Hobbies make us happier so ignore the mockery, and enjoy | Fay Schopen

Gardening, birdwatching, stroking your cat whatever it is you like doing, just go for it. Its officially good for you

Its a bleak Monday in January, and you have spent half the morning trying to come up with plausible excuses to get out of doing any work. But I have some good news: the key to a happy life and I know you were wondering about that is, apparently, spending more time on your hobbies.

New research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (and not the Institute of the Completely Obvious, as you may have expected), says that valuing your time more than the pursuit of money leads to feelings of greater wellbeing. And by valuing your time, they mean spending it wisely on hobbies, exercising or being with your family.

The researchers even invented two characters, Tina and Maggie, and asked people who they preferred money-grubbing sociopath Maggie, who would rather work more hours and make more money, or workshy hippy Tina who wanted to work fewer hours and make less cash. The option of working less and making more money was strangely absent, although that is of course the obvious answer, as evidenced by the hordes of people who bought lottery tickets this weekend.

My main issue with the research is the idea of adults having hobbies. What are hobbies anyway? Pastimes, suggests my boyfriend, which makes them sound marginally less awful. But is eating biscuits while watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians a pastime? Because if so, I am very serious about it, and presumably I am very happy too, although I wouldnt know it, because I have given up my favourite pastime (drinking) for January and perhaps for ever if the governments draconian new guidelines are to be believed.

After all what is the point of being an adult if you cant gleefully cast off hobbies? Most of them not only smack of Victorian ideals of self-improvement, but are basically activities adults made you do when you were a child so they could get you out of the way for a few hours. If you have been a Brownie or a Scout you will know what I am talking about. Heres what happened when I was a Brownie: I was awarded a badge for collecting scented erasers (a 1980s hobby if ever there was one) and I was made to do Brown Owls housework, under the guise of gaining another badge.

There are very few hobbies that are acceptable as an adult. None involve mindfulness colouring-in and most are a way of life: drinking, eating, listening to music, perhaps a bit of yoga. Of course, there are ways to pass off these everyday activities off as hobbies, mainly by making them as complicated and time-consuming as possible. Cooking is brilliant for this. Simply choose an extremely complex recipe with many obscure ingredients anything by Yotam Ottolenghi is perfect, and I cant recommend Donna Hays beef rendang enough not only do you have to find fresh turmeric, galangal and kaffir lime leaves, it also takes three hours to cook. Bingo!

Pets are also useful. Dogs walks, obviously. Cats well, if stroking cats isnt a hobby then I dont know what the world is coming to. Pets with ailments are fantastically time-consuming. My own cat has inflammatory bowel disease, it turns out. I cant recommend it, but it certainly necessitates spending several hundred hours away from my desk and at the vets.

As with so many things, there is an age dimension. Older people questioned for the study were more likely to say they valued their time compared with younger people. This can only be good news pastimes that your friends previously mocked you start becoming acceptable as you age birdwatching, for example. This seems to be fine after the age of 40. Ditto gardening.

So there you have it. Faff around doing anything you like, really, and you may even fool yourself into being happier. After all, isnt the study basically saying that the more time spent away from work the better? Common sense, really.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/11/hobbies-happier-gardening-bird-watching-stroking-cat

Summer hacks: 20 ways to make the most of the heatwave

The sun is finally out time to quit your job and become a full-time Pokmon hunter. Failing that, bunk off, play ping-pong, fry an egg outdoors or just have a nap

That big, round, bright thing in the sky? Its called the sun, and for the next week it should be hanging around. You will, of course, have forgotten what to do in this rare event, so weve handily compiled a reminder.

Have a nap

It is what the experts (people who actually live in hot countries, who dont go deranged once the temperature reaches 26C and start compiling lists of things to do) have known for millennia. Chances are youre sleep-deprived about 46% of British women have said they have trouble sleeping, and 36% of men so take a siesta to catch up. One study, by the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians, suggested that a daily half-hour nap could reduce stress, and improve productivity and cardiovascular functions.

Fry an egg somewhere hot

Try a car bonnet rather than a pavement Photograph: Straublund Photography/Getty Images

The idea that you can fry an egg on a hot pavement (or sidewalk, really, since this seems to be an American thing) is an enduring one. According to the US Library of Congress, it is theoretically possible but pretty unlikely. To cook an egg, the temperature needs to be a minimum of 70C, and concrete pavements dont get that hot not even in Death Valley in the US, where officials have asked people to stop cracking eggs in the car park. You would have better luck trying to fry an egg on the bonnet of a car, since metal is a far better heat conductor.

Go wild

Wild camping in Glen Elchaig, Scotland. Photograph: Andy Leader Www.madeinholmfirth.co.uk/Getty Images

Youve ditched your smartphone for an analogue phone to demonstrate how overwhelmed you are by other peoples need to contact you or follow you on your various social media platforms (and, therefore, how important you are). The next logical step is to go off-grid. Rewilding is a buzzword to watch and basically involves, as far as I can tell, people who have never got close to a mud-spattered carrot going all Ray Mears. Or attaching the word wild to other words, instantly rendering them cooler. Which is not to say that a few hours or days spent in the countryside isnt totally glorious. Go swimming outdoors there are numerous books and websites (try wildswimming.co.uk) that list lakes, ponds and gorges to explore. Free camping, or wild camping, where you trudge up a mountain/dive into a forest and pitch your tent, is mostly legal in Scotland, but not in England and Wales, though it is often tolerated (ask permission first) or, you know, never discovered.

Quit your job and become a Pokmon trainer

Its not an established career move, but it seems to be working for a man in New Zealand. Tom Currie, a 24-year-old barista, loved the gaming app Pokmon Go so much he resigned from his job in an Auckland coffee shop to become a full-time Pokmon hunter. This mainly seems to involve posting pictures of himself with his caught creatures on Facebook and Instagram. Meanwhile, in the US, Pokemon trainers have advertised their services on Craigslist. If you cant resign from work, Pokmon Go will at least get you out of the house.

Go on a march

Remain supporters at a rally in London. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

You know what makes you even angrier about Brexit? Being angry about Brexit while standing next to lots of other hot, angry people in the heat. And marching. One group, Movement for Europe, is staging protests across 16 cities on Saturday.

Hold a jumble trail

There is something so nakedly commercial and competitive about a car boot sale. If youre a buyer, you have to elbow other people past old Amstrad video phones and towers of Andy McNab books to get to the good stuff. If youre a seller, you are at the mercy of market forces and have to drop your prices accordingly. Worst of all, you have to get out of bed really early. A jumble trail seems a kinder prospect, even if the same intent is to make cash people on a street, or in an area, set up stalls of unwanted junk outside their houses. Find out whether a trail is happening near you (visit jumbletrail.com) or set one up yourself. You get to know your neighbours, and make money after that epic KonMari declutter. They are so cosy and community-minded that a jumble trail even featured on the Archers recently.

Avoid children

This week is your last chance to escape kids. Photograph: Moof/Getty Images/Cultura RF

Most schools break up by the end of this week, so if you want to try to minimise how much time you have to spend around other peoples children this summer, this is the week to do it. Failing that, seek out adult-only spaces rooftop bars, late-night museum openings, matinee performances of 15-certified films, no-kids campsites. Alternatively, stay in until September, you child-hating monster.

Bunk off work

Take a duvet day, though in summer I believe its called a clammy-sheet day. This is a sanctioned, no-questions-asked sickie when everyone knows youre not really ill. Some employers have started offering them as part of their employee wellbeing package, although most still dont. Concrete evidence is hard to come by, but companies who do have a duvet-day policy report higher employee satisfaction and lower absence rates.

Create an instant garden

Put plants in pots job done. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Gardening is the opposite of instant gratification, which is no good when youve neglected your patch all year and suddenly want to sit outside, but not amid the sad, empty pots and dishevelled plants. If you plant things now, they could flop in the heat they need a bit more coaxing into life and establishing before they look their best, says Frances Tophill, a gardener and TV presenter. But at this time of year, garden centres have their sales so get cheap annuals in containers and keep them in their pots, stick them all together so you cant see the pots, and make an instant garden. If youre prepared to spend a bit more, A bamboo isnt overly expensive and looks really big and leafy. A nice, big, established olive tree, with a gnarled trunk, looks amazing. For a budget version of that, there is an ornamental pear, which looks like an olive but is much cheaper. If youve been tending house plants, they can be taken outside to boost the greenery; keep plants well watered and do some weeding. It sounds obvious, she says, but mow the lawn. It automatically makes the garden look neater. But if you like a more wild look, or you have a lawn and cant be bothered to keep on top of it, mow a path through it it looks as though its meant to be like that.

Wear a kaftan

Kaftans , very summer 2016. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Because Vogue says so. On social media, a stream of style influencers Miroslava Duma, Poppy Delevingne and Yasmin Sewell have done much to popularise the kaftan, heralding it as an indispensable item that has the power to take you through summer to autumn and beyond. You can style your kaftan in a luxe, urban way according to Vogue, this involves fur-lined loafers, which dont sound great for summer, nor for the kangaroos (yes, really) who provided the pelts. Better to go with pool sliders (never flip-flops, which you will know are past it).

Go to summer camp

Not really part of the British experience, but still familiar to anyone who grew up reading Judy Blume books or watching 80s movies. In the US, where going to camp is part of childhood, adult summer camps have been springing up. One company, Camp No Counselors, is running 10 camps in the US and Canada this year, featuring nostalgic games and bunkbeds, but with alcohol and late nights, too. Start your own version with games of British Bulldog, rounders and a Noels House Party theme.

Start a food truck

A food truck in Crevin, western France. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Got an idea for a brand new foodie mash-up, and a vintage horsebox to put it in? Already thought up a punning name? Able to write on a blackboard in a cool font? Youre more than halfway there. Until you realise you need things such as public liability insurance and hygiene training, environmental health registration, and other annoyances. Maybe one for next summer.

Count butterflies

Large blue butterfly, check. Photograph: Gary Chalker/Getty Images

The annual big butterfly count, the worlds largest survey of butterflies, started last week and runs until 7 August. Spot the winged creatures and feed the information back to the Butterfly Conservation organisation, to help it assess the species decline.

Rescue dogs from hot cars

Dogs a happier on the beach than in the car. Photograph: Joanna Cepuchowicz/Getty Images/EyeEm

Last year, the RSPCA received 8,779 calls reporting a dog trapped in a hot car. On a sunny day, temperatures inside a car can reach 47C, and a dog can die within minutes. If you see a dog and youre worried about it, call the police straight away, says a spokesperson for the RPSCA. You can always call us as well as the police, but its more likely that police can get there quicker. You cant really go around smashing peoples car windows, even though it would make you feel like an awesome vigilante, but if you think a dog is critical and about to die, the law will probably be on your side if you choose to do this. Get evidence first, say the RSPCA take pictures or video footage, get names and phone numbers for witnesses, and tell the police of your intentions when you call them. Take the dog to a shaded place, douse it with cool water and allow it small sips. Keep an eye out for the angry/grateful owner.

Do some exercise but not too much

Ping-pong, the perfect summer sport. Photograph: Michael Heffernan/Getty Images

Being active outdoors is one of lifes pleasures, but so is lazing around. This is not the week to discover Ironman training. Instead, find a miniature golf course, which is likely to have the benefit of being in a seaside town, or your nearest ping-pong table (for England, visit pingengland.co.uk).

Go underground

When the heat gets too much, retreat below ground. Two of the best recently opened subterranean adventures are Bounce Below, a former slate mine in Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales, which has been transformed into a playground of bouncy nets, tunnels and slides (and has a temperature of 10C), and the Fan Bay Deep Shelter in Dover, a network of tunnels and chambers excavated during the second world war. Excitingly, both attractions require the wearing of hard hats.

Enjoy some open-air culture

An open-air cinema on the beach. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Seek out pop-up outdoor cinemas, amble slowly around a sculpture park or visit an open-air theatre, without fear of being soaked by the end of the night. Best of all, if you get bored, you can sneak out without causing much of a disturbance.

Take up foraging

Samphire, best simply steamed. Photograph: Elisa Cicinelli/Getty Images

The summer months are the best times for coastal and estuary foraging, says forager Robin Harford. You can find samphire, which everyone knows about. Sea aster can be sauteed and is good with fish. You can find sea-blite, which you can cook similarly to samphire a steam is all it needs. Or you can have it raw in salads. Elsewhere, meadows and hedgerows are blooming. Chickweed is a salad plant that you can find on the edges of woodland and fields. You can find fat hen at the moment, growing wild in allotments and veg gardens, which you can saute or make into a pesto. Mallow flowers are really nice, and you can put them in salads. Meadowsweet flowers are good in sorbets or panna cottas. Then we have mugwort buds coming through, in meadows and hedgerows, which make a really nice jelly.

Make outdoor art

Im not saying go all Banksy, unless you are in fact Banksy. But there is more to outdoor art than spray-painting and running away from the police. The brilliant recent BBC4 documentary Forest, Field & Sky focused on site-specific artists who make works from nature. Why not create your own masterpiece from twigs and rocks? It will probably look rubbish (certainly not as beautiful as a piece by an artist such as Andy Goldsworthy), but youll be outside and being creative, so youll be happy.

Google all the countries that are colder than the UK this week

Brits like to feel superior, plus you get to stay inside.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/18/summer-hacks-20-ways-to-make-the-most-of-the-heatwave

What should we do about paedophiles? | Sophie Elmhirst

The long read: They have committed unspeakable crimes that demand harsh punishment. But most will eventually be set free. Are we prepared to support efforts to rehabilitate them?

A photograph of Aaron Collis regularly appeared in the press while he was on trial. It showed a young man in a crowd of friends, whose faces have been pixelated to preserve their anonymity, and it appears to capture a moment of celebration. The group are bunched together, arms in the air, all wearing the same white shirts and roughly knotted blue-and-red striped ties. They could be in school uniform, or party costume. Collis is looking up at the camera, a wide smile exposing a top row of pointed teeth. The photo was taken in a dark room with the flash on, so his face is starkly lit and every pock and mole visible. His eyes are narrowed to slits and his nose seems abnormally large. You can see why the image was used: Colliss face is distorted, and disturbing. It is a fitting portrait of a paedophile.

In October 2009, Collis, then 24 years old, was convicted of committing 11 offences of sexual abuse against five children. He was given an indeterminate sentence, with a minimum five-year term. In March 2012, he was sentenced to a further fiveyears, to run concurrently, after admitting to offences against another 13 children. The youngest of his victims was 18 months old. At the original sentencing, the judge, Gareth Hawkesworth, told Collis that he would only be released from prison once he no longer posed a threat to life and limb. Thehurt you have done to these young children and their families is incalculable, he said. These were evil and repulsive offences which any right-minded member of society can barely comprehend.

After sentencing, Collis went to prison at HMP Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight. From there he contributed to the February 2014 issue of Inside Time, the prisoners newspaper: I am a 28-year-old sex offender who has always openly admitted his crimes from the word go, he wrote. I hate what I have done and for four-and-a-half years now Ive been in the prison system trying to find a cure for the incurable. I found a solution a while back and have been exploring it ever since, but for some reason I am finding it nearly impossible to convince people that chemical castration is the best thing for me. Collis said he had appealed to doctors, nurses and psychologists but had so far failed to gain access to the medication he desired. Ithought they would jump at the chance to take away my sex drive, but I was very wrong. They all seem to be trying to talk me out of it, telling me Im young and its not necessary. Well, Im sorry, but its my body and my messed-up brain which is dangerous and this is my decision.

Colliss plea for help to take away his sex drive raises a number of uncomfortable questions. Paedophiles occupy an unambiguous position in society: they are the lowest of the low, the authors of unspeakable crimes not only evil and repulsive, as the judge said, but incomprehensible. For some, the very idea of rehabilitation is questionable: do these individuals deserve to be helped? Can someone who has abused a child be forgiven or changed? Most uncomfortable of all, does a medical intervention in the form of drugs that eliminate sexual desire imply that there is a cure, that paedophilia is a sickness rather than the worst possible crime?

Last summer, after coming across Colliss letter to Inside Time, I wrote to him in prison. Our correspondence lasted for several months and raised its own concerns. To what extent could Colliss version of himself be trusted? He admitted that though he owned up to his crimes, he had fabricated all sorts of rubbish in police interviews. But writing to him was part of an attempt to answer two questions that, given the disgust that naturally attaches to these crimes, have become difficult even to ask: what makes someone a paedophile? And what should we, as a society, do about them?

When Collis arrived at Parkhurst in 2009, he took part in the Sex Offenders Treatment Programme (SOTP) courses devised by psychologists and run to minimise an inmates risk, and help them develop healthy sexual behaviours. But he found the programme ineffective. I learned absolutely nothing on the SOTP, he wrote in one of his first letters to me, last July. All they do is overanalyse irrelevant parts of our lives, and make up random risk factors to work on. Over his years of incarceration Collis said he had met hundreds of sex offenders who had taken part in the programme and got good reports. In his view, they were playing the system. Not one of them was honest.

Collis traced his attraction to children back to puberty. To begin with I was hoping it was just a phase I was going through, he wrote. I soon realised that I was a paedophile and that was never going to change. His early childhood had been happy, he said, but at the age of seven he was abused by a stranger and then by a teacher. At school he was bullied and became socially isolated. As he went through his teenage years, he felt unable to form relationships with his peers and so befriended younger children. From the age of 14, he knew that his feelings towards these children were inappropriate, and sexual.

Not long after his arrival in prison, Collis watched an episode of ITVs This Morning in which a convicted rapist talked about being chemically castrated. The man said he had been prescribed a course of anti-libidinal drugs that had drastically reduced his sex drive. Then Collis met a fellow inmate and sex offender who had been in and out of prison for 20 years. He had done all the Mickey Mouse courses, Collis wrote. After reoffending and being sectioned, the inmate was sent to hospital and later prescribed medication: And he has never thought about sex since. Its no longer part of his life.

Collis began to research the treatment and decided that it was essential to his rehabilitation. He believes he was born a paedophile, and that his attraction to children is unchangeable. I did NOT wake up one morning and decide my sexual preference. I am sexually attracted to little girls and have absolutely no interest in sex with adults. Ive only ever done stuff with adults in order to fit in with whats normal. For Collis, therefore, it became a question of how to control this desire and render himself incapable of reoffending.

Collis said he repeatedly put forward requests for assessment to doctors, psychologists and prison officers, but found his efforts thwarted. I kept getting passed on to different departments; no one wanted to take responsibility, he wrote. He became frustrated, and so wrote his letter to Inside Time: For some reason I am finding it nearly impossible to convince people that chemical castration is the best thing for me WHY?

From April this year, a new programme of chemical treatment will be rolled out across the country. For the first time on a national scale, anti-libidinal medication will be made accessible to sex offenders in prisons and through probation services. It has taken a while to get to this point. Don Grubin, a forensic psychiatrist who has spent most of his long career treating sex offenders in Newcastle, first proposed such a programme back in 2007. It was welcomed by John Reid, then home secretary, who got the horses running, according to Grubin.

In 2008, a pilot project was established at HMP Whatton, a prison for sex offenders in Nottinghamshire, and more than 100 inmates and former inmates on parole have since been prescribed anti-libidinal medication. Protracted negotiations followed about how the programme could be scaled up, from an individual project to a nationwide scheme, and about how it would be run and financed. Now, a new national network of clinics will finally be established. Grubin is acting as an adviser, and the programme will be funded and co-managed by NHS England and the National Offender Management System as part of the Offender Personality Disorder Pathway. Forensic psychologist Sarah Skett, who is leading the initiative for the NHS, described its aims as twofold: to give offenders more control over obsessive sexual thoughts and feelings, and to reduce the risk to the public.

