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30 hours free childcare: still complicated

31 May

Figures newly released from Wales, show that take-up of 30 hours free childcare per week – available to 3 and 4 year olds with parents in work – has been considerably lower than expected.  For a flagship government policy, aimed at improving outcomes for disadvantaged children, and at enhancing mothers’ opportunities in the labour force, this must raise questions in the corridors of power.

Back in 2015, when 30 hours free childcare was first slated in the Queen’s Speech, I wrote a blog outlining some of the issues which were likely to open up in the gap between rhetoric and practice.  In the intervening period it has remained one of my most popular pieces.  It’s a policy area where the solution offered seems simple, but which encompasses an impressive range of potential pitfalls.

Three main factors demonstrate the problems with the offer.  First, 30 hours free childcare is offered to children where parents are working – it is not a universal offer.  While children in some of the most disadvantaged families can access 15 hours free child care from the age of 2, and all 3 and 4 years can access 15 hours per week over the school year, the enhanced 30 hours offer is limited, at the lower end, to those earning at least the equivalent of 16 hours National Minimum Wage per week. The lack of universality is an issue, as some of the families where early childcare might be most beneficial, may not be eligible, due to lower or no earnings for at least one parent. Secondly, there is a timing issue.  As parents are not eligible for free childcare from the end of maternity or parental leave, the 30 hours can be viewed as too little, too late.  For parents who have had to go it alone in the period between their child’s first and third birthday, some may be unwilling or unable to change existing providers when eligibility eventually kicks in; others may have already done the calculation of costs of childcare (rising at rates of 7% last year) versus wage packet (stagnant), and left the workforce altogether.

Thirdly, providers are struggling (as was warned from the start) to meet the conditions of the offer without cross-subsidising the free hours through new charges elsewhere.  The hourly rate paid to providers by the government, may not reflect full costs, and has not been uprated this year.  The funding rate is complicated still further by interaction with other policies. Increases in the National Minimum Wage mean that staff are now more expensive, and auto-enrolment in pensions will make employer bills still higher, as outlined here.  Of course, such employment policies are positive in a relatively low-paid sector of the economy, but if funding for children’s places does not reflect these costs, a hole remains to be filled.  Some may bridge the gap by employing cheaper, less well-trained staff; others lower staff to child ratios.  Meanwhile, parents working longer hours will pay more for cover of hours above the 30 provided free. Some nurseries now charge for items (e.g. meals) and excursions that were previously included in fees.  Moreover, commentators have started to raise concerns that large-scale providers could go bust if the funding pressures become  greater. As local authorities provide fewer childcare services directly, private sector organisations are increasingly important.  A recent Guardian piece noted that commercial providers may be less accountable in terms of how they use government money, and distribute costs between themselves and parents. They also need to bring profit to investors. In more deprived areas the pressures may be magnified, as quality childcare is more patchily available, and there may be little capacity to cross-subsidise the free offer through additional charges elsewhere.

In her feminist takeover of the New European, Caroline Criado Perez today makes the case for universal free childcare as an integral part of achieving gender equality.  She points out that 25% of mothers in the EU cite unpaid care work as the reason for their lack of participation in the jobs market (compared to only 3% of men).  The UK has amongst the most expensive childcare in the region, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the partial solution on offer here is proving unpersuasive for many.  The generous policies of countries like Sweden, which provides daycare for all children at an enviably subsidised rate, alongside relatively well-paid parental leave, is beginning to prove a pull for workers from Britain, other parts of the EU, and beyond.  In an article for Swedish radio, an Irish woman talks about how being in Sweden means she can be with her child in the early months and not worry about costs when she returns to work, or about having to give up work altogether.  Thirty hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds in the UK still risks failing to meet this test for many parents.




Got the numbers – why not use them?

7 Apr

Ah, the gender pay gap – have you had enough of it yet? It’s been in the headlines rather a lot lately, thanks to the government’s new reporting regime,  which means that all organisations with over 250 employees had to get their figures in during the first week of April.

