Monday, 12 February 2018

A century on from winning the right to vote women are still getting a poor deal from the free market.

This year marks the centenary of women winning the right to vote under the Representation of the People Act, although sometimes you could he forgiven for thinking for how far things have moved on, too much has stayed the same.

From the ongoing revelations about sexual harassment in Hollywood and elsewhere to the battle for equal pay being fought by BBC journalists and Tesco shelf stackers inequality driven by patriarchy seems as entrenched as ever.

Figures published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) this month show that it is the, mostly part-time, Tesco staff who are getting the worst deal.

The report shows the hourly wage for women is on average 20% lower than that for men with the gender pay gap widening for workers from their late twenties onwards, part time working, it shows, shuts down opportunities for wage progression.

Reducing the gender wage gap is, the report says, ‘high on the political agenda', particularly as low pay rather than unemployment is increasingly a driver of poverty. Added to this is the lack of value attributed to part time working and stubbornly gendered social norms around issues like childcare.

In a blog written for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Helen Barnard says that the jobs market has to be redesigned do that it works for everyone and that employers need to improve the quality of part time jobs available.

These are long term goals, in the short term she writes that the chancellor should ‘show he understands the pressures and ease the constraints facing low income part time workers and their families by lifting the benefits freeze and fixing Universal Credit so families can keep more of their earnings'.

In a wider context, the way market forces have driven political decision making in the UK for the past forty years has created huge inequalities. This has created a situation where a polarization exits between those who believe ‘the glories of unrestrained capitalism will win the day', and ‘dogmatic opponents' who want to ‘sweep markets away and replace them with state control', write James Kirkup and Campbell Robb in the Times this week.

The conclude that both positions fail to recognize the real experience of low paid workers, saying that ‘if you’re poor in modern Britain, every single market you rely on at the moment is failing you'.

Writing about the plight of part time workers Helen Barnard writes ‘it is just not right that we treat part time workers as if they are less valuable’, adding that society needs to give ‘full consideration’ to how family responsibilities and health constraints can prevent both men and women from being able to work full time.

In a world where the nature of work is changing more and more people are, often not by choice, working part time and facing the associated penalties. Amongst these low pay falls disproportionately on women.

As Helen Barnard concludes a century after they won the right to vote many women are now asking ‘why do we still tolerate a jobs market that penalizes women who try to balance work and taking care of children? We cannot wait another century before we make progress’.

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