How could the government really support women?

// 14 September 2011

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brown envelope stamped with the words national feminist survey enclosed

The government’s rather feeble memo listing potential ways to win more female votes was leaked yesterday. Suggestions include banning all advertising aimed at children, front-loading child benefit so more is paid when children are younger and (if they’re feeling “brave”) opening up debate about reducing the school summer holidays.

As one reader pointed out on our Facebook page, the document is a reflection of a particular political mindset, namely that the aim of politics is to gain and retain power – not to listen to, represent and support the people of this country. To this end, certain policies are built around winning over key voters, not solving society’s problems. The wording of point 17 of the document is a perfect example of this:

Reconsider our decision not to criminalise forced marriage. This is tricky territory and there would be issues about reporting if we went for criminalisation – but we should review this because the signal sent by opting not to criminalise is a bad one.

That’s right, it’s the signal we should be worrying about, not the women and girls being forced into becoming wives against their will.

Point 12 offers further insight into the government’s mindset:

Consider radically different options on equal pay – encouraging a third party to set up a pay-sharing website (you enter some details and your own pay, and in return see information about others’) which gets around industry concerns about the costs of reporting on pay, but still gives good transparent information.

If that’s there definition of radical I think they need to buy a new dictionary.

Looks to me like they need some better suggestions. So, if you fancy listing yours in comments, I’ll pull them together and send them off to SW1. A few to get us started:

  • Incentivise the provision of free childcare in workplaces
  • Extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland
  • Introduce a living wage
  • Offer equal, paid parental leave for both parents (to include same sex parents)
  • Bring in compulsory pay audits.

Any more for any more?

Image by notmargaret, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Annie // Posted 15 September 2011 at 8:47 am

Get rid of ‘religious’ exemptions to discrimination legislation.

Rhiannon // Posted 15 September 2011 at 8:49 am

I think it would improve the lives of many women, and quite a lot of men, if the government moved to make part-time work more common and accessible – not just for the classic ‘woman with children’, but for men with children too, and people with health problems, people with other caring commitments, maybe even people who just want to work enough to pay their bills and read or take a part-time course or whatever in the rest of the day.

Rebeccaji // Posted 15 September 2011 at 12:08 pm

Paid parental leave should be transferrable and enable both parents to be on leave at the same time if they wish (as in Sweden).

A minimum 25% quota of women on all FTSE 250 listed boards. At least one to be exec director not just non-execs. Ditto Cabinet.

Flexible working opportunities to be extended to everyone, parent or not.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 15 September 2011 at 12:39 pm

Why limit freechild care to an employer incentive? Free state provided childcare was a demand of the Second Wave, on the list right next to equal wages. Free STATE childcare please!

Troika21 // Posted 15 September 2011 at 1:54 pm

Politics is about keeping and retaining power, I recommend Peter Oborne’s books ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’, though I can’t agree with everything in it.

I’ve had a quick skim through the policy document, and I would agree that some of it might seem milquetoast, of course that you have to remember that the issue is what is possible, not just what you would like.

Regarding your own suggestions, I agree with you on the extension of the Abortion Act, and on parental leave, but not the others.

I understand why childcare is important, but government should not be in the business of subsidising it. Any care should be paid for by someone other than the taxpayer. There is no reason it could not be provided by an organisation, and a deduction made from wages of those who take part.

A living wage is a deceptive idea. As attractive as the idea of putting money into peoples pockets is, this one is likely to hurt as many people as it helps. Businesses will hire less, and those that they do hire will be expected to have more qualifications than before, disadvantaging those without. If you ask anyone how much they should be paid, the answer is always ‘more’.

And pay audits? Business always needs more red tape, I suppose. And could make organisations reluctant to hire women, create a more rigid pay-structure, and place downward pressure on wages for everyone.

