Voices: Women are the shock absorbers of the cost of living crisis. They need our help
International Women’s Day is a time to take stock of the progress that has been made. But every year it also reminds me about how much further there is to go. The truth is that without a sea change for women in the workplace we’re at risk of slipping back.
A new report from PwC warns that women in Britain are being priced out of work and suffering from a growing gender pay gap. The UK is slipping down the international league table for women in work, tumbling five places to 14th in the OCED’s rankings. According to TUC research, the dire state of support is leaving women working two months for free.
Without legislation, we are at risk of turning back the progress women have made. Yet the government’s plans to bring forward an Employment Bill that would extend redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and allow parents to take extended paid leave when newborns need neonatal care, have evaporated.
The Bill would also have given fast-track protection against sexual harassment. But instead, the promise to tackle discrimination in the workplace has now fallen by the wayside.
As the “shock-absorbers” for the cost of living crisis, women are going without food, heating and clothing to provide for families and loved ones. With women holding 69 per cent of low-paid and insecure jobs, the worry and sacrifices are disproportionate.
I know first-hand the challenges of trying to balance work with caring responsibilities, becoming a carer for my own mother from the age of 10, and a parent aged just 16. Care is the root of much of the discrimination women face, whether through being a parent, caring for elderly relatives or simply trying to balance childcare around inflexible work demands.
We should be committed to making Britain work for working women. Rather than stacking the odds against working parents, we should extend statutory maternity and paternity leave, introduce the right to bereavement leave, and strengthen protections for pregnant women by making it unlawful, as a default, to dismiss a woman who is pregnant for six months after her return.
We also needs to introduce paid family and carers’ leave because our plan is about supporting women in the workplace right through their working lives, and require large employers with more than 250 employees to submit menopause action plans annually, alongside their gender pay gap reporting, setting out how they are supporting their employees and helping them to thrive.
For too long women at work have suffered in silence when it comes to the menopause, experiencing debilitating physical and mental health menopausal symptoms that have a huge impact on everyday activities, not to mention their personal and intimate relationships. Far too many are left feeling ashamed of this, trying their best to get on with things.
The menopause is central to women’s lived experiences of working life, with one in 10 women employed during the menopause having left work due to their symptoms. This taboo is damaging for women, and damaging for our economy too. Our step change on supporting women with the menopause is not only backed by the evidence – it’s the right thing to do.
On this International Women’s Day we should break glass ceilings; whether it’s acting to close gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, tackling workplace harassment or introducing a genuine living wage for every adult worker.
It’s more than five decades since the Ford machinists went on strike at Dagenham in the fight for equal pay, but the battle for fairness at work continues this International Women’s Day.
We’ll never forget that we stand on the shoulders of giantesses.
Angela Rayner is the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Labour deputy leader, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the future of work