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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.