Women are worse off after four years of this government. Photo: Getty
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Women are worse off after four years of George Osborne's spending decisions

The gender pay gap is widening again and the Chancellor’s Budgets have hit women a staggering four times harder than men.

It has been pretty galling to witness George Osborne touring the country this week trying to claim that the recovery is working for women. You would be forgiven for thinking that women are better off after four years of this Tory-led government. Yet we know the reality is quite the opposite.

The latest analysis by the House of Commons Library shows quite clearly that, since 2010, George Osborne's budgets and spending reviews have hit women a staggering four times harder than men, with cuts to childcare support for working parents, the maternity grant and even maternity pay cut in real terms. Meanwhile, the top one per cent of earners – most of whom are men – have been given a £3bn a year tax cut.

Yet the grim reality for women doesn't stop there. It is frankly quite shocking that, on average – in 21st-century Britain – a woman still earns just 80p for every £1 earned by a man. After five years of progress, last year we saw the pay gap between men and women actually increase for the first time since 2008. So, based on their performance over the last four years, women could be waiting another 60 years or more under Conservative governments to finally reach a level of pay equality.

It is also clear that George Osborne's complacent claims ignore some far more worrying trends.  We often hear praise for the rise in employment, yet statistics show that the rise under this government has been fastest for those in self-employment. Yet we know that self-employed women earn on average 40 per cent less than self-employed men.

And there are also massive regional differences in the employment figures as a whole, with the reality being that in my own region of the northeast, for instance, the number of unemployed women is at its highest for three years.

And, of course, we know that for many of those that are in work life has never been tougher as the broken link between earnings and growth has hit women hardest. As the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission pointed out this week, 60 per cent of those on low pay – earning less than around £8 per hour – are women, as are 54 per cent of those who report as being employed on zero hours contracts, according  to the  Office for National Statistics.

No wonder then that nearly half of women surveyed by the Fawcett Society this summer said that they feel worse off now than they did five years ago.

So to tour the country proclaiming a success story for women under this Tory-led government smacks not only of desperation, but also goes to highlight  just how out of touch they really are.

The government talks about catching up with Germany in terms of the number of women in work, but brushes over the fact that we lag behind some 22 other OECD countries in terms of the number of mothers in work, reflecting the fact that there is a gulf – some 10 percentage points – between female employment and maternal employment in the UK.

With childcare costs having soared by 30 per cent since 2010, parents are on average spending more on childcare than they are paying off their mortgage.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that two thirds of mums surveyed by the Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet say that childcare costs prevent them either getting back in to work or taking on more work.

Parents – but especially mums – are facing a childcare crunch, and by next May they will have seen no new help with these costs in a whole Parliament under this Government.

So what difference would a Labour government make? Well, for a start, we have a clear, costed plan to expand free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds up to 25 hours per week, while guaranteeing access to breakfast and after school clubs for primary school children.

Our plan will also tackle low pay – which we know disproportionately hits women – by raising the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020 and taking the necessary action to make sure that the minimum wage is actually enforced, whilst tackling the proliferation of abusive zero-hours contracts which we know leave women in particular vulnerable and unable to plan their childcare needs.

We will also scrap the coalition’s ill-thought-through married couples tax allowance – which won’t benefit two thirds of married couples or five out of six families – and instead use the money to introduce a lower 10p starting rate of income tax. This would be a tax cut for 24m people on middle and low incomes. A tax cut that benefits more women, more married couples and more families.

Labour will also directly tackle the gender pay gap – which has worryingly increased under this government – by bringing in pay transparency rules for large employers.

George Osborne can try to pull the wool over people’s eyes, but he'll be hard pressed to convince women they are better off under his chancellorship. Women know they have been hit hardest by the choices the Tories have made – they feel it every day in their pockets. He’ll be even harder pressed to show that things will be any different if women were to give them another five years because it is clear where their priorities lie next May – more cuts to tax credits hitting working women on modest incomes and a promise to keep their £3bn tax cut for the very highest earners – over 85 per cent of whom are men.

Catherine McKinnell is MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North and shadow Treasury minister


Catherine McKinnell is shadow economic secretary to the Treasury and MP for Newcastle upon Tyne

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.