What is this government doing for women?
You hear a lot about how this government has a ‘women problem’ but I thought it was the other way round. After all, what is this government doing for women? Childcare costs spiralling out of control, a welfare state that’s under attack, and insecure and temporary work on the increase – that’s what Cameron’s Britain looks like.
Just yesterday, whilst on the panel at the TUC Women’s Conference, I shared a story I’d heard from one of our teaching unions about a child that came into school in old clothes, looking dirty. This went on for a while until the young boy eventually went off absent. When he returned, it transpired that he only had one pair of trousers and his mother had kept him off school so she could wash them – waiting for them to dry because she couldn’t afford to turn the heating on.
Sadly, stories like these are commonplace. I’ve heard of shop workers risking their jobs by turning a blind eye to women who have no choice but to steal nappies. And there’s the growing number of women care workers on zero hours contracts, not being paid between appointments. Gloria De Piero, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, who was also on the panel yesterday, talked about her friend’s mum who regularly works sixty hours a week as a care worker because she’s too afraid to say no in case she doesn’t get any hours the following week.
And it’s not just zero hours contracts – there’s women working for large companies who haven’t had a pay rise for almost a decade. TUC analysis, published this week, shows that the best-paid occupations are dominated by men – and often no-go zones for part-time workers – yet the lowest-paid occupations, such as retail assistants and cleaners, are dominated by women and part-time work. As for those working full-time? The gender pay gap – which increased for the first time last year after years of slow, steady progress – costs full-time women over £5,000 a year.
In short, women are simply not being fairly rewarded for the work they do.
So, the first thing we need to do is boost women’s incomes. That means mandatory equal pay audits, affordable childcare and measures to promote flexible and part-time working at all levels.
Second, we need action to tackle the low pay epidemic that disproportionately hits women. This means a much higher minimum wage, a living wage, and higher pay in the sectors that can afford it, administered through modern wages councils.
Third, we need more collective bargaining and stronger unions winning for women. From Ford in Dagenham to Cammell-Laird in Birkenhead, history has consistently shown that the best way for women to secure pay justice is through organisation and collective action. Ultimately, it’s only by getting out there, getting organised and standing together in solidarity that we will make a difference to those millions of ordinary women who desperately need better wages.
With Fair Pay Fortnight just around the corner, let’s make it happen.