Grubin is a short, wiry-haired man, jovial and pragmatic by nature, with an undiluted New Jersey accent despite half a lifetime spent in the north of England. He grew up in Short Hills, a quiet commuter town an hour west of New York City, and was the son of the local doctor. After spending a year of his undergraduate degree at Oxford University, Grubin decided to stay in the UK, began his medical training in 1980, and then, in 1988, decided to specialise in forensic psychiatry, working with mentally disordered offenders. I always thought that minds were more interesting than stomachs or bones, he told me.

Grubin never set out to work with sex offenders. Early in his career, a colleague asked him to help out on a research project in Maidstone prison in Kent, working with offenders in denial. This led to another research post, and soon enough he had established himself among prison psychologists as a rare psychiatrist willing to work with sex offenders.

Many psychiatrists arent interested in it, he said. Many, too, find it morally uncomfortable, believing that psychiatrists should be treating the mentally ill, not criminals. And some do not want to take the risk: what if an offender you treated subsequently committed another crime? Over the years, Grubin became known as an expert on chemical treatment, partly because he was one of few psychiatrists willing to prescribe to offenders. (The only bloody one!, as one ex-probation officer put it to me.) If a sex offender was unable to access treatment in prison, he was often referred to Grubin who, if too far away to treat them himself, would try to find a psychiatrist nearby to take on the case. Some had little experience with sex offenders, and he was never sure of the outcomes of treatment. It was very hit-and-miss, said Grubin.

The plan to make chemical treatment nationally available was born of necessity: Grubins one-man referral agency was not sustainable in the long term. But it was also a logical product of his bracingly practical assessment of the problem of sexual offending. An individual sex offence, Grubin told me, was estimated by the Home Office in 2010 as costing society 36,952 taking into account the costs of police investigation, judicial proceedings and any medical treatment the victim requires, as well as the cost of the profound and often longterm emotional impact on the victim, and their lost output. By comparison, a years worth of sex-drive-reducing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) costs around 50, while more intensive anti-androgen medication costs between 300 and 2,000 a year, depending on how it is administered. As Grubin put it: You dont need to prevent very many offences to get your moneys worth.

In recent years, Britain appears to have been gradually and painfully unveiling itself as a nation of paedophiles: Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall, Yewtree, Rotherham, Rochdale, the ongoing and controversial investigations into an alleged Westminster-based ring of child abusers. Last week, Dame Janet Smiths review of the BBCs mishandling of the Savile case reopened the ferocious debate about this countrys apparently historic inability to prevent these crimes. The ongoing Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, established in March last year, is examining what appear to be chronic failures in child protection across almost all the major public institutions in the country: schools, hospitals, the armed forces, the BBC, religious organisations, charities, the police. There is a sense, particularly in a panichungry media, that Britain is in the grip of an epidemic, a country riddled with abuse.

The actual extent of the problem is hard to pin down. Last year, the National Crime Agency (NCA) estimated that one in 35, or nearly 3%, of men in Britain was a potential paedophile. Figures released by 33 different police forces last year showed that there had been a 60% increase in reported child sexual abuse since 2011. The NSPCC, meanwhile, says that one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused, 90% by someone they know and over half by a member of their family. The reality, said deputy director of the NCA, Phil Gormley, in media interviews, is that we are all living not far away from one.

The reality, arguably, is more complicated and an evaluation of the risk depends on how you define paedophilia. The assumption, made frequently in the media, is that anyone who abuses a child is a paedophile. But clinicians use a more stringent definition: someone whose primary sexual interest is in prepubescent children. Using that definition, the Canadian forensic psychologist Michael Seto, who has authored multiple studies of paedophilia, has estimated that fewer than 1% of the population are paedophiles. (This is based on small-scale surveys: a lack of large epidemiological studies mean that there is no accurate prevalence rate.) The number of individuals viewing child abuse images online has risen, but this is not necessarily synonymous with the number of abusing paedophiles. In a paper published in 2011, Seto examined the recidivism data for 2,630 online offenders and revealed that 2% had gone on to commit contact sexual abuse.

Beyond the basic definition, experts diverge in their explanation of paedophilia and its causes. Almost every psychiatrist, psychologist, probation worker and sexologist I spoke to conceptualised the problem in a slightly different way. Crime, illness, sexual orientation all can apply. The debate can perhaps be boiled down to a question: are you born a paedophile, or do you become one?

Many experts support Aaron Colliss self-assessment, that paedophilia is an unchangeable sexual preference. In a 2012 paper, Seto examined three criteria age of onset, sexual and romantic behaviour, and stability over time. In a number of studies, a significant proportion of paedophiles admitted to first experiencing attraction towards children before they had reached adulthood themselves. Many described their feelings for children as being driven by emotional need as well as sexual desire. As for stability over time, most clinicians agreed that paedophilia had a lifelong course: a true paedophile will always be attracted to children. I am certainly of the view, Seto told me, that paedophilia can be thought of as a sexual orientation.

Brain-imaging studies have supported this idea. James Cantor, a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, has examined hundreds of MRI scans of the brains of paedophiles, and found that they are statistically more likely to be left-handed, shorter than average, and have a significantly lower density of white matter, the brains connective tissue. The point thats important for society is that paedophilia is in the brain at all, and that the person didnt choose it, Cantor told me. As far as we can tell, they were born with it. (Not that this, he emphasised, should excuse their crimes.)

Heather Wood a psychotherapist and psychologist at the Portman Clinic in London, which specialises in treating violent and sexual offenders prefers to think of paedophilia as a more developmental problem. Drawing on psychoanalysis, she described how she studies an offenders personal history to try and understand why they developed a sexual attraction to children at a particular point in their life. In the normal course of development, Wood said, when youre 11, you fancy 11-year-olds, and when youre 15, you fancy 15-year-olds, and as you mature, the age of the persons to whom youre attracted develops. What we see in some of the patients is that they get stuck in adolescence, so at 11 its 11-year-olds and at 15 its 11-year-olds, and at 18 its 11-year-olds. Their sexual interest doesnt mature.

