David Cameron talks with first time voters about the Scottish independence referendum, at the Lockerbie Ice Rink on May 16, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism