Apparently, we are told, the Government is trying to “woo” women fearing the perception that its cuts are disproportionately affecting them. While it is good to hear that it might be thinking about women, if only for political purposes and as an add-on, its solutions, as leaked by the Guardian, don’t sound very exciting. Frontloading child benefit in the early years is one – presumably the aim is to allow women more choice over whether they work or stay at home in the early years. This is the same child benefit that has just been frozen.
At around £20 a week for the first child and around £13 for the next ones it is unlikely it would make the same difference as undoing the tax credit cuts it recently brought in which have made work uneconomic for many mums. I was speaking to a single mum yesterday who reckons she is down around £400 a month in tax credits since April. You’d need to really frontload that benefit to make up for this, particularly since the benefit would be universal rather than targeted like tax credits. That would mean it would be going to women who were fairly well off and stayed at home as well as those for whom working was a financial necessity and for whom staying in the workforce would mean a substantial difference to their future career progression and earning power. They might need this if no child benefit was available when their kids are in their teens, which is not an inexpensive time for parents.
Other proposals include setting up a website where women can anonymously compare pay. Since the problem is the gender pay gap, would they not need to compare salaries with men and who is going to go online and voluntarily compare their salary if they are doing well out of the whole pay deal? Another proposal is apparently holding a Downing Street women in business summit, according to the Guardian, because there hasn’t been one. That in itself says a lot, given the number of women starting up their own businesses these days. Many are mothers doing so to have more control over their lives. They are not helped by the fact they can’t claim back childcare against tax as a legitimate business cost. Tackling this might be a more positive move.
So what would help woo women who are being disproportionately hit by cuts in jobs in the public sector and cuts in public services [since women still tend to be the main carers]?
Women, surprisingly, are interested in many of the same things as men – they want to see good public services, they want jobs that pay enough they want security for their families. In terms of jobs, a large number of working mums who have lost jobs in the public sector were working flexibly. They are trying to find similar flexibility to allow them to balance work and family life, but few flexible jobs are advertised.
The Government has proposed opening up flexible working legislation to all and says it wants to promote good practice in flexible working. The trouble is that all this is rather down the line. There is little evidence of any championing going on right now when people need it. Why? Because it still appears that those in Government don’t really get the business benefits of flexible working and see it more as an employee perk and mainly about retention and recruitment. There needs to be a change in mindset so that businesses truly grasp the advantages for them of changing the work culture for all staff and the support for them to do so. That requires strong positive leadership and consistent messages from the top.