So what do the numbers measure? Not equal pay, which is the business of all employees being paid the same amount for the same job, as dealt with in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, whereby pay discrimination was outlawed; but rather the difference between men and women’s average hourly pay in the same company.  At this point, the chorus of dissent begins: it is not illegal to pay men and women differently if they are in different jobs at different levels.  There may be all sorts of good reasons why men and women are paid differently –  e.g. the airline defence: it’s not the company’s fault that nearly all the pilots are men, and most of  the stewarding crew, women.  Also, some argue, if the impetus is to reduce the gender pay gap over time, some companies may offload their least well-paid (predominantly female) employees to change their figures for the better.  Here, you need to imagine large conglomerates, where the highly paid professionals are predominantly male, but the service employees are predominantly female – one solution could be, to outsource your cleaning contracts, so that the gender pay gap appeared to narrow, while simultaneously potentially worsening the employment situation of your lowest-paid female labour force.  Another objection  to gender pay gap reporting might be that a 0% gender pay gap is a kind of totalitarian totem, which signifies little, and rides roughshod over men’s and women’s patterns of employment.

In response, I’d say, yes, the figures are crude, but the very fact that we have them, puts imbalances in the public domain, that were rarely quite so visible before.  The airline defence partly falls down when you  observe variance across the sector: Ryanair’s gender differentials in pay are particularly large, while Easyjet has already noted a problem and has a plan in place to increase the numbers of female pilots on its books; British Airways, on the other hand, does not have a massive gender pay gap by the standards of the sector, as its efforts towards diversity are longer-established, and extend beyond pilots, into engineering and baggage handling and loading roles.  The issue as to why fewer women train for specialist technical jobs requires action in education and expectations, and is one for wider society, not simply employers, to consider.

On the potential outsourcing hurdle, the fact that we now have reporting does mean that gender pay gaps are more transparent, and companies more potentially accountable, because the figures are in the public domain.  What CEO wants to go down as the one who fixed his (and it is usually his)  company’s figures by shuffling women off the books?  After all, it’s been noticed that law firms are not obliged to include partners of firms in their calculations, as they are not employees. As the optics of this exclusion are bad, some firms have published figures with partners included, so that the impact of male dominance at senior levels is more clearly demonstrated.  There are, though, a number of issues related to enforcement of gender pay gap reporting – the EHRC, the body responsible for ensuring that companies do report and are held to account, is poorly resourced and has limited powers to sanction employers.

Finally, on the 0% totem – the fact that there is a relatively small number of companies with gender pay gaps going in favour of women (going ‘past’ 0 if you like) shows that there are scenarios where women can be better paid. A 0% gender pay gap is not some blanket goal, but rather more of a direction of travel indicator, which invites us to think a bit more about what the absence of a gender pay gap might look like, and what the barriers to it may be. As nearly four-fifths of organisations pay men more, we have plenty of time to contemplate these questions.  One pertinent question that arises is what level of gender pay gap is acceptable?  Will gender pay gap reporting mean that deviation from the overall average of reported gender pay gaps, becomes a new benchmark for companies?

And above all of this, the real issue is, why are the figures turning out as skewed towards men as they are?  Two important reasons: one – these are legacy figures, the summation of all the hiring, retention and promotion decisions made over many years up to now.  That was then – let’s plan for a more equal future.

Secondly, all those decisions are the sum of what the numbers in themselves cannot address.  If  we have all these qualified women who are doctors, lawyers, MBA-holding executives, PhDs (and we do, and have had, for decades now) why are they not the senior consultants, law firm partners, ‘C-suite’ office holders, or professors, in near-equal numbers?  And, at least as importantly, why – to name just a few examples –  are the cleaners, care workers, air crew, classroom assistants, secretaries, un-promoted teachers, paid so comparatively badly?  The structural problems of gendered occupational sectors, and poor pay associated with  lack of progression, are crucial to questions of inequality, and unveiled in all their ‘glory’ via gender pay gap reporting.  Public sector organisations – often regarded a good place for professional women to be – have also been shown to have substantial gender pay gaps. For example, the worst performing council on reporting measures has a median gender pay gap of 34%, while 65% of its employees are women.  A range of trade unions, universities and health trusts have also reported gaps well in excess of the average among reporting organisations (median 9.7%).  This raises the question as to what organisations should do to remedy their position.  In public sector organisations, ‘family friendly’ and flexible working options are often available.  What the figures may be indicating is that these options are associated – however subconsciously – with a dearth of career progression: with retention, rather than with promotion, of staff.

It’s not news that caring work is undervalued, whether performed professionally, or outside the workforce, back at home.  In both cases, this work is overwhelmingly done by women.  Until that changes, and until the tendency for ‘feminised’ labour forces to be associated with lower pay is quashed, the gender pay gap is going to persist. Until there’s a will to address the inequalities that stop both men and women balancing childcare, care for relatives, and employment, we’re stuck.  The figures show it. Long ago the Undertones sang ‘You’ve got my number, why don’t you use it?’  On the gender pay gap, we have the numbers, now we need to use them to begin to address all those cultural undertones in the workplace.




