Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

A paper by Labour in London this week drew attention to the capital’s childcare crisis. The document revealed that there were 35,000 fewer nursery places since the Conservatives took office, and that childcare costs have increased by 30%. Labour have announced they will increase childcare for 3-4 year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week, and will increase funding through a levy on banks. This would create an extra 72,000 places in London alone, where the struggle to keep up with costs is beginning to spiral out of control for many parents.

A report last month by the think tank IPPR drew attention to the present childcare crisis. The study showed the inextricable link between maternal employment levels – on which the UK performs worse than many OECD countries – and the poor childcare provisions Britain has to offer. IPPR said childcare of under-fives was essential to bring about better rates of work and pay for women, and that the ideal proportion of a family’s disposable income spent on childcare should be no more than 10%.

With Sure Start nurseries coming under threat from the government during this parliament – not to mention the TUC’s revelation last year that Britain has Europe’s worst maternity provisions – much more needs to be done. The alternative will be another generation of 50-65 year old women stuck in long-term unemployment or forced to deskill to find work.

I’m therefore delighted to see Labour in London spelling out such a clear direction of travel on this issue. The Tories produce a lot of hot air when it comes to getting women in the boardroom or the debating chamber, but to find sustainable solutions to these problems we need to address the systemic factors that drive women out of the workplace during their early thirties.

Also this week, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon made headlines when he referred to some UKIP members as “literally akin to the Nazis”. Halfon, a comparatively moderate Conservative, said Nigel Farage’s party could be split into two tribes: Godfrey Bloom-style buffoons and more “sinister” nationalists in the mould of Gerard Battern. He ironically thanked UKIP for “cleansing” his party of its lunatic fringe.

Halfon’s words draw attention to a sharp conflict within the Conservative Party, between those who want to remain borderline sane, and a larger faction who see the current state of British politics as an opportunity to drag the centre ground ever further to the right. For the latter group the existence of UKIP provides a convenient excuse; a political imperative to propel their party towards bigotry and knee-jerk populism. As I wrote in my round up last week, the end point in this journey is a type of Tea Party fanaticism which blocks all forms of progress.

So far David Cameron has made a host of concessions, essentially allowing the ultras within his party to dictate policy. One can only hope, for the sake both of British national interests and of democracy per se, that senior Conservative figures start to look beyond the ‘path of least resistance’ solutions they currently seem so keen on.

Giving birth puts women’s jobs in jeopardy

Labour Party

Almost three-quarters of mothers feel that taking maternity leave put their jobs in jeopardy and left them vulnerable to ambitious colleagues or redundancy, The Times reported yesterday.

This was one of the findings from a recent study among Netmums members to examine the challenges faced by working mothers or mothers-to-be.

One in three working women also said they felt they had been overlooked for a promotion because they were of child-bearing age.

As The Times rightly infers, “this and other studies show that although protected by law, mothers remain fearful during their child-bearing years, believing that they are first in line for redundancy and at the back of the queue when it comes to promotion and training opportunities”.

The study also found that two-thirds of women now earn less than they did before having a baby, while only 5 per cent earn more. Despite all this 73 per cent of women believe they are better employees as a result of having a baby, making them more focused and organised.

This is not the first research to show that having a baby is the one single factor which limits women’s career progression and thus their pay packet. The gender pay gap in the UK taking account of full and part-time work currently stands at 22 per cent, the sixth worst in the European Union. Part of the reason for this poor showing is that the gap between man and women’s earnings dramatically worsens once a woman has had a baby. According to research conducted by the TUC, there is little difference in men and women’s pay in their 20s, yet by the time they reach their 40s the gap between male and female hourly earnings is 15.3 per cent.

 The study for Netmums was conducted by maternitycover.com, a specialist recruitment consultancy, and confirms many women’s experiences of having children and trying to keep a career going.

Women in their 50s earn 20% less than men

Labour Party

Women who work full-time in their 50s earn 20% less than men, research by the Trades Union Congress revealed yesterday.

Their research which was based on figures from the Office of National Statistics found that the disparity in pay corresponds to smaller pensions. The worst hit by the gender pay gap are women aged between 50-59.  This isn’t a shock, and it’s why I have consistently supported moves designed to decrease the gender pay gap. 

However, there is another side to this problem, namely the level of support provided to older women.