In the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American psychiatric classification system used around the world, paedophilia is classed as a paraphilic disorder an atypical sexual interest that either causes distress to the person with the disorder, or makes them a threat to others. Some believe that paedophilia should not be in the DSM at all, such as sexologist Richard Green, who successfully campaigned for homosexuality to be removed from the DSM in 1972, and argued in a controversial 2002 paper (Is paedophilia a mental disorder?) that paedophilia should also be removed. In the paper, Green included an exotic cross-continent tour of places where child-adult sex had historically been the norm (Hawaii, Tahiti, New Guinea), and reminded readers that for three centuries, until the Victorian era, the age of consent in England had been 10. This was not in a period contemporaneous with Cromagnon man, he wrote, but continued to within 38 years of World War I. Greens argument did not suggest that sex with children was acceptable, or should be legal, but that the desire to have it did not necessarily constitute a mental disorder. He cited previous research, which had evaluated non-prisoner, non-patient paedophiles that is, non-abusing, mentally well individuals who were primarily sexually attracted to children. After examining their scores on major personality dimensions, including neuroticism and psychoticism, Green found that it striking how normal the paedophiles appear to be.

For many of those working directly with sex offenders, the definitional wrestling around paedophilia is beside the point: the urgent societal problem is the protection of children. Often people will come to see me and say Ive offended and I just want to know why, I want to know why I did it, said Grubin. And my response is, thats a luxury. The first thing is to stop you doing it again.

Illustration by Pete Gamlen

Once, we cut their balls off. The first recorded castration for psychiatric reasons was performed in 1892 in Zurich, Switzerland, by the psychiatrist August Forel. In his 1906 book, Die Sexuelle Frage, or The Sexual Question, Forel admitted to having castrated a veritable monster afflicted with constitutional mental disorders, taking advantage of the fact that he himself requested this operation to relieve him of pain in his seminal vesicles, but with the chief object of preventing the production of unfortunate children tainted with his hereditary complaint. Forel, a pioneer in the field of sexual behaviour, also had a tendency towards eugenicist thinking. (He also admitted to castrating women, including a young hysterical girl of 14, whose mother and grandmother were both prostitutes, and who had already begun to have intercourse with all the urchins in the street.)

The procedure soon became popular across Europe. Denmark legalised surgical castration in 1929 and Germany, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia and Sweden followed relatively swiftly. The scale of its use varied: academic studies suggest that since 1910, in the Zurich region of Switzerland alone, 10,000 patients were castrated for various psychiatric reasons. Some 1,100 cases of physical castration were recorded in Denmark until they abandoned the practice in the 1970s. As recently as 2012, it was reported by the BBC and others that up to five voluntary castrations were taking place in Germany every year. The only European country that still uses surgical castration with any regularity is the Czech Republic, where 94 operations have been performed on consenting patients since 1999. Opposition, however, has mounted. In 2009, the Council of Europes Committee for the Prevention of Torture heavily criticised the Czech Republics continuing use of the procedure: Surgical castration is a mutilating, irreversible intervention and cannot be considered as a medical necessity in the context of the treatment of sex offenders.

Today, treatment typically consists of drugs or psychological therapy, often both. First, an individual has to be assessed. Don Grubin likes to say that there are two types of sex offenders. Do you remember The Good, The Bad and The Ugly? He recounted a scene where Clint Eastwood is attacked by a man coming into his bedroom. Eastwood kills him, then turns to find two more sitting in the window, guns pointed. And Clint says, There are two sorts of cowboys, the ones that come up the stairs and the ones that come through the window. With sex offenders its the same sort of thing there are Those working with you and those working against you.

The first challenge, then, is to work out what you are dealing with. When Grubin meets a sex offender for the first time, he uses a system he calls the four-box method, examining sexual arousal, antisocial attitudes, emotional self-regulation and life management. Grubin only gets worried if a case ticks more than one of the four boxes. Someone who is strongly sexually attracted to kids, but sees sex with children as harmful; doesnt believe in rule breaking; doesnt, when they get depressed, see that as an excuse to harm: if you dont have any of those other boxes firing then youre not going to act on that sexual arousal, said Grubin. But if you do, then you become a risk to kids.

Medication falls into two categories: SSRIs and anti-androgens. SSRIs are a type of anti-depressant that dampen libido. They are the more commonly prescribed treatment, being both less invasive and much cheaper than the alternative. According to a paper by two leading Israeli psychiatrists, Ariel Rosler and Eliezer Witztum, SSRIs appeared to be effective solely in men with a definite obsessive compulsive disorder component. Anti-androgens, meanwhile, have a more drastic effect. The drugs, taken as tablets or by injection, block the production of testosterone, one of a group of male hormones collectively known as androgens. They are proven to work, although there are side-effects including osteoporosis and hot flushes. (Some men, one ex-probation worker told me, grow breasts while undergoing treatment.) Rosler demonstrated the effect of a particular anti-androgen, called triptorelin, which was prescribed over 15 years to 100 men with severe paraphilias (80 of which were paedophiles or non-paedophilic child abusers). All of the men experienced a decrease in their abnormal sexual fantasies and desires, and, while they took the drug, exhibited no abnormal sexual behaviours.

Clinical reality is a little more complicated. Theres no pretence that the treatment is somehow going to cure them of paedophilia, Grubin told me. I think there is an acceptance now that you are not going to be able to change very easily the direction of someones arousal. Grubin estimates that medication is only suitable for about 5% of sex offenders those who are sexually preoccupied to the extent that they cannot think about anything else, and are not able to control their sexual urges. As Sarah Skett from the NHS put it: The meds only take you so far. The evidence is clear that the best treatment for sex offending is psychologically based. What the medication does is help people have a little bit of control, which then allows them to access that treatment.

Even then, the drugs are likely to be a temporary fix: treatment is voluntary in the UK and even the worst offender can choose to stop taking the medication at any point. In the Rosler study of 100 sex offenders, 10 of the men who quit treatment for more than six months reoffended. Other countries Poland, South Korea, Moldova, certain US states take a different approach, including medication as a mandatory part of a prison sentence or release package.

But enforced chemical treatment is unlikely to occur in the UK. For a start, it goes against the principles of many doctors.As Grubin said: Youre looking to the benefit of that individual, no matter how awful some of the things theyve done are. Its why he dislikes the term chemical castration: it sounds more like punishment than treatment. As a doctor, said Grubin, the person that youre treating is your patient. Society is not your patient.

Aaron Collis was a prompt and careful correspondent. In his letters, he wrote in a neat, even script on the lined prison paper. If he made a mistake, he used correction fluid to conceal it. In one letter, sent in August last year, he told me he had been diagnosed with various personality disorders: borderline personality disorder (emotionally unstable), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, with significant narcissistic histrionic and antisocial traits. (He also offered a caveat: My personality disorders are NOT an excuse for my crimes.) As a result, he had been prescribed an SSRI that had helped to reduce his sex drive, but he was still hoping for further treatment. When I asked him why he thought he had previously been refused medication, he said that he had been told there was no evidence it would reduce his risk: They say that the desire would still be there and I would still get emotionally obsessed with children like I used to.

