At yesterday’s ‘Women in Work’ conference held by Bright Blue, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt delivered the keynote speech where she proclaimed that “to fight injustice, we need a strong economy” and that helping women in the workplace is a vital part of that.
Mordaunt confirmed that she is giving “the Government Equalities Office not just a new home, but a permanent home, and most importantly at the centre of government.”
This will be in the Cabinet Office, alongside the Racial Disparity Unit. The new equalities hub will be at the centre of Whitehall and Government, allowing it to interact with ministerial departments and belong to shape governmental policy and belong, impacting policy at a local government level as well. Mordaunt said that “such a hub will help us better articulate and co-ordinate a national mission to enable everyone to help fight injustice”. The creation of the hub means that the work of the Government Equalities office has to be broadened to “focus on women at every stage of their life“. The work however cannot be limited to government alone. The public sector has a responsibility to ensure that equality impacts assessments continue to be used and remain effect.
GEO has successfully shifted the dial on a number of issues including:
- launching a £1.5 million grant fund to encourage action in the private sector, and launching programmes in the public sector for health professionals, teachers and prospective Civil Servants, all of which are helping ‘returners’ across the country get back into work;
- supporting the Hampton-Alexander Review to make progress against their ambitious targets for getting more women at the top of business, seeing the number of all-male boards in the FTSE 350 fall from 152 to 5 since 2011;
- working with BEIS on a Shared Parental Leave campaign to raise awareness and uptake of Shared Parental Leave, helping more families to share caring.
Mordaunt admitted that all too often the focus of women in work is limited to the boardroom. If we want to fulfill the potential of women, then the government has to look “beyond the FTSE 350, beyond London, beyond executives, women on boards and big business” and at women who are on lower incomes, who work part time, who own their own small businesses, and those from all over the United Kingdom. In Mordaunt’s view these are “the invisible women who keep our families our public services and our nation going. Women to who we owe a great deal. And women who really need our support“.
In a joke to the press, she said “don’t panic – women’s ministers can multitask” when focusing on the fact the government can both tackle the gender gap at a boardroom level while also focusing on getting women into higher paying jobs at the lower end of the spectrum.
When speaking about the gender pay gap, Mordaunt touched on a lesser spoken about topic – the pension pay gap. In their first year on a pension, men are projected to have a 25% higher income than women. She said that “as we all live longer, this pensions gap will affect people long into their old age, leading to real inequalities in the standard of living people can afford.”
The gender pay gap data and the wealth of research GEO has done over the past year have helped us understand some of the challenges women face around work:
- caring responsibilities is a huge issue;
- women are more likely to be low paid than men and far more likely to get stuck in low pay;
- just over 2 million people are inactive due to caring for home or family and nearly 90% of those people are women;
- 1 in 10 working age women belong to the ‘sandwich generation’ – providing care as well as having dependent children;
- this rises to 1 in 7 for women in their early 40s, those who are most likely to be in this position.
One policy area touched on in her keynote speech was shared parental leave. By 2019/2020, the government will be spending £6 billion on childcare support – a figure higher than any other previous government. However, as employment trends change it’s essential we look at making sure policy keeps up with the face changing world of employment. For example, “self-employed parents can find it impossible to navigate the complex system as to what they’re entitled to“.
During her speech, Mordaunt announced:
- £500,000 of funding to support people to return to work when they are ready to do so, will be focusing on those with additional barriers to participating in the labour market – including people who speak little English, people with disabilities, and those who are homeless or have been victims of domestic abuse.
- a further £100,000 to start some more bespoke support for very marginalised women some of who have little or no work history in particular parts of the country
How can we give better support to the 4.2 million women who are also disabled, or those from an ethnic minority?
White women have an employment rate of 73.3%, while women of Bangladeshi ethnicity have an employment rate of just 32.8%.
In the 2011 census, there were 464,000 women in the UK who could not speak English well or at all.
Or what about those with complex backgrounds often involving domestic abuse – 1.2 million female victims last year.
In order to tackle the “burning injustices” that still existed in our country, we have a duty to help women at every stage of their life, to help the women who want to get on the employment ladder, to help lift them out of lower paid jobs, to help them find childcare solutions.
The economy only grows when all women are at the heart of it.