David Cameron talks with first time voters about the Scottish independence referendum, at the Lockerbie Ice Rink on May 16, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Only Labour can be trusted to help working women

David Cameron likes to boast that there are more women in the workplace than ever. But for too many, life is getting harder. 

The next Labour government will make work pay. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that families will be worse off at the next general election than they were at the last one. Ensuring a fair day's pay for a fair day's work is the only way millions of families will be able to cope with the cost-of-living crisis that has been one of the defining features of David Cameron's government.

The Prime Minister likes to talk about the record number of women in work, a fact which should in theory mean family finances are under less pressure.  However, a detailed look at those jobs and the terms and conditions attached to them tells a very different story. Here are a few facts that David Cameron never mentions.

First, the number of women working part-time is the highest on record. Six million women are working part-time, four times the number of men. Wages for part-time jobs are, on average, a third less than for full-time jobs. 

Second, the rise in the female workforce is due in large part to a 22 per cent increase in self-employment. But if you think the majority of these women are running tech start-ups from their kitchen tables you'd be wrong. This new-style working woman typically earns £9,800 a year - that's less than you'd earn annually on the minimum wage. The biggest increase in self-employment has come in customer services and "elementary" or routine jobs like warehouse pickers and packers.

Third, in many of the industries where women are concentrated, low-pay and zero hours contracts are the norm. A quarter of employees in hospitality are on zero-hour contracts and 300,000 care workers.

An independent report commissioned by the Labour Party last week found that care agencies are exploiting home helps: up to 220,000 workers are effectively being paid less than the minimum wage because visits are capped at 15 minutes, and no payment is made for time spent travelling between jobs. A third of all women are in low wage jobs. Kate, a full-time university catering assistant who lives in my constituency of Ashfield in Nottinghamshire told me that saying "no" to her kids has become a fact of life, and she hasn't had a family holiday in four years.

Given the facts on the ground, it's little wonder the gap between men and women's pay is increasing again for the first time in five years. In government, Labour narrowed the gap by almost a third, and closed the gap completely for women in their twenties and thirties working full-time. 

We must not forget the women who can't get any work - there are currently 400,000 women claiming Jobseeker's Allowance. The number was just half that in 2008 - before the financial crisis hit. These women need a Labour government to get them back to work  - and we will guarantee every young woman who has been unemployed for more than a year a paid starter job. We will extend the same guarantee to women over 24 who have been out of a job for two years.

Working women need a Labour government that will end the abuse of zero-hour contracts by giving employees the right to a fixed-hours contract after a year working for the same employer. We will substantially increase the minimum wage and call time on practices like "clock-watch" care and we will guarantee 25-hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds as well as guaranteeing access to breakfast and after-school clubs.

David Cameron likes to brag about the fact more women are in the workplace, but ask him if he will do any of those things to help working women and he becomes a little coy.

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad