Ed Miliband’s One Nation Labour vision is focused on the idea of tackling inequality at its roots and devolving power away from the centre. One crucial step on the journey to realising this vision is to ensure women wield economic power on an equal basis with men.
This was the central topic of our second One Nation Feminism event in June, which brought together Lucy Powell MP, the Shadow Minister for Children and Childcare, and Jerome de Henau and Polly Trenow from the Women's Budget Group.
Gender equality is contingent on economic equality. In today’s society, true freedom can only be realised through economic independence. Redressing economic imbalances would also benefit the national economy, as recent studies suggest equalising gender participation in the labour market could result in a net gain of 10% of GDP by 2030 in the UK alone.
At present, we are far from this ideal. Lucy Powell raised the issue of the motherhood penalty and spoke passionately about the cost to women of austerity measures. She painted a bleak picture of the reality of many women’s lives under the coalition government, drawing a link between the under-representation of women in the Cabinet and its failure to advance women’s issues. In contrast, Lucy Powell outlined Labour’s plans to adopt an economic policy that would enhane women’s economic power, by extending paid childcare for 3-4 year olds and providing flexible care options to incentivise mothers’ return to the labour market.
While Lucy Powell focused on improving women’s employment prospects, Polly Trenow and Jerome de Henau from the Women’s Budget Group tackled the prickly issue of cultural transformation. They stressed the need to reform cultural attitudes and alter the workplace to accommodate childcare responsibilities. They proposed a raft of measures including flexible working, employment rights for part-time workers, on-site crèche facilities, job sharing and better-paid paternity leave.
The Women's Budget Group argue that the crux of the problem is our perception of caring responsibilities as an economic burden. Instead, we ought to learn to view it as an enabler and properly recognise the value of care so that parents who take on such responsibilities are not discriminated against for their choices.