The whole economy loses out when women’s talents and skills are under-valued
Last week I met one of my constituents Cate. She’s forty three, a mum and works hard as a catering assistant at Nottingham Uni. Cate told me they haven’t had a family holiday for four years and that saying no to her kids has become a normal part of her day.
This is a story I hear too often from women struggling to make their wages stretch when prices keep rising, or who have had to cut back their hours because the cost of childcare is just too high.
And it’s not just women; when prices have risen faster than wages for 39 of the last 40 months everyone is hit. But over forty years since the ladies of Dagenham plant got up from their sewing machines and marched for equal pay, women are still paid less than men for the hours they work.
Today is Equal Pay Day, the point in the year when women working full-time effectively stop being paid, because they receive 15 per cent less per hour than men. And 15 per cent doesn’t come close to the pay gap in some sectors.
In August the Chartered Management Institute found that women who have reached management positions can only expect to earn three quarters the pay of their male colleagues and receive bonuses of just half the size. In fact, the more highly skilled and higher paid the profession, the greater the gap between men and women’s pay.
I’m in awe of the courage of the Dagenham ladies and women today who stand up and challenge their employers, but we can’t expect women to have to do this on their own. We need greater transparency in pay structures and more firms to step up to the plate and take the lead with equal pay audits.
But this is only part of the picture, because whilst young women are now more likely to gain degrees than men, women still dominate professions where wages are low and there are few possibilities for career progression.
Two thirds of health professionals in our country are women and yet they receive on average less than two thirds the pay. The majority of these women are concentrated in low skilled roles, whilst the top male professionals can earn nearly twice as much in the same sector.
Tackling this inequality requires us to challenge the stereotypes in careers advice for young women and encourage more girls to take up higher-skilled apprenticeships. A challenge made increasingly difficult by a Government who has undermined career services.
But we also need an economic recovery which works for everyone and not just for the very few. Because whilst previous recoveries have been led by a growth in women’s employment, under this Government female unemployment is at its highest for a generation and women are paying three times more to bring down the deficit than men.
And for women who are in work, many find they have to forgo a promotion and a pay rise or reduce their hours because the pressures of juggling childcare and often caring for an older relative or sick friend as well are just too great.
In the last few months research by ASDA found that 70% of stay at home mums surveyed said they would be worse off in the current climate if they worked because of the cost of childcare.
High quality, affordable childcare is vital to women’s equality in the workplace and is as vital a part of our economic infrastructure as buildings and bridges.
Which is why Labour will support women to juggle work and childcare by restoring breakfast and after-school clubs in primary schools from 6am-8pm for every child, and provide 25 free hours childcare for 3 and 4 year olds of working parents.
And this week Ed Miliband set out plans for the next Labour Government to help businesses pay the living wage, so that both men and women like Cate can keep up with the rising cost of living.
The whole economy loses when women’s talents and skills are under-valued and under-used, which is why we must not allow decades of progress for women to slide back under David Cameron’s watch.