Corporate models

24 Jan

Last week’s Presidents Club men-only charity fundraising event has now become notorious, thanks to the undercover reporting of a young female journalist at the Financial Times.  She, along with over 120 other ‘tall, thin, pretty’ women, was hired to be a hostess at a gala evening where all the invitees were men – not just any men, but captains of industry, entertainers and politicians.  The women were asked to wear black high heels and even black underwear, and were given ‘sexy’ outfits of short black dresses and corset-style belts.  The prospective hostesses were all asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before entering the event.  What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot apparently. The FT journalist reported a sexualised atmosphere.  The women were paraded before the guests before taking their seats, and, unusually, were permitted to drink, during an evening which proceeded to descend into groping and propositions.  Meanwhile, an auction of prizes took place, raising £2 million for children’s charities.  Lots even included one featuring the gift of plastic surgery to add ‘spice’ to your wife, among the more routine offers of executive-friendly luxuries and services.

Quite rightly, the response to these revelations has been outrage, that such blatant sexism still exists in the British establishment.  I share the collective revulsion at the event, but sadly, I’m not that surprised.  If you’ve ever worked in hospitality, you’ll know that women in service are frequently viewed as quasi-public property by clients, and often hired on appearance: from the name badge I had to wear as a student waitress emblazoned ‘here to care for you’, to the egregious spread of ‘Hooters’-style restaurants, it’s pretty clear which sex is paid to please which.  And sleazy overtones are not just the preserve of relatively low-paid service industries.  At corporate conferences and exhibitions the world over, it is quite normal to find companies paying young, well-made-up women to entice delegates to their stalls, or to ‘work’ the networking sessions in order to generate interest in products and services, in their overwhelmingly male audiences.  Think of ‘brand ambassadors’ – how many male ones come to mind outside the world of sport and watches?

Since the FT report came out, charities listed as beneficiaries on the Presidents Club website have been quick to distance themselves from the event.  Great Ormond Street Hospital has gone so far as to say that it will return all donations received from this source.  The charity beneficiaries were not responsible for the nature of the event, nor would they wish to be associated with it. It’s certainly not conventional for charities to host ‘men-only’ events.

However, charities are not immune from wider corporate trends. I remember coming across an agency a while back which offered ‘spokesmodels’ among its services.  What on earth is a ‘spokesmodel’? Well, a brief google search showed that it means a very good-looking woman (sometimes a professional model elsewhere) who can be trained up in the details of your cause and campaigns, and can be employed at events to encourage pledges and donations from invited audiences. The assumption is all too often that the people with money are male, and the people who attract them to think about spending, female.

The whole corporate system still revolves far too much around these unhealthy dynamics.  And the damage is not restricted to the young women fondled at events like the Presidents Club, it seeps into professional life so that women often tend to remain in revenue-generating, not revenue-controlling positions.  The charity sector, like so many others, has a majority of women in its workforce, but a male-dominated executive layer, often accompanied by man-heavy boards of trustees.  So when I heard the about the President Club, I was sad, but not completely surprised.  After all, it’s only a short while ago that the UN appointed a comic book character as an Honorary Ambassador in support of empowerment of women and girls …


Many happy returns?

10 Oct

Two policies aimed at narrowing the gender gap in earning and caring have recently attracted attention.  The first, shared parental leave, introduced 2 years ago, has been up for assessment of take-up and impact; the second, a government scheme to encourage returners to public sector professions, was unveiled at the end of the summer.

These two eye-catching initiatives share an important underlying feature: they are operating on shoestring budgets.  Shared Parental Leave – which was touted as a response to ‘Edwardian’ patterns of division of labour –  ended up as a scheme where the government’s own estimates of take-up ran at an underwhelming 2-8% of fathers.  In fact, research conducted since its introduction, indicates that take-up may be even lower – one recently quoted survey in the Guardian found fewer than 1 in 1000 employees had taken Shared Parental Leave; it’s reckoned that fewer than 9000 fathers took it up in the year to March 2017.  Set against 695,000 births per year, progress is slow indeed.

So, what are the reasons for low take-up? Shared parental leave is, in fact, a system of transfer of mothers’ maternity leave to fathers, rather than an independent entitlement for men. It therefore excludes many families where women are not entitled to maternity leave.  Next there’s the crucial issue of pay: while many employers provide enhanced maternity leave packages, Shared Parental Leave is paid at a Statutory Maternity Pay levels – currently around £140 per week.  This contrasts with more widely used schemes overseas, where men have an individual entitlement to leave, and payment is set at a generous fraction of actual wages.  As we still live in a world where many fathers are chief wage earners in families, few can afford the loss of income inherent in the British system. Thirdly, there’s the culture thing: taking leave is often viewed as a threat to future promotion prospects, and so men are often reluctant to volunteer for it. The cynic might say, that having seen what happens to many women’s careers, who can blame them? …

This brings us to initiative number two – the government’s new schemes for people who have taken time out of the workplace.   Five million pounds have been pledged to cover three public sector professions: social work, the civil service, and allied health professions (e.g. paramedics, speech therapists and radiographers).  This amounts to 100 places for returners to social work, 50 for civil servants, and 300 returnships for allied health professions.  As somewhere in excess of half a million people work in these areas, this seems something of a drop in the ocean. In the private sector, returnship programmes are becoming more popular, and the government is currently consulting further on these.

These initiatives accompany high employment rates for mothers, and three-quarters of economically inactive mothers say that they would like to return to work.  As ever, mothers of the youngest children are least likely to be employed, so sharing care in the early years is likely to be key to women’s future progression in employment, and also opens up the possibility of men doing more caring work.  With around half of younger fathers saying that they would like a less stressful job, or that they would be prepared to take a pay cut in order to contribute more at home, governments should be thinking creatively about re-balancing the workforce to improve life for parents and children alike.  But creative thinking is not enough. In a climate of wage stagnation and economic uncertainty, statutory pay levels are too low to be a feasible option for many parents contemplating shared leave; and returnships will only be transformational for carers when they are both more widely available, and less associated with the ‘mummy track’.  In fairness to the government, they have made their returner schemes open to men as well as women, but given the current imbalances in who takes time off, this may be a bit cart before horse.

The frustrating thing in all this, is that lack of transformational change is entirely predictable: on Shared Parental Leave, policy experts and civil society groups explained that without dedicated periods of leave for fathers and adequate rates of pay, the scheme would fail to take off; and while returnships are welcome to reincorporate skilled women into work, they will also fail to make major headway if they are not accompanied by wider efforts to prevent mothers from falling out of the workforce in the first place.

Again and again, flexible working arrangements have been found to be vital in retaining parents in the workforce, and to job satisfaction.  While there may be reluctance to commit major resources to these issues, the evidence shows that investment often has good returns. Homeworking and flexible working may raise productivity, and can reduce costs by enhancing staff retention rates. In Scandinavia, it has been found that the more months of leave fathers take, the higher the subsequent earnings for their partners.  The Economist reported this week that a German policy to provide a right to kindergarten places was 60% paid for by the taxes of women returners – and of course these women are likely go on paying taxes throughout their lives.  If our government could actually commit to proper investment in a more equal workforce (as well as in the childcare sector which is currently suffering from under-investment in the flagship 30 hours free childcare scheme) returning to work might generate the kind of monetary returns the economy currently needs.  You could call it a realist’s money tree.



Innovation goes together with representation

9 Aug

In the wake of the now-infamous Google memo, some have argued that whether or not its author should have been fired, is a hard question to answer, because of the company’s commitment to open discussion.  I’m not sure that this is such a hard question to answer.  The memo proposed that women were intrinsically less attracted to, and less capable of, coding careers than men.  It argued that biology explained the lack of women in technology firms and their comparative absence at senior levels.   If you believe that companies embody a set values and create a working culture – and technology giants with their global missions and highly-designed office spaces, do this more self-consciously than many – then contravening central tenets of that culture has to be problematic at best.

Google aims to bring its products to all, and it has already had to confront its lack of internal diversity publicly.  Publication of its staffing ratios (69% of all workers are male and only 20% of technical jobs are held women; 2% of employees are African American) has led to open discussion of diversity issues, and to pledges to improve the picture.  Google, furthermore, has been embroiled in a potential legal challenge around sex discrimination and the gender pay gap, which the US Department of Labour has described as showing ‘extreme’ disparities.  In this atmosphere, what the firm is seen to do in response to reductionist arguments about who is good at tech, is crucial to its reputation.  Complacency is not an option.  As a former Google employee forcefully argued, publishing a memo that suggests that part of the workforce (the female part) is intrinsically unsuited to its work, and is present for politically correct reasons, has consequences for both the author of the memo, and for the company.  In publishing the memo, the author has made it very challenging to assign collaborative work to him; nor could a manager easily put women in his team, after he has said what he has said. And having put in place the conditions for a ‘textbook hostile working environment’ the only realistic choice was to remove the author from his job. Meanwhile the company has to deal with internal dismay in its workforce, and external reputational damage.

