Lower taxes and less bureaucracy will lead more women (and men) back into work

Janice Atkinson for The Daily Mail
16th February 2012

Why is women’s employment disproportionally affected by economic crises? We need to look at the areas where women are unemployed and ascertain why.

Firstly, unemployment of women between 50 and 64 has rocketed. This is particularly worrying as their pensions are typically on average 86% of those garnered by their male counterparts.

The low income levels of women pensioners reflect the gender pay gap during people’s working lives as well as interrupted working histories due to caring responsibilities, which impair the ability of women to save for retirement through the pension system.

In addition, many older women pensioners are widows, and the level of occupational pension received by a widow is generally only half the level of the pension received by the couple when the man was alive. There is an urgency for Government to look at this age group, otherwise we will not reduce the number of women pensioners who will be living in relative poverty.

Secondly, women make up 65 per cent of the staff in the public sector. The proportion of women in this arena has risen at three times the rate of men. We need to find answers to this imbalance. The public sector grew at a phenomenal rate under Labour, becoming over-bloated, and now needs a reality check. Unfortunately, these jobs attracted women and part-time workers.

Thirdly, the high cost of childcare is causing women to give up work – but there are also more men staying at home.

The left argues that the Coalition has a blind spot on women who are being forced back into the kitchen by cuts, including cuts in childcare. The average cost of full-time childcare is £385 per month for children over two and £729 per month for under-twos. In fact, we spend more money on childcare than any other country in the world.

The left will argue that state-funded nurseries are the answer, along with increasing state interference in childcare arrangements with health and safety, curriculums for the under-twos, forcing child-minders out of business with red tape and bureaucracy, and making childcare vouchers unavailable to the self-employed. I would argue otherwise.

The economic reality is that more men are at home looking after children. The number is said to have trippled since 1996 – but the statistics have also been distorted.

A survey from the insurance company Aviva suggested there could be 600,000 men, 6% of British fathers, in that role, a further rise from the ONS figures which recorded 192,000 British men as the primary carer for children in 2009 and 119,000 in 1993.

These figures do not include fathers working from home or part-time in order to be the main stay-at-home parent, but these are counted in the women’s statistics, creating a distorted appearance of gender imbalance.

The left’s Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the rise in women’s unemployment was ‘turning back time’ on equality, adding: ‘These new figures must act as a wake-up call to Government – we are in a time of crisis …. cuts are threatening women’s equality as jobs dry up, benefits are slashed and vital public services disappear.’

I disagree. It has got nothing to do with equality. We’ve had equality for decades. There is no gender pay-gap or discrimination in the 20-30 year age gap: this is society catching up.

This is an economic realignment in the workplace, particularly in the public sector. Benefits are not being ‘slashed’. Many of these benefits were created and merrily handed out by Blair and Brown as a bribe to the middle-classes and kept low-income earners in the poverty/worklessness trap.

Why are we not shouting about the high tax rates, the high cost of benefits that the country could never afford, the bloated public sector – paid for by private sector workers, the generous public sector pensions which has a deficit so huge that cannot ever be plugged?

Some of these problems could be alleviated by taking all minimum wage earners out of tax by raising the tax threshold to £11,500; encouraging many to work, and by introducing a flat tax of 31%, combining NI and tax, which will make all taxpayers better off and take a further 4.5 million lower paid workers out of income tax altogether. The flat tax will merge existing income tax bands and Employees’ National Insurance contributions into a single rate, starting at that £11,500 threshold.

This is too bold for Cameron and Osborne. They will also tinker at the edges as Blair and Brown did. Lower taxes and less bureaucracy will lead the way to more women (and men) back into work.

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