29 March 2019

Let’s make Sunday the last time we turn the clocks forward


It’s that time again. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the clocks go forward by one hour as the country leaves Greenwich Mean Time and enters British Summer Time. As most of us get the time from our phones and computers, there is not much danger of being caught out by it and arriving an hour late. Although it is less of an inconvenience than in the past, we should make this the last year we put our clocks forward. We should stick to British Summer Time all year.

Putting the clocks forward by an hour each year might seem like at most a mild inconvenience. But switching from GMT to BST actually has many negative consequences.

First, it can be incredibly dangerous for our health. Two Swedish studies, one in 2008 and the other in 2012, found that in the first week after the switch the incidence of heart attacks was approximately five per cent higher. A 2014 study in the United States found that the risk of a heart attack increased by 24 per cent on the Monday after the clocks go forward.

It is not just our hearts which are at risk, it also increases the risk of suffering a stroke. Researchers in Finland who examined a decade’s worth of data on strokes found that the overall rate of ischemic stroke was eight per cent higher during the first two days after the time change. People with cancer were 25 per cent more likely to have a stroke after daylight saving time than during another period. The risk was also higher for people over 65, who were 20 per cent more likely to have a stroke right after the transition.

Putting the clocks forward also leads to an increase in road traffic accidents. A 2001 US study concluded that a lack of sleep leads to a small increase in the number of fatal accidents on the Monday following the shift. Similar findings were reported in other studies, including one from the US in 2016 which found that the practice of putting the clocks forward by one hour had caused excess deaths at a social cost of $275 million annually between 2002 and 2011.

It also makes your office a more dangerous place to be, as you’re more likely to get injured at work. A 2009 study found that on the Monday after the clocks have gone forward, people sustain more workplace injuries and injuries of greater severity.

It’s also bad news for the economy as productivity decreases as a result. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that you are more likely to “cyberloaf” — using the internet at a higher rate on the Monday following the time shift. So, instead of finishing that report for your boss, you’ll probably be on Twitter or watching cat videos on YouTube. There is even evidence to suggest that the switch lowers stock market returns.

Now, all this might make you think that we should just stick with GMT. But the issue here is the switching. We should make the switch for the last time on Sunday and then stick with BST throughout the year. This is because, although putting the clocks forward by an hour does have negative consequences in the short term, there would be considerable long term benefits of sticking with BST.

Doing so would lead to lighter evenings, which would bring many benefits. For example, it would reduce crime. A study looking at how light impacts criminal activity found that crime rates dropped in the United States when the clocks went forward. What is more, data from the ONS show that 54 per cent of violent crimes are committed in the evening or during the night when it is dark. So sticking with BST would keep us safer.

It would also keep us safer on the roads. An argument often used in favour of reverting back to GMT is that it would be darker in the morning if we just stuck with BST and so school children would be at risk of being hit by a car on their way to school. However, statistics from the Department for Transport reveal that most road fatalities occur in the evening and at night.

BST all year long could also make us healthier, with one study finding that daylight saving has the potential to increase outdoor activity by 30 minutes and burns an additional 10 per cent of calories. So, instead of sheltering from the horrors of miserably dark evenings stuffing our faces on the sofa as we binge on Netflix, we are more likely to go for a run or play football.

Keeping BST throughout the year would also provide a welcome boost for the economy. Cafes, restaurants, and pubs would all benefit from people using the lighter evenings to socialise. Rather than rushing home before dark, people would be more likely to enjoy a post-work pint at their local pub, for instance. This would increase profits and lead to higher wages for low earners and bring in more revenue for HM Treasury to spend on essential public services.

Finally, it would be good for international trade. Research from the University of East Anglia found that each hour of time difference reduced international goods trade by between two and seven per cent. So, reducing the time difference between the UK and other European countries will help to further facilitate trade — especially important in light of Brexit.

So, let’s make Sunday the last time we change the clocks. Let’s keep BST all year long and we will live happier, safer, and more prosperous lives.

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Ben Ramanauskas is a Policy Analyst at the Taxpayers' Alliance.