Daylight Savings Time: a White Lie, or a Waste of Time?

Every six months, I get a little more passionate about the pointlessness of Summer Time – or, as it is ridiculously known in some parts of the world, “Daylight Savings Time” – the practice of telling everyone to change the time on their clocks twice a year, as a trick to make them get up at a different time. There’s even talk of changing the time zone for the whole of the UK, based on the same flawed reasoning. It seems like on every other issue, politicians are promoting choice, and informing the public, but when it comes to what time we have to get up in the morning, they’d rather hide behind an out-dated lie.

[Update: Put your name towards something more reasonable: the Campaign for Real Time!]

You’re right about daylight savings time though – it’s like cutting a foot off one end of the blanket and sewing it on the other end in order to make the blanket longer. – h2g2 Researcher Lady Scott †, remembering a cartoon she once saw

The whole idea of Summer Time is that to make best use of the extra daylight of summer, you have to get up a bit earlier, to catch the dawn. But, the theory goes, schools and offices all open at about 9AM, all year round, so this extra light is “wasted” because people aren’t going to get up early if they don’t have to. And this is where the dishonesty kicks in: by telling people to change their clocks, we can trick them into getting up earlier, without giving them – or their employers – any choice, because – officially – they are still going to work at the same time. This is old-fashioned, paternalistic nonsense, and should be scrapped. What’s next? Maximising efficiency by making an hour last longer in the morning than the evening?

There is now a growing movement in UK politics advocating the hopelessly named “Single/Double Summer Time”, which would involve us moving from GMT / GMT+1 (winter / summer) to GMT+1 / GMT+2. I must say, I find it hard to believe that the name is not a deliberate distraction from the existing name of this time zone: “Central European Time”, as used by Spain, France, and Germany. That aside, the claims made for this shift are, frankly, ludicrous – somehow, we’re told, changing the clocks will prevent accidents, save energy, and somehow make the country a better place. No, it won’t. Getting up an hour earlier, going home an hour earlier, and going to bed an hour earlier, might.

So what do I suggest instead? Simple: flexible time.

Firstly, let’s stop changing the clocks; let’s stop inventing time zones to trick people out of their beds. Let’s stick to Greenwich Mean Time – the average time, based on the position of the sun in the sky, at Greenwich. Simple.

Secondly, let’s encourage all employers to offer their staff flexible hours. This one’s not quite so simple, I grant you – it does take a bit of extra effort to make sure everyone’s playing by the rules. But let’s face it, it’s not really necessary for every office in the country to be fully staffed for exactly the same period of the day. And it doesn’t need to be that complex, either: a few “core” hours each day, when everyone’s expected to be around unless specifically arranged, so meetings can be arranged more easily; and then a certain number of hours per day, or maybe per week, that each employee must log.  The benefits to “work-life balance” and family life should be pretty obvious, and if people could choose their preferred journey time, we wouldn’t have such ridiculous “rush hour” pressure on the transport system.

Finally, we encourage people, with well-reasoned arguments, that they should get up earlier. This is probably the hardest part, but given how confused people are about summer time already, we’d at least have simplicity on our side. Among those opposed to DST measures, traditionally, are farmers – why? do all the cows forget to change their watches? why is a farmer getting up at the same time year round anyway? And I actually saw one mother commenting that her children appeared to be “ready for summer time”, because they were waking up earlier – then the clocks changed, and, magically, they, um, carried on waking up earlier…

Other opponents, in the UK at least, are those living at higher latitudes – in Scotland, it is explained, the extra daylight is not available, so putting the clocks forward (by which we mean, remember, getting up earlier) means going to school in the dark. Ah yes, schools – I have a suggestion there, too: different schools, in different parts of the country, should have different opening hours. Remember, parents on flexi-time would have more chance to fit their hours around these than the current system, where schools generally finish 2 hours earlier than offices. What’s more, they should set their hours differently for each term of the year – what better way to encourage the habit of making the most of sunlight than saying “for the summer term, school will start at 8, and finish at 14:30”?

Obviously, there are people whose lives are timetabled neither by schools nor offices; but in a lot of cases, these people aren’t really affected by the current system anyway. A lot of retail, and manufacturing, is run on complex shift patterns, sometimes covering 24 hours of the day; changing the clocks makes very little difference to these one way or another. Smaller shops tend to open something along the lines of the traditional 9 to 5, but since this already excludes office workers (apart from those on lunch breaks), I don’t see why they’d be that bothered, either.

So, I’m not pretending it’s perfect, but I think it’s a much better use of energy than the current sham. It would certainly save a lot of effort for all those who have to deal with shifting time zones, and might even prevent a few accidents from people whose sleep is messed up by the changeover.

Finally, purely out of vanity, here is Jonathan Dimbleby reading out my e-mail on Radio 4‘s Any Answers this weekend. Actually, although the panellists on Any Questions mostly flannelled, several other listeners were broadcast with similar views to mine.

So, who wants to join with me in a Campaign for Real Time?


  1. Alex

    Great opinion, but I disagree. I don’t think Britain needs to live in darkness. That is because while just about everyone is up in the evening, only a portion of the population is up at sunrise. So the morning light is wasted. Also, the studies showing fewer fatalities and reduced energy use with later daylight are all true, these studies have been clearly replicated across many countries. Britian should adopt the European time zone, it’s the simpler and smarter solution.

  2. Rowan

    The question is not so much whether we could make better use of available daylight, but whether the best way to do that is by tricking everyone into thinking they’re getting up at the same time when they’re not. If you don’t think there’s any other way of doing it, fair enough, but don’t pretend it’s anything other than a cheap lie. Personally I think in the 21st century we can come up with a better solution. See for more.

  3. susiequeue2

    It has been proven that there no advantages to Daylight Saving Time and yet the powers that be in the U.S. continue to do it anyway! I hate it! When we go on it I am “off” for eight months!!! It’s not just useless, it’s harmful to health and it’s costly! Please sign this petition and get as many people as you know to sign it so we can stop this exercise in futility! It’s past time (pardon the pun) for DST to be abolished!

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