Report calls for action on childcare, pay and the menopause

A new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work makes 10 recommendations on everything from childcare to maternity pay.

Children at nursery raising their hands

 

The Government should appoint an Early Years Cabinet minister to address the childcare crisis, increase statutory maternity pay to match the living wage and work with employers to discourage salary history questions, according to a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] on Women and Work.

The group’s annual report, The cost of being a woman at work, was published this week and covers the 2022 focus of the APPG’s regular meetings on what aspects of a woman’s working life affect their earning potential, including the gender pay gap, the effect of the menopause on a woman’s working life, the cost of childcare and the barriers for women entrepreneurs.

It says its 10 recommendations should be set against the need for a much larger, long-term debate about the importance of parent-friendly policies. It states: “Growth has been rightfully mentioned repeatedly throughout 2022, becoming a governmental priority. Parent-supporting policies are directly tied to this. They increase families’ spending power, workers’ productivity and the birth rate. First and foremost, we must improve these policies to help women and families. But it is also helpful to remember the wide-ranging benefits to policies such as these.” 

When it comes to the gender pay gap, one of the recommendations is for mandatory gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting for all companies of 100+ employees, as well as the development of mandatory follow-up actions plans to address any gaps. The Government recently rejected calls for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. Gender pay gap reporting currently applies to companies with over 250 employees.

The report says legislation is key for addressing the gender pay gap, but will not address the wider structural and cultural factors that mean women tend to work in lower paid jobs and sectors. “Addressing these will require government to lead a wider societal and cultural shift,” it states. Greater transparency over pay is vital, it adds, stating: “Normalising conversations around pay will help us move towards closing the gender pay gap.” 

It also mentions that one of the proposals put forward at an APPG meeting was that the government should be obliged to report on the gender pension gap so that there is greater awareness of the lifetime impact of issues such as caring responsibilities on women’s income.

Women founders

Other recommendations cover the need for a financial literacy campaign, changes to the pension system, including ensuring employers continue to pay pension contributions throughout parental leave, a move to accord protected characteristic status to the menopause, encouragement for employers to produce plans for accommodating menopausal employees and a call for the Government to work with the private sector to increase the number of apprenticeships for women in STEM.

When it comes to enterprise, the report recommends that the Government should encourage venture capital firms to adopt quotas for female-led businesses. It also highlights the psychological barriers that female entrepreneurs face due to the challenges they have to overcome. “Only once women know their own value will true equality be achievable,” it states.

The report also has a section on the cost of living crisis which covers energy costs, vulnerable industries and restructuring work. It highlights research from ReWage who argue that benefits should be uprated in line with inflation in January rather than the previous September so there is not such a time lag which can cause severe hardship and disruption. And it calls for further attention to be devoted to those women who are particularly vulnerable and have already suffered heavily in the pandemic in the years ahead. It states: “If we are now able to predict that those same women will be more vulnerable over the coming months, we have a social obligation to offer support.” 

Childcare and menopause

Launching the report, Maria Caulfield, minister for women, said it was “very timely as the Government is keen to look at how to get more women into work or get women who have dropped out back” and taking a life course approach. The single biggest challenge she hears is about childcare, which a select committee is looking at, with the public consultation on this closing yesterday. She also referred to the pay transparency working group which is looking at how employers can be more open about pay as a way to address the gender pay gap.

She added that there were big challenges around getting more money invested in high growth women-founded businesses, saying that they get just 1p of every one pound of investment given to business, with male-founded businesses getting 89p’s worth. A high growth task force is looking into this. Caulfield also mentioned progress on the menopause at work and said simple steps could make a lot of difference when it came to drop-out rates.

Jess Phillips, co-chair of the APPG, also mentioned the menopause. She said that she had seen a real sense of commitment to progress since the APPG started six years ago, for instance, the menopause was not even on the agenda then and is now a fundamental issue when it comes to women in the workplace. 

Phillips added that childcare support has not, however, kept up with the way work has changed over the years. She said that progress has to be made, not just for the sake of employers but for the country’s economic development. “Women’s work is fundamentally part of industrial strategy,” she stated. “It cannot cost us more to work than it benefits us. Too many women are having to make a cost benefit analysis. For too many not working is the better option.”



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