I’M so excited. It’s almost here. I can hardly wait for the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday. I’m anxious to see what goodies he has to offer working women.
He says he wants to see half a million more of us at work by the beginning of next year. If that’s the case, then he better have something more appetising than a carrot to tempt us with.
Mr Osborne is not exactly known as a poster boy for women in the workplace. His recent fact-finding mission around the country, “to see the role that women are playing in the economy”, made him more enemies than friends. Just imagine if he had made it known that he was off on a jolly to investigate the role that men are playing in the economy.
He is making a fundamental mistake by assuming that men and women should be treated differently when at work. Isn’t that why we passed the Equal Opportunities Act? I’ll tell him one thing that he does need to know. Despite all the equal pay legislation our mothers fought for in the 1970s, women are still paid less than men. Official figures suggest that on average, a woman earns just 80p for every pound earned by a man.
And I’ll tell him another thing – 60 per cent of workers on low pay, earning less than £8 an hour, are women. So are 54 per cent of those employed on zero hours contracts. These figures come from the findings of the Government-backed Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.
If the Chancellor is really that concerned about how women contribute to the economy, he should just nip down to the House of Commons library and look up the files. No need for him to mount his patronising bandwagon to come round and pat us on the head.
No wonder then that women are pretty angry with his government. Poll after poll suggests we prefer Ed Miliband to Osborne, David Cameron and their pompous crew. Therefore, if he wants to make good his promise, he had better magic up something seriously persuasive.
I suggest he makes a start with childcare. He is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Surely he can’t ignore a figure like this: in UK working families’ childcare takes up 43.1 per cent of the average wage, according to a recent report. In Germany, a country with which Mr Osborne seeks to compete, it’s just 9.1 per cent.
How can he look at these figures and even allow himself to ponder why more women don’t go out to work? When private nurseries are demanding monthly fees bigger than the average mortgage, serious questions must be asked.
No amount of childcare vouchers and trade-off schemes has so far made a noticeable dent in costs this astronomical. In an ideal world – somewhere like Germany, for example, or Scandinavia – there would be much more public money set aside for state-funded care for the youngest children. That’s where he should really be looking for inspiration.
And while he’s about it, he could have a think about putting some legislation in place to curb the rampant free market policies of the private nursery business. People like the Osbornes will no doubt be able to afford nannies and au pairs. In the real world, however, parents are totally at the mercy of profiteers.
I will spell this out for him if he likes. In many, many families, it makes no financial sense whatsoever for both parents to go out to work. Let’s put aside the tricky discussion about who earns what and who has the most important career for a minute. And let’s think about the most important people in this relationship – the children. When Mr Osborne makes his lofty proclamations about encouraging more women to work, do you think he even thinks for a minute about all those babies and toddlers? Does he not think about all those mothers who would rather stay at home and enjoy these early years together than rush about packing up baby for the day, gathering handbag and bus pass and buggy and briefcase? What right does he have to sentence people to this kind of eternal juggling act, when actually they are individuals with free will?
Sorry if this sounds strong, but it’s about time politicians got it into their heads that it is not their right to push women about. We’re not some commodity to be traded, bullied or guilt-tripped. We’re human beings, and most often, the primary caregiver in a family – whether it’s for children, elderly parents, or both.
And we should have a choice. My children are nine and 12 now. Both went to nursery when they were a few months old so I could go back to work full-time. I won’t bore you with the personal fiscal reasons for this. However, I know if I had my time again, I would take a long, hard look at my life, my house, my financial priorities and ask myself – is it worth it? If George Osborne really cared about women, he would be asking himself the same question.