Women in their 50s are already burdened with a pension system that has hit them hard. Many women have not had the same opportunity as men to make savings, nor contribute to a pension pot like their male counterparts.

Equally, many find it difficult to work full-time later in life because they are expected to take on familial duties such as caring for older parents or other loved ones.

Low pay, therefore, remains a problem for many thousands of women many of whom may earn in the region of £10,000 which, as Frances O’ Grady, General Secretary of the TUC said, is barely enough to live off let alone to save.

We know that women still earn less than men in their careers, but this figure increases when women reach their 50s. All of this is made worse after the government decided to increase the state pension age.

Many women will want to continue working, but they must not penalised for only being able to work part-time due to responsibility for other people. Women’s pay shouldn’t be disproportionately affected because they have to take on caring roles. Neither should they give up decent pay or interesting careers often built up over many years.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Part time work and self-employment is replacing full time employment for women. Well that’s according to the TUC which found the number of women in full-time employee jobs has fallen by 170,000, nearly 200,000 more women now describe themselves as being self-employed.

Their report conceded that while men are still twice as likely to be self-employed, women account for the majority of the increase in self-employed workers over the last four years.

Of grave concern to the TUC is that some of what has been described as ‘self-employment’ is “bogus and a way for employers to save on National Insurance costs and key employee benefits such as pensions, paid holidays and sick pay.”

In addition they rightly highlight that the poor pay associated with self-employment is shown by pay trends over the last decade.

The median income of self-employed workers has fallen from £11,300 in 2001 to just £10,300 in 2010, even before allowing for inflation.

The average income for employees has risen over the same period and is now nearly twice as high (£18,900). You can read their full release here.

The statistics reveal that women remain vulnerable in this current economic climate.

I have said this before, but women perform just as well as their male counterparts at university and in their early careers but something happens and they don’t progress in the same way.

That’s why I believe we must help women who are perfectly capable of performing as well as male colleagues but for whatever reason get overlooked.

Statistics like these are precisely why I have advocated moves such as supporting Commissioner Reding’s plans for mandatory quotas on boards. It’s true we don’t yet know the exact detail of her proposals, I am hopeful that she will put forward robust measures to address the problem.

I was really pleased to read last week that the Royal Mail chief executive backs workplace quotas for women. Moya Greene, chief executive of Royal Mail, said she would champion the concept of quotas to bring more women into the work place and boardroom. Her support will be invaluable in making this happen.

She told an audience at the Communications Workers Union’s women’s section in Peterborough that women were currently “not represented as they should be in society or companies”.

“There is something about the UK – for all its egalitarianism, women are not represented as they should be in society or companies,” she said. You can read the full article here.

First female to head TUC

Labour Party

A significant milestone was reached yesterday in UK trade union affairs – the Trade Union Congress (TUC), elected its first ever female general secretary. 

Frances O’ Grady will replace the current TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, who has held the position for 10 years.

O’Grady is one of few women to reach a senior position, of course Brenda Dean who became the first president of the print Union Sogat is another notable figure. Now a Baroness she was the union’s general secretary between 1985 and 1991.

O’Grady has made trade union history twice, having been elected as the first female deputy general secretary in 2003.

She is known as an effective negotiator and able public speaker and has been an active trade unionist all her working life, joining a trade union while still a schoolgirl doing part-time jobs.

Her dedication and commitment to the movement couldn’t be more apparent than when she vowed to use her position to ensure the TUC continued to “speak up for working people”.

She said in a speech:” Never has a strong, responsible trade union movement been so needed. With austerity policies biting hard and with no evidence that they are working, people at work need the TUC to speak up for them now more than ever.

“We must be the advocates of the growth and jobs alternative, and with the policy prescriptions of the last 30 years increasingly discredited, we have the best opportunity in a generation to help build a fair, productive and green economy that works for ordinary people,” she said.

Trade Union politics is demanding, tough and at times messy, so it’s a tall order for even the most seasoned of unionists. Her experience to date makes her stand head and shoulders above almost all her contemporaries though.

I hope her role will encourage more women to aim for senior positions in trade unions.

Very best wishes to Frances. She will, I know, be a huge success as TUC General Secretary, a tough job in these difficult economic times.

