SpAds: what’s the gender split?

The spotlight has been on women in politics -- or the lack of them. How do special advisers measure

The Cabinet Office has released the full list of special advisers to the coalition government and what they are paid.

The big headline from publication of the list was that Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister's director of communications, has agreed to a salary of £140,000, just £2,500 less than David Cameron.

Coulson, who was editor of the News of the World from 2003-2007, resigned as director of communications at Conservative Party headquarters to take the post at No 10. At CCHQ, he was paid £275,000, so his move to Downing Street comes at the price of a £135,000 pay cut.

Overall, the number of special adviser roles has been reduced from 78 to 68, with seven of the positions still vacant. It is thought that this reduction will reduce the annual wage bill for special advisers by up to £2m.

Following the general election and the announcement of the coalition cabinet, the debate about gender equality in politics has become more vociferous, both Alice Miles and Rowenna Davis in the New Statesman articulating dissatisfaction with the number of women in top roles.

Twenty-two per cent of MPs are now women, an increase of 2.5 per cent on 2005, and 4 per cent on 1997.

This imbalance among elected politicians seems to be reflected in the ranks of special advisers, with 22 of the posts held by women, just over half the number held by men.

The inequality is also reflected in the average salaries of male and female special advisers, with men earning £62,298 on average, while the average salary for female advisers is just under £3,750 less, at £58,552.

But it isn't all bad news. Of the ten highest-paid special advisers, four are women. Kate Fall, Cameron's deputy chief of staff, is the third-highest-paid special adviser, with a salary of £100,000. Other women in the top ten include the Tory press secretary Gabby Bertin, the former chief of staff to Nick Clegg Polly MacKenzie, and the Tories' head of operations, Liz Sugg.

Philippa Stroud, the Conservative candidate who sparked controversy over her membership of the New Frontiers Church and allegations in the Observer that she founded a project to "cure" homosexuals, is to be paid £69,250 in her new role as special adviser at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Despite being widely tipped as a Tory high-flyer, Stroud was beaten in Sutton and Cheam by the Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow, who won the seat with a majority of 1,608 votes.

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Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.