Laura // Posted 15 September 2011 at 4:12 pm

@ Feminist avatar – Agreed, I just also think that it would be useful for employers to provide it in the workplace, to enable parents to see their children/breastfeed (maybe, not sure on the practicalities of the latter!) more easily.

Rhubarb // Posted 15 September 2011 at 5:13 pm

@Troika21 re. the living wage.

Do you have anything that backs those arguments up? I am asking because very similar arguments were made about the introduction of the Minimum Wage (businesses will hire fewer people, there will be less jobs etc). The Low Pay Commission reports* suggest that these proved to be unfounded. People usually do want to be paid more…On the other hand, many businesses would like to spend as little as possible on their labour costs.


sarah k // Posted 15 September 2011 at 9:29 pm

Prioritising the funding of rape crisis centres, re-training all police officers on domestic abuse/rape/prostitution/trafficking etc., implementing fairer conditions for asylum seekers, introducing a mandatory programme to educate children about gender issues and the ‘awkward’ subjects that often aren’t currently covered (abuse, rape etc.). Plus all those mentioned already!

Clare // Posted 16 September 2011 at 12:47 pm

Maternity leave changed to something along the lines of New Parenting leave. Two registered parents of child given at least nine months parenting leave to use as they chose eg both take 4 1/2 months off together, take it in turns or allow one parent to take the bulk of the leave. Obviously this would need fine tuning and the parents would have to make their choice in advance of the birth so as to give their employers notice.

A change in the way child care is funded. Presently parents are almost forced into either working full time or not working at all, as part time work reduces their benefits leaving them worse off than not working at all. This balance should be addressed to encourage parents to work but allow them the choice to work part time. Many parents want to work but feel that by working full time they are unable to enjoy being parents.

A review of VAT and what items are considered essential and what are considered luxury.This can often show a gender bias.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 18 September 2011 at 1:27 am

As I understand it, some US states legally oblige large companies to provide a room for women to breastfeed/ pump milk.

alli // Posted 20 September 2011 at 7:30 pm

I’d like to second the comments above about part time and flexible working. Culture change is required in workplaces to ensure that quality part time jobs are readily available and advertised and that individuals (both men and women) working part time do not suffer detriment and are not marginalised (interms of promotion, communication and training) for doing so.

Anne // Posted 22 September 2011 at 10:19 am

Time we had equal rights for cohabiting couples. Despite popular belief, couples who live together have hardly any rights compared with married couples or civil partners.

People can live together for years but if they aren’t married they be put on the street with nothing. One person or family is left destitute and on benefits while the other remains wealthy.

Sira // Posted 22 September 2011 at 11:32 pm

One of the problems of creche facilities in workplaces is that a large number of women work part time in small businesses that are not required to (and in fairness in some cases can’t afford to or can’t accommodate) provide these things. I wonder if there could be a way that local authorities could administer a system whereby small businesses in a local area could club together to provide facilities, or contribute to those provided in large companies in the area so their employees could use them. That’s if we can’t get proper state funding for childcare, of course…

I especially agree about teaching kids about gender issues, retraining professionals in dealing with survivors of rape, DV, trafficking and prostitution, and about funding for Rape Crisis centres. I volunteer on a helpline for rape and sexual abuse survivors, and I was just there tonight. It’s horrible when the phone’s ringing and ringing and there aren’t enough of us to answer all the calls.

Summer // Posted 3 October 2011 at 11:06 am

Part time and flexible working is a must but i agree we can’t expect the tax payer- a number of whom are CF- to expect to foot that bill.

What there should be is a lower price for child care which is standardised and wages should be paid PAYE (if possible) so that childcare could be detucted (from one or both partents depending on how they chose to work it, the same could go for those paying CSA) BEFORE tax. That alone would give those people a break, regardless of their situations. Those who are self-employed or not on PAYE should be given some kind of equal exemption before they too are taxed for childcare.

Shared parental leave would be so much better, as the higher wage earner I would prefer my partner to have access to that entitlement of leave.

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