Drugs can reduce the sexual urge, but their effects are limited when it comes to complex emotional problems. Take the case of Tim not his real name who I met one afternoon last summer in Kent. Tim was a large man, bald, in tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt, who had spent several years in prison for sex offences, and now spent his days wandering round the charity shops of his local town and helping his elderly neighbours with their gardening. Once a week he worked at the hostel where he had lived after being released from prison, for which he received payment in the form of Iceland vouchers. He was still in touch with only one of his siblings, though if he happened to meet a family member while out shopping, they might say hello to him.

Tim had started offending as a young man. His behaviour, he said, was partly a consequence of his inability to have a relationship with a woman and the bullying he experienced from younger colleagues at the place where he worked. I felt, Why me? he said, Why are they picking on me? When I left work one day I went and did something sexual. Someone saw me. My ID was given. That time I got let go. Tim started out exposing himself to women, then looking through their windows. Then I was told: How long will it be before you touch somebody or rape somebody? They were seeing a pattern. After one of his offences, Tim was referred by a magistrate to see a psychiatrist who prescribed an anti-androgen. He took the medication a few times by injection in his stomach but then stopped. It didnt work, he said. I still went out and offended. It reduced the drive. But my mind back then, I do believe it was my mind telling me to carry on. I wasnt doing it so much when I had the injection, but I still had the thoughts in my head of going out doing it. And sometimes those thoughts got that powerful. I tried to stop myself.

Not long afterwards, Tim started abusing a 15-year-old female relative, and it was this crime that led to his arrest and imprisonment for four years. He never abused a prepubescent child, and resents being labelled a paedophile. If you say to people, Im on the sex offenders register, straight away they think youre a paedophile. Thats not the case, he said. Iwasnt attracted to young children. While in prison, he took part in the SOTP courses and unlike Aaron Collis said he found them transformative. The courses helped him to see why he had offended: he was lonely, isolated, angry, resentful of these colleagues who were bullying him. He identified certain triggers, too, or risk factors, as the terminology goes: being on his own in secluded places after dark, watching too much porn. Now I dont have any of that.

Tims so far successful rehabilitation has been in part thanks to the support of an organisation named Circles UK. Set up in 2002 and funded by the police and probation services, Circles recruits volunteers to support a sex offender on release from prison. A group or circle of these volunteers then meet with the ex-offender weekly for a year to 18 months, in the hope that by providing regular social contact they will counter the isolation sex offenders often experience after release and prevent reoffending. There is no precise way of evaluating the impact of their work but the 5% sexual reoffending rate (nine out of 181 Circles cases, according to the organisations most recent annual report) is markedly lower than the national rate of 26%. Giving people hope for the future is absolutely key to people turning their lives around, said Jan Thompson, a Circles volunteer coordinator for the south-east of England. If you make people feel that theyre on the outside and theres no way back, then there is no incentive for them to change. That is the reality that for some people is unpalatable.

To access Circles, or the new network of clinics, a person must be in prison or on probation. They have to commit a crime, in a sense, to get help. What about those who have not actually abused yet? At present, the best preemptive option in this country is a confidential helpline and email service for people worried about their behaviour or desires, called Stop it Now!, run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. The charity is legally required to notify the police if a caller appears to be putting a child at risk or admits to an abuse. So are doctors, if, for example, a patient admits to looking at child pornography. I think thats wrong, Don Grubin once said to me. How are they ever going to get any help?

In Germany, by contrast, a programme called Project Dunkelfeld runs clinics across the country offering confidential treatment to anyone experiencing attraction to children, even if they have committed an abuse. This would not happen in Britain, where the rights of a victim understandably come before those of an offender. But then it comes back to the unmeasurable the potential offender, the man attracted to children who is yet to act. How many offences might be prevented if he could rapidly access treatment?

In August last year, the Ministry of Justice published figures showing a that sexual offender convictions had reached a 10-year high and that sentences had risen on average by 4.5 months. These figures show that sex offenders are receiving harsher punishment than ever before for their appalling crimes, said the undersecretary of state for prisons, probation and rehabilitation, Andrew Selous, when the statistics were released. But, despite the political support for a hardline custodial approach,the average sentence for a sex offender is relatively short: five years and three months.

Even paedophiles with long and horrifying records, like Aaron Collis, are eventually let out of prison. Im now 30 years old and I have about 20 months left on my tariff, he wrote in a letter sent in July. Im confident I will be out by the time Im 35 years old. I will still be young, but will I be rehabilitated? For someone like Collis, rehabilitation whatever form the treatment takes will be a management of desire, not an eradication. There is no cure. However you define or explain paedophilia, the more pressing concern, therefore, is how a society responds to the problem, and protects its children.

Colliss last few letters to me, towards the end of last year and early this year, were relatively short. Sometimes they were written simply to check I had received a previous letter, if I had not responded quickly enough. His tone varied. One, written last September, seemed angry and increasingly lacking in remorse, as though he had lost patience with even the possibility of rehabilitation. What Ive told you is my version of how things have gone to the best of my knowledge, he wrote. Im a lost cause. Theres NO WAY Im ever going to stop being a paedo. Thats who I am and I refuse to be in any way ashamed of who I am. I dont give a shit what anybody thinks. Ive done my time, and fuck everybody who turned their backs on me. Hed signed off the letter with his signature, and then a block capital inscription: THE BEAST FROM THE EAST.

A few weeks later, he wrote again, apologising for the aggressive tone of his previous letter. Ive done all I can possibly do in prison, he said in his final letter, in January this year, and with a year left on my tariff, its about time Istart looking to the future beyond prison! Ive done my time now, Ive been adequately punished. Its now time to push for the right help in order to set me up for a good, healthy, offencefree future. At the end of the paragraph, he had drawn a smiley face.

Main illustration by Pete Gamlen

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Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/01/what-should-we-do-about-paedophiles

Stone age cities: what modern urbanites could learn from paleolithic humans

However civilised we may now consider ourselves to be, biologically we remain much as we were before we began farming and moved into cities. Can we create a healthier future by returning to our paleolithic past?

The city is not our natural habitat. For the last three million years, we evolved as hunter-gatherers, living in small tribal societies, breathing fresh air, drinking fresh water and eating fresh foods. But more than half of us now live in cities. Culturally, our society is transforming, but anatomically, our genetic evolution is slower: we remain much as we were even before large-scale farming was adopted 5,00010,000 years ago.

