the retail sector where many low and middle income workers already work more anti-social hours than any other sector. 80% of retail workers work some weekends and over half work most weekends, compared to 23% from all other sectors. Any further relaxation of Sunday Trading regulations will hit some of the poorest workers, who have least choice or flexibility about their working hours, the most.
It is for this reason that the Social Market Foundation have found the proposed change in Sunday Trading regulations would spectacularly fail the government's 'Family Test' which the Prime Minister so proudly championed (and I commended him for) only ten months ago. If families really were at the heart of public policy making we wouldn't even be talking about Sunday Trading laws.
Those arguing for more Sunday opening hours say it will create more jobs and more opportunities to work for these families, increasing their wellbeing and income. Sadly this is a falsehood. The premium pay which retail workers currently receive for working Sundays will be eroded, reducing overall pay. Indeed, I understand that one major supermarket has already announced it is to stop its Sunday pay weighting, even before any change in the regulations has occurred. This is one of the reasons that shop workers have so resoundingly rejected the idea of longer opening hours. A poll by Usdaw, the shop workers union, showed 90% of staff in large stores do not want this change.
What of the economic benefits? Again, the case for a 24/7 trading does not stack up. The most recent economic impact assessment of removing Sunday Trading laws showed a net loss of thousands of jobs in the retail sector, resulting from lost trade in smaller stores. Indeed, retail sales in smaller shops actually decreased during the London Olympics in 2012 when Sunday Trading hours were temporarily removed. This is because Sunday Trading laws do not increase growth and jobs, but simply displace trade from small stores and high streets to large out of town retail parks.
Shopping is ever-present in our lives, in the technology we use and places we socialise. We already have 150 hours a week to shop - do we really need more? Only one in eight people believe there isn't currently enough time to shop in the week. The implications of sacrificing family time and communal rest for more retail time cannot be healthy for our society. We already live in a society where less than a third of families say they have time to sit down and eat a meal together.
When he conceived the Family Test, the Prime Minister said, "From here on, I want a Family Test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keep people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn't do it."
It's clear to me that the Prime Minister needs to look again at the impact of this policy on families, at whether the economic benefits are real and if the public and the business community really want a change to Sunday Trading regulations.