What would the alternative be?  To leave the man in his place and educate him about just how flawed his arguments are? This seems pretty hard in situation where the author overlooks that there are systemic and cultural reasons why women may not be thriving in tech.  As the FT put it today, ‘It is clear from history and social science that bias and inequity do have an effect on the composition of the workforce’ – in other words women and other minorities have been affected by factors in the wider system, not inherent deficiencies in themselves.

Looking beyond Google to the wider tech sector, there is ample evidence that more diverse workforces are possible. The role of women in the history of computing has recently been highlighted in the film ‘Hidden Figures’, and celebration of Ada Lovelace’s pivotal work at the dawn of computer science.  In Russia and Asia, women are employed in greater numbers in technology and engineering than in the USA (or the UK for that matter), again disproving the argument that women are somehow intrinsically less capable of such work. And a Guardian article on Monday showed how Silicon Valley has been less successful in integrating minority ethnic groups, than the technology companies around Washington DC, where 17% of technical workers are black.  In California, technology companies are failing to recruit to reflect either the local Latino population, or the smaller proportion of African Americans. So the West coast tech sector is particularly white and male.  Public commitment to increasing diversity is part of the coda of Google (and its Silicon Valley cohabitants) – it knows that it has a problem and that it needs to be addressed.  The memo has probably made doing so all the more difficult, at least in the short-term.

And the case for Google and others diversifying their workforce isn’t simply to do with equality and social justice. In marketing technological products to us, Google needs to know that they meet consumer requirements.  The papers are full of examples of where this capacity has been limited by a professional monoculture  – e.g. voice recognition software tested by men, which struggles with women’s voices; facial recognition systems which work less well with darker skin tones. And in terms of general innovation there’s a growing literature to show that diverse teams come up with better, more original solutions to problems, than groups of similar people from similar backgrounds.  So diversity is a scientific and commercial necessity, not just a ‘nice to have’ option.  It is somewhat ironic that the kind of collaborative and interactive skills which the memo defined as ‘female’ characteristics, are exactly the ones that tech companies must have in order to innovate and compete….






Different for girls?

20 Apr

A recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report on graduate incomes and social mobility has caused a bit of a stir. Researchers had access to data which meant they could link information on students’ institution of study and subject choice, and their subsequent earnings for up to ten years. The headline findings were that those from the wealthiest backgrounds earn significantly more than students from poorer families, even when they had studied for similar degrees in similar places; and that economics and medicine were the subjects with the highest-earning graduates. Less prominently reported were some marked gender differences in outcomes.

Given our unequal society and uneven education provision, it may not come as a shock that students from higher-income backgrounds end up earning more (10% more at median income levels after taking subject studied and institution attended into account).  But men’s earning advantage over similarly-educated women is striking, especially since the student population has been majority female for some time now.

While men’s median earnings ten years on were £30,000, women’s were £27,000 – this compares to figures for non-graduates of £22,000 and £18,000 respectively.  Therefore, graduating as a woman means gaining a slightly larger premium on average, but at lower earnings levels than is the case for men.  So studying may lift women a little further above others with fewer qualifications, but it does not necessarily put them on a par with similar male graduates, nor does the advantage grow at the same rate at the top of the income scale as occurs for men.  Men from the wealthiest backgrounds earn about 20% more than men from less well-off backgrounds in the top 10% of each group; for women the equivalent gap is 14%, indicating that being an advantaged male carries the biggest labour force premium of all.

If you take the two subjects with the highest earners of all, medicine and economics, the advantage of being a man becomes clear.  The two subjects have different profiles in terms of who studies them – the majority of medical students have been female for some time now, while under one third of economics students are women.  But no matter what the gender balance of students, the IFS results show that men earn more.  And the difference between men and women at the highest levels of income in each subject is clear.

Economics has the highest rewards at the highest levels, with the top 10% of women earning upwards of £94,000 – but the top 10% of men are earning at least £121,000; roughly 12% of male economics graduates will earn £100,000 or more, compared to 9% of women.

In medicine, women earn around £69,000 to make the top 10%, while for men the equivalent figure is £85,000. In a subject where most graduates are female, this difference seems worthy of attention.  Perhaps choice of speciality also has a role in the differential, as women remain rare in some high-status areas such as surgery.

Most of the media discussion of the IFS findings has been devoted to the stalled social mobility indicated by the persistent earning advantage enjoyed by students from the wealthiest backgrounds.  But even the most advantaged women in Britain are not earning the same as their male counterparts.  This raises the question of other underlying differences between men and women in progress from school to the labour market.   Men are more likely to study economics and STEM subjects, and women more likely to opt for arts subjects.  The study found that creative arts degrees had the lowest earners of all, and these courses are 55% female on intake.

But the example of medicine shows that even where women study a high status subject in high numbers, they are not reaping the same rewards as men. Ten years on, many erstwhile students will have become parents, and some may be looking after their own parents.  The impact of caring work is still experienced predominantly by women, and this is likely to play a part in the differences in earnings between male and female graduates, no matter what their field.  Alongside discussions of higher education’s role in improving social mobility, perhaps we should be talking more about the role of effective policies for shared parental leave and flexible working options.

It has been pointed out during the current junior doctors’ pay dispute that doctors working part-time (80% of whom are female) will lose out under the new contract proposals, which remove pay increments and reduce maternity pay and ‘on-call’ rates for those working less than full-time equivalent.  No wonder there has been anger that the government equality impact document reads “Any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end.”  While doctors have benefited from some pay equalisation up to now, the graduate earnings data suggests that women doctors are less likely to progress to the top rates of pay than man, even in the system as it is.

And a survey of women in the finance sector (a likely destination for top-earning economists) reported this week that two thirds of women felt that being female put them at a professional disadvantage, and that they would not recommend their career to their daughters. If this is how women at the top of the highest earning professions feel, what about the rest of us? Since women graduates consistently earn less than men – and male non-graduates also earn more than females, it seems that we cannot continue to believe that gender equality has basically been achieved.  The figures suggest that it is still true that it pays to be a man, and that even at the top, it really is different for girls.









Universal Credit – for men?

3 Feb

Last month I wrote a blog about the Prime Minister’s speech on supporting families, where he referred to parenting as a ‘job’, and families as ‘the best anti-poverty measure ever invented’. Where in all this material and professional concern, I asked, was an acknowledgement of caring work in family life?

Seeing the discussion of the projected impacts of Universal Credit on different family types, I have to ask the question again. For today’s report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that working single parents will lose the most income through the Universal Credit system, and second earners in couples will have reduced incentives to work, in contrast to the overall impact of the scheme, which will apparently do more to make work pay for recipients. While transitional arrangements will shield current claimants, the impact assessment looks at what will happen in the longer-term.

So why is this a gender issue? Well, in spite of increasing numbers of hands-on fathers and breadwinning women, 9 out of 10 single parents are still women, and dual-earning households most often have male chief wage earners. Secondary earners are often working part-time and doing most of the childcare in families. So we have two groups of working mothers (single parents, part-time employees) who are likely to find it hard to compensate for the reduced income or reduced incentives to move into or stay in employment, which Universal Credit will present. Because of their caring responsibilities, they are likely to find it difficult to increase hours or pay, in order to make up for any losses, alongside paying for additional childcare.

The government is likely to respond that the offer of 30 hours free childcare, along with rises in income tax thresholds, will help resolve these issues. But as I and many others have pointed out, the childcare proposals are underfunded, and quality childcare is least likely to be available in deprived areas, so that the poorest parents may have problems accessing it. And if you are amongst the lowest earners and/or work part-time, the tax thresholds may not make any difference to you. You will simply be left worse off, and your children will still need to be cared for.

Disincentives for second earners to work under Universal Credit are troubling because they may damage mothers’ future financial prospects. This is firstly because they make it less worthwhile to remain in work, so that more women may spend longer out of the workforce; and secondly because the Universal Credit system proposes making all payments to one person in every household, thus breaking the principle where child-related payments were made to mothers. This second feature may not matter if you are in a good relationship with access to a joint account, but it could be very disadvantageous where unsympathetic partners control access to family finances.

It appears then that the benefits of Universal Credit are not quite as universal as the name suggests. And without acknowledgement of the value – and constraints – of caring work, it is likely to give more credit to men’s work than to women’s.








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