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19 May 2014

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. 

By Gloria De Piero

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.

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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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