Labour’s Yvette Cooper responds to the Government’s latest policies affecting working mums:
Time and again, David Cameron has shown he just doesn’t get the reality of women’s lives. With childcare and tax credits being heavily hit, working mums are bearing the brunt of Government policies. And even the Government’s welcome promise to extend flexible working is undermined by the reality of other plans to reduce working parents’ rights.
I’m worried that the clock is being turned back, just at a time when we really need women’s experience and talent in the economy. Women are paying twice as much as men to bring the deficit down, women’s unemployment has increased faster, and many women are finding they are taking the strain as local services are cut.
The problem goes right to the top, with David Cameron telling women MPs to “calm down dear”, and demoting women in the reshuffle, even though there are so few women in his government to start with.
Even the latest announcement from Nick Clegg is not enough to solve the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome plans to extend flexible working to everyone, as carers for elderly relatives often face similar pressures as parents. And greater flexibility over swapping maternity and paternity leave will help some families too.
But the reality for new parents is they often can’t afford to take all their maternity and paternity leave. And independent research has shown the Government has cut over £1,000 a year from families with children – so taking time off when a new baby is born is getting even harder for working parents.
Meanwhile lots of working parents are seeing their chance of flexible working reduced not increased. I’ve talked with working parents in some police forces who told me their flexible working arrangements have been withdrawn – the first things to go in the face of cuts. And we know increasing numbers of women are considering giving up the beat. Hospital workers have told me similar tales.
At the same time in the private sector the Government is promoting a new plan of ‘shares for rights’. Though voluntary for existing workers, new staff could be forced to sign up. Employees would have to give up their hard won rights at work in exchange for shares in the company they work for – shares which could go up or down in value.
In practice that means new mums will no longer be able to give their employer eight weeks’ notice of the date they want to go back to work. Instead they’ll have to tell them almost four months in advance. Yet, as any new mum will know, carefully-laid plans can often change when a baby is born – perhaps because of childcare problems or breastfeeding plans.
It also means employees will have to give up their right to request flexible working. So much for Nick Clegg’s claim that flexible working should be valued and extended – his government is discouraging it. Employee share ownership is a good thing. But there is no evidence this new scheme will benefit employees, or businesses.
Our economy needs women – and that means we must do more to support working mums. As the ministers’ latest scheme to water down people’s rights at work demonstrates, this out of touch Government is not only bad for women, but it is bad for our economy too.
*Yvette Cooper is Shadow Home Secretary & Minister for Women & Equalities. Workingmums.co.uk has also sent questions on issues relating to work life balance to the coalition Government. Picture credit: Steve Punter and Creative Commons.