However civilised we may now consider ourselves to be, biologically we are much closer to our stone age ancestors. There is a major mismatch between our modern urbanised world and our paleolithic genome, the genetic material encoded in our DNA, which supports an ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Put simply, urbanisation which began with the advent of farming is bad for us. Studies of skeletal remains in cemetery sites show that when the Romans introduced town life to Britain 2,000 years ago, they also introduced us to scurvy, rickets, osteomalacia, Reiters syndrome, gout, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, septic arthritis, tuberculosis, osteitis, poliomyelitis and leprosy. And today, the most common causes of death in half of our urban populations are obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and various cancers. It is a sobering thought that all these conditionsare rare or non-existent innon-urban societies, such as the tribal communities in Kitava, Papua New Guinea.

But all is not lost. We can help our society have a healthier future by returning to our paleolithic past.

A daily walk is essential to keep in touch with your paleolithic roots and overcome the negative effects of urbanisation. Photograph: Alamy


Paleolithically correct urban living and city planning requires more than just changing to a proxy ancestral diet (fish, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and avoiding added sugars) as is now fashionable although that is an excellent start. We also need to adopt a proxy ancestral activity regime: bending, stretching, carrying and manual labour. A daily walk is essential, at least part of the way to school or work. And spend as little time sitting down as practical, particularly by breaking up desk-bound work with five minute breaks every hour.

We must also re-engage with nature. Time spent with pets, gardening or in parks and gardens is crucial not just for psychological uplift but for interaction with the microbiota that support a healthy immune system. The pioneering work of microbiologist Graham Rook (pdf) has shown how fundamental biophilia is to our immune system, especially for childrens health.

Crime science

If the physiological aspects of our deep past are easy enough to recognise and adapt to modern life, the socio-psychological elements such as the inherent violence of the hunter are rather more complex. According to the Metropolitan police, there are at least 225 gangs in London, 58 of which account for two-thirds of the gang crime. An urban street gang is basically a paleolithic hunting group, with powerful bonding and adherence to a very particular territory.

The Midnight Basketball League in the US started as a way to control inner-city crime by engaging young people in sport. Photograph: AllSport via Getty

Sport, however, can be a socially positive proxy for hunting, and therefore for gang culture. It helps support education, personal development, discipline, social inclusion and enhanced self-esteem in those who might otherwise be drawn to petty crime. One of the best successes is the Midnight Basketball movement, which began in the US in 1986 and has since spread to Australia. In London, the Kickz programme and Arsenal-in-the-Community team do similar work, aiming to improve social cohesion and reduce crime and drug abuse: the latters project on the Elthorne Park estate saw a 66% drop in youth crime in just three years.

City planning for human evolution

Some wider concerns can be best addressed by town planning. To help people walk more, for example, cities can focus on pedestrianisation projects, car-free walkways, river walks, canal towpaths, widening and greening pavements, improving security, cycle lanes, speed limits and above all, air quality our ancient lungs cannot cope with diesel particulates.

Parks, playing fields and sports facilities are vital, as are low-fat buildings and active work practices such as standing desks, cycle racks and showers. The design of offices should encourage walking, with a showpiece stairway rather than just doors to the lift. Good dietary practice at the office extends to the canteen menu and the contents of drinks machines.

The design of residential buildings in a high-density city should be limited to six stories, and have at least some outside space, ample windows and sunlight. Offices, streets, domestic buildings and the public realm all need to be greened, externally and internally. Houseplants, window boxes and roof gardens all have a positive role to play; as do participatory urban green spaces such as allotments, community gardens and city farms, especially in inner-city neighbourhoods lacking a large central park.

Our paleolithic immune systems and psyches desperately need such support. The town may not be our natural habitat, but we can make it our optimal one.

Gustav Milne is an honorary senior lecturer at University College Londons Institute of Archaeology. He presents Urban Wellbeing: How to Live a Paleolithically-Correct Life in a 21st Century City on 24 May at 12noon, as part of the week-long UCL Festival of Culture in London.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/may/23/stone-age-cities-modern-urbanites-learn-paleolithic-humans

The four-day week: less is more

More free time, fewer carbon emissions and an answer to our economic woes. Why aren't we all working a four-day week, asks Andrew Simms

In 2008, when much of the western world was reeling from the aftermath of the banking collapse, the US state of Utah quietly came up with a radical solution. The recession had hit hard, worsened by rapidly rising energy prices. Queues lengthened at food banks; unemployment and mortgage foreclosures rose dramatically. Money needed to be saved. The task fell to Jon Huntsman, the Republican governor. Instead of simply bringing a knife to public spending and pushing austerity measures, he surprised people with a new approach.

Back in 1970, an American management consultant called Riva Poor wrote a book advocating a revolution in work and leisure called 4 Days, 40 Hours. It caused a stir at the time, arguing that great benefits would flow from taking a longer weekend and working fewer but longer days. Then the issue went away. Quietly, though, a four-day week became a common option for public employees at city and county level. As a public administrator, Huntsman knew this, and he saw the opportunity to go further.

He realised that if swaths of public sector workers all worked a shorter week in unison, hed be able to close public buildings on the extra day, so saving money. But something like this hadnt been tried state-wide before. All kinds of problems might emerge, from childcare to public anger over lack of access to services. I thought, we can study this for another six months or we can do it, and figure it out as we go, Huntsman recalls.

At only a months notice, 18,000 of the states 25,000 workforce were put on a four-day week. Around 900 public buildings closed on Fridays, with even more partially closing. Many of the states vehicles were left in their garages on the extra day, travelling 3m fewer miles. Only essential safety services and a few other staff were exempt. You might expect such a quick and significant change to cause turmoil.

It started with a one-year test period, and there were hiccups at the beginning, says Professor Rex Facer, from Brigham Young University, an adviser on the initiative who also analysed its impact. Some businesses complained about access to public officials on the day departments closed. But the agencies figured out the problems, the state communicated what it was doing better, and in six months complaints dropped to zero.

Facer looked into how the public and state employees responded. Eight out of 10 employees liked the four-day week and wanted it to continue. Nearly two-thirds said it made them more productive and many said it reduced conflict at home and work. Only 3% said it made childcare harder. Workplaces across the state reported higher staff morale and lower absenteeism. There were other surprises, too. One in three among the public thought the new arrangements actually improved access to services. The programme achieved exactly what was intended, Facer says. The public and businesses adapted to it. The extended opening times on the four days when employees worked were actually preferred by many. It was more convenient for them being able to contact public bodies before and after conventional working hours.

