Rachel Reeves speaks at the Labour conference earlier this year in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Rachel Reeves: Tory MPs apologised to me over "incredibly rude" Duncan Smith

Shadow work and pensions secretary says Conservative MPs apologised to her over Duncan Smith's claim that she had not bothered to vote. 

Relations between Rachel Reeves and Iain Duncan Smith recently reached a new low when the Work and Pensions Secretary refused to apologise for accusing his shadow of not bothering to turn up for a vote. 

Reeves said: "The Secretary of State criticised me for not turning up to vote on an Opposition day motion last week. He knows nothing of why I was not able to attend last week. I kindly ask him to withdraw his criticism and apologise for the aspersion that I could not be bothered to turn up to vote in the House of Commons." (Her absence was due to illness.) 

But Duncan Smith refused to do so, declaring: "I simply made the point that it was good to see the hon. Lady here because she did not turn up to vote in the last debate. I understand that she retweeted that she was Rochester at the time. She was not put down as a signatory to the motion. Those are the points that I made." 

Reeves replied: "Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was not in Rochester last week. I will give the Secretary of State one last opportunity to withdraw the aspersion and apologise. He knows nothing of the reason why I was not here last week, so I ask him to withdraw the aspersion and apologise." But Duncan Smith was unrepentant: "I stand by my assertion that the hon. Lady did not vote and that her name was not on the Order Paper."

Now, in an interview with me in this week's New Statesman, Reeves has revealed that "a number of Tory MPs" came up to her afterwards to apologise for Duncan Smith's behaviour. She told me:

I think that he’s an incredibly rude man and I think that anybody else would have apologised. And, actually, the number of MPs from the Conservative Party came up to me afterwards and said that they thought that Iain Duncan Smith behaved very badly and wanted to apologise on his behalf, which was very nice of them, but they don’t need to apologise on his behalf, he’s quite capable of apologising for himself. 

When I asked Reeves whether she was surprised that Duncan Smith had remained in his job despite multiple policy failures, she replied: "Well, I expect that people like Michael Gove and Owen Paterson, when they were summarily dismissed from their jobs at the last reshuffle must have wondered why the axe came for them but not for Iain Duncan Smith who has presided over £25bn of Tory welfare waste in additional spending compared to what they set out, Universal Credit which has been a huge failure, the bedroom tax, which is probably the cruellest and nastiest policy that we’ve had from this government, devised by Iain Duncan Smith. I think there’s probably a lot of people, not just in the Labour Party, but in the Tory Party and across the country who wonder why someone like that is in his job." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.