Women bear the brunt of rising unemployment and the Eurozone is not to blame

Labour Party

Women represent 80 per cent of the 710,000 public sector workers due to be made redundant over the next five years. As the Con-Dem cuts begin to bite, figures from the Office for National Statistics show the total unemployment rate rising to 8.4 per cent, the highest level in 16 years, with 2.67 million people out of work. The ONS also tell us that the female jobless rate rose by 33,000 in the three months to the end of December while the number of men out of work went up by 16,000 over the same period.

Such a disproportionate rise in women’s unemployment is a scandal in itself. It’s made even worse by the fact that the public sector is the only broad sector of the economy in which women are over-represented. The one place where women did well is being cut back. That is a separate scandal for which the Government should be held to account.
This evidence only goes to show that David Cameron and his Cabinet of millionaires simply do not care about women. While they may, according to a No 10 document leaked last year and referred to in the Independent this morning, intellectually understand that Cameron’s Government is “seen as having hit women, or their interests, disproportionately”, they clearly do not intend to do anything to rectify this state of affairs.
It’s the same old, same old. Remember, this is the Government that brought you repatriation of EU powers back to the UK and couldn’t deliver, tried to “veto” an EU treaty then gave in, and now is unable (and probably unwilling) to take any measures to improve the position of women.
Moreover, Cameron, Osborne and co are consistently dishonest about why these attacks on women are taking place. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber put it very well in today’s Mirror: “The international economy has had an impact on the UK, but many of our problems are home grown and that’s why our jobs figures have been worse.” So Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, do not continue your cheap attempts to scapegoat the Euro, and please no more blaming the last Labour Government. The dogmatic austerity measures are your very own Conservative policies, and are proving deeply damaging.

As Anna Bird of the Fawcett Society has said in several newspapers this morning, “These new [unemployment] figures must act as a wake-up call to Government. We’re in a time of crisis. Cuts are threatening women’s equality as jobs dry up, benefits are slashed and vital public services disappear.”

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Once again the headlines were dominated by the News International scandal. First Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor and CEO of News International stood down from her post as the chief executive and then earlier today she was arrested, over the phone hacking scandal.

We could be forgiven for believing there was no other news worthy of headlines for the way in which this story has dominated both print and broadcast coverage.

One point worth mentioning is how Ed Miliband seemed to capture the mood of the nation so effectively. During Prime Ministers Questions earlier in the week he used sound bites to great effect, telling the PM ‘he just doesn’t get it’ and calling upon him to apologise for what Miliband labelled ‘a serious error of judgement’. You can watch Michael White’s Guardian podcast here for full analysis.

To confirm this, today’s Sunday Mirror carries a poll by polling firm ComRes which states Miliband has received a ‘big bounce’ following the scandal. You can read the analysis of the ComRes poll here.

Perhaps now Murdoch’s media empire has been shaken we can once again have a proper debate about media plurality. Indeed the Independent raised such a point in its leading article: ‘Our democracy is stronger for the dropping of BSkyB bid: We now know that the integrity of our public institutions is not for sale to the highest bidder’. You can read the article in full here.

Media plurality and the demise of the Murdoch empire will, I’m sure be a big moment in British history, but there was other news. Greece is dangerously close to defaulting on its debts and if it does so the consequences threaten to spread far across Europe and will be a complete disaster for the euro.

An article in last week’s Guardian claims that the euro is run according to Germany’s monetary interests and in order for the euro to survive Germany must reconsider its position. If European monetary policy is run according to German interests, the article states, then huge structural imbalances will accumulate. It goes on to argue that Germany will then either have to pay to correct those imbalances, or agree that the euro should not be run primarily according to German interests. If they are unwilling to do either of those things, the euro can’t survive. You can read the full article here.

I was also saddened to learn that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of older workers who are staying in employment simply because they can’t afford to retire.

The report by the TUC shows a significant increase in the number of over-50s and people over the retirement age in work over the past two decades.

Brendan Barber the TUC general secretary was right when he said ‘the increasing number of over 65s in work shows that older workers are highly valued and that the government is absolutely right to scrap the default retirement age.

‘But there is a darker side to people to working beyond their retirement. Low wages and poor pension provision, particularly in the private sector, mean that many people simply cannot afford to retire at 65.’ You can read the article in full here.

Coalition Cuts will hit Poorest hardest says TUC

Labour Party

As I am about to head off for Labour Party Conference, I came across this excellent research produced by the TUC on the effect of the coalition government’s cuts in public spending. 

