Britain may have low unemployment, low inflation and low national debt, but economic success has come at a social cost – many Britons are working more than 60 hours a week and taking little holiday, dpa reported, citing a recent government survey. The survey by the Department of Trade and Industry’s magazine found that one in six surveyed were working more than 60 hours a week compared to one in eight two years ago.

One in every eight women now works more than 60 hours a week, more than double the number of women doing so in 2000, and social scientists have begun to point to the effects on family life. European Union employment legislation, introduced four years ago to reduce working hours, has clearly failed in its intended effect in Britain, the survey showed.

At least a quarter of those surveyed said they would like better balance between work and leisure, but most feared negative effects on their career, even though they did not in general receive any additional pay for the extra hours they put in. One in five men have visited their doctor because of stress.

Workers in the retail sector are among those working longest.

Proprietors of small shops in particular are reluctant to close their businesses to take holiday for fear of losing customers permanently. Most regulations on closing times have been abolished in Britain, and many shops are open through the weekend. Londoners work the most hours overtime each week – an average of 12 hours, with accountants the most likely to be highly stressed.

Patricia Hewitt, secretary of state for Trade and Industry, urged employers to work with their staff to find sensible work-life balance solutions. “I am determined to get the merits of flexible working onto the business agenda especially for the parents of young children who often find it the most difficult to balance work and home life,” the news agency quoted her as saying. Britain’s top trade unionist John Monks said: “The government is absolutely right to highlight long hours and a lack of work-life balance. But the power to address the problem lies with them.”