Falling energy prices reduced the expected economies, but the change still saved the state millions. Staff wellbeing went up with the longer weekend and with shorter, easier commuting outside the normal rush hour, which benefited other commuters, too, by reducing congestion. It wasnt the objective, but at a stroke the four-day week cut carbon emissions by 14%.

Then President Obama made Governor Huntsman his ambassador to China. In autumn 2011 the state-wide four-day week ended. Not because it had failed, but because it fell victim to a power struggle between the state legislature and the new, less committed governors office.

Yet in spite of the repeal, the popularity of the shorter week meant it was kept by the states larger cities, such as West Valley City and Provo, and was copied elsewhere, for example by the forestry department in Virginia. Far from being an evolutionary dead end for the workplace, the idea of changing the conventional five-day, 9am-5pm working week to reap a range of social, economic and environmental benefits is catching on.

Just weeks ago, Gambia announced a four-day week for public sector workers not through economic necessity, but to allow more time for prayer and farming. In Ghana there are calls to follow Gambias example, to allow time for attending funerals on a Friday.

Yet mention shorter hours in Europe and people tend to think of the French 35-hour week, written off as a failure and largely repealed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Never mind that many French businesses kept their shorter week in spite of the change in the law or that, quietly, over the last couple of decades, working less has also become the norm in the Netherlands. The Dutch seem to have found answers to all the practical problems that might come up. As in Utah, the public sector led the way in response to recession, this time in the early 1990s, by hiring new staff on 80% contracts.

Job-sharing in health and education is now standard. There are part-time bankers, surgeons and engineers. One in three Dutch men either works part-time or compresses his hours, as in Utah, introducing the term daddy days to the language. Many more women three-quarters work part-time. Polling suggests that almost all Dutch part-time workers do not want to increase their hours. The approach, backed by decent state childcare provision, allows for high levels of female employment.

But could it work in Britain, where we have the third longest working hours in Europe (behind only Austria and Greece)? The message from David Cameron and George Osborne appears to be that we can all expect to work longer and later in life, and very probably for lower pay. The state pension is being delayed until 68 for many, and if Britain renegotiates its relationship with the EU, as Cameron promises, even the current assurance of a maximum 48-hour week could disappear.

The last place you might expect a new, more progressive work culture to take root is in the bonus-fuelled City of London. But listening to 49-year-old Nick Robins, who analyses climate risks and challenges for HSBC, it seems the City could be hiding a little secret. Theres not much discussion of it, Robins says, but if you want to work less, it seems to be quite open. He turned his back on the Citys conventional long hours for a four-day week. You may get 20% less pay but you get 50% more free time, he says. Other City workers are doing the same, Robins says, but without drawing attention to the fact. He finds the lack of discussion peculiar. It is a strange thing that in the UK we havent thought in a cultural sense about time. The debate is oddly absent, and then it comes up only to do with family in other words, swapping one type of work for another.

Some businesses, though, are less shy about the benefits of a shorter week. Michael Pawlyn is one of the architects who worked on the Eden Project in Cornwall, and has gone on to become a world expert on biomimicry, taking lessons from nature on how to make things better. Hell explain how a beetle can teach you to harvest water in the desert or make fire detectors more sensitive. A big lesson from nature is the importance of fallow time: no ecosystem can be 100% productive all the time. Pawlyn gives staff at his own company exploration days, when people can just go away and think. It helps you to distinguish the things that are important from the things that are merely urgent, he says.

Jane MacCuish is a former colleague of Pawlyns who works for Meadowcroft Griffin, an architecture firm where part-time working is the norm. Along with the companys directors and several of her colleagues, she works an unconventional shorter week. I work only during school term time and the school day, from 9.30am-3pm, she says. I work the same hours as my children, and I am efficient and productive in the time I have. The studio benefits from experienced people who need to balance their lives re-entering work, and you cant underestimate the value to society of having parents there after school for children.

The apparent indispensability of key professionals, in the health sector for example, is often used as an argument against shorter weeks. But Caroline Thould, a 39-year-old radiographer, found her employer, University College London Hospital, was open to the idea. She and her husband Peter both decided to go part-time after the birth of their second child, to share childcare.

Wed both been full-time, Thould says, and it was hard to lose the equivalent of a full-time salary, but we save on childcare. We still manage a holiday each year, and I think the children will benefit in the long run. In the time they claimed back, the couple helped build gardens at their childrens nursery in Flitwick, Bedfordshire.

Its not only well-paid professionals who can afford to work less. Kathleen Cassidy is a 26-year-old community organiser on a low income who chose to work a 25-hour week. I didnt have huge outgoings, she says. Rent, food, not much on travel. Ive never been much of a spendthrift, never really spent on holidays, cars or things like that. It simplifies life, having less money.

In her spare time, Cassidy has helped former prisoners with their rehabilitation, built a community garden for a housing association and been an activist with the campaign group UK Uncut. Its about balance and having a passion, she says. Also not being on a treadmill, where you just work, eat and sleep. I felt I wanted to produce things rather than consume all the time.

These people made choices to work less and adapt their lives. They are pioneers in a country like Britain, which does little to make it easier for people to work less. Choice matters, too. Research by the New Economics Foundation shows that voluntarily working less is positive for our wellbeing, but compulsion, especially in the context of an economy not designed to support part-time work, ruins the benefit.

There are, though, now several reasons we might all want and need to adapt. A recent report from the Centre for Economic and Policy Research suggested a worldwide shift to shorter working hours could reduce carbon emissions enough to halve additional expected global warming between now and 2100.

Then theres the fact that some people in Britain work very long hours, with often involuntary unpaid overtime. The TUC calculates that five million workers give the equivalent of a days worth of free overtime to their employers every week. Yet we also have high unemployment, making for a divided country burdened with related social costs.

Nick Robins, whose work is all about horizon gazing, thinks we face a long-term future of low to no growth, meaning we might all have to reconsider how we work. I think we could have to recognise that the norm of a five-day week for everyone is not possible or desirable, he says. Even when economists recall periods of so-called full employment in Britain, they refer to periods when women were homebound, providing the free maintenance of a mostly male paid workforce. Big changes will be needed to make shorter working weeks viable for low-income families.

Faced with systemic economic and environmental threats, weve been told we all have to work harder and find new technological fixes. Could it be that, instead, the best solution might be a simple, social innovation, an option weve had all along? If working less and better can reduce pressure on public services, create a healthier society and cut greenhouse gas emissions, is it time for national gardening leave for all? I wish Id spent more time at the office are words few would carve on their headstones

Andrew Simms is author of Cancel The Apocalypse: The New Path To Prosperity, published by Little Brown at 13.99 on 28 February. To order a copy for 10.99, go to theguardian.com.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/feb/22/four-day-week-less-is-more