 Significantly, the research shows that the combined impact of all fiscal consolidation measures, both cuts to spending on public services and tax and benefit  changes, is deeply regressive – the poorest tenth of the population will lose 23.5% of their income while this is only 4.7% for the richest decile. In addition, the impact of spending cuts is, in fact, much more regressive than the impact of the tax changes.

 The choice of public expenditure cuts which hit the less well off the hardest as the main tool to reduce the deficit shows that this government has no compunction about hitting the most vulnerable people in Britain.

 The model used by the TUC is based on survey data about which households use particular

public services and how much they use them. The researchers have then combined this

information with government spending data to produce a picture of how spending is distributed across households, consumed ‘collectively’ or where the amounts of expenditure to different households, spending is allocated on a flat-rate basis used to model the distribution of all public spending in the UK.

 The TUC research shows that the impact of the cuts to average households is £1,308 per year. These cuts will also be regressive, with the poorest tenth of households losing income and services equivalent to 20.3% of their household income, compared to the richest tenth of households. These cuts is also proportionately greater for families with children and

pensioners, as well as households living in the North and Midlands.

Other research suggests that, unfortunately, people do not have an awareness of the value of public services they receive in return for the taxes they pay. This, in turn, jeopardises support for public spending. A sense of “public value” is the missing.

 One of the main tasks of the new Leader of the Labour Party should be to communicate this “public value” so that we all understand just how important the public sector and public services are to our lives.

Better Protection for Temporary Workers

Labour Party

Regulations for temporary and agency workers emanating from the European Union were laid before the British Parliament last week.

This is an important piece of legislation which protects some of the most vulnerable members of our workforce.

Because of this, I am setting out the provisions in some detail:

Tackling abuse

The anti-abuse measure addresses concerns over agency workers being rotated between different roles, either as far as one hirer is concerned or between associated hirers.  Such rotation of role may deprive workers of their employments rights.

There is specific provision in the legislation to deal with structure of assignments designed to circumvent current legislation  backed up with punitive award of up to £5,000 if the provision found to be breached plus a general minimum award of two weeks pay for all successful claims.

Definition of pay

The definition of pay has been broadened to include all bonuses and incentive payments that are directly related to agency worker’s contribution, including those

based on performance appraisal.  The legislation also brings into scope payments by way of vouchers for things like food, child care and transport which may be

important part of their pay for some low paid agency workers.

The disclosure of information for purposes of collective bargaining is an additional requirement for information about agency workers to be disclosed to recognised trade unions in collective bargaining situations.

Protection of qualifying period

The legislation introduces additional reasons why absence means no break in continuity of a qualifying period.  These reasons include school holidays, plant shutdowns and industrial action. There are also stronger provisions on continuity in the event of pregnancy-related absences (providing for 26 weeks protected period as TUC proposed) and movement between different jobs for a pregnancy related reason (continuity will not be broken)

Access to facilities

What had been an exhaustive list of facilities has been changed to a non-exhaustive list and removed the “package approach” (where a ency worker might be denied access if had better conditions on another facility)

Workplace agreements

The regulations exclude the possibility of workplace agreements (and collective agreements) which could derogate from principle of equal treatment.

 Equal treatment

Comparison is now allowed with “worker” when assessing equal access to vacancies and collective facilities.

 Pay between assignments

There is now to be up front information in the contract so that the agency worker is aware that they do not have equal treatment rights on pay.

 The TUC welcomed step towards a fair deal for agency staff.  Commenting on the new rights for agency workers as laid before Parliament , TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

 ‘This is good news for Britain’s agency workers……(It is) a significant step towards securing a fair deal for agency staff and stamping out some of the worst abuses.

 ‘While we are disappointed that the protection will not start earlier, union campaigning – both here and across Europe – has secured another advance for people at work today.’

 UNISON, the UK’s leading public service trade union, also welcomed the

extra protection for temporary workers, outlined in the agency worker


 The union has been instrumental in winning equal treatment for agency

workers after twelve weeks of employment, despite resistance from

employers organisations, that wanted to water down protection for agency


 UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said:

 “It is only right that we legislate to protect this vulnerable group of employees. Unscrupulous bosses cannot be allowed to use temporary employment as a way to pay staff low wages and treat them badly.”