Memorandum submitted by Mary Campbell

 

0.1 The Government has said that it is essential for individuals to fulfil their potential and that we cannot tackle inequality if it is hidden. Yet the Equality Bill itself, along with much other Government policy, all but ignores the disadvantage and inequality of present or past caregivers who are not in the labour market, especially if they live in couples. The main purpose of my evidence is to highlight this issue - where lack of transparency is partly due to the increasing and confusing use of the phrase 'gender inequality' to mean 'equality between men and women', ignoring the huge inequalities that have opened up since the 1970s between women with and without care responsibilities and family constraints (for example, Muslim women have paid jobs to a greater extent before they get married than afterwards). A further implication is that, just as child poverty definitions and targets have had to be made more complex to make policy achievable (some would say they've been 'watered down'), so here we may have to look for our 'real' goal to the word 'equity' (in the sense of individual fairness and autonomy) rather than 'equality' in its most precise usage if we want to cut back on the worst 'gender' inequalities. Many women (and some men) want to trade lower earnings for more time with their children or adult dependents than even the most benign employers can afford - and for longer than the single year after birth permitted by maternity legislation (with a right to return to previous employment). They thus 'reject' the current and projected policy provision for gender 'equality' in the labour market as traditionally defined. But this does not mean they should be left with no money at all in thejr own right, with no autonomy (or hope of autonomy) and no help to return to the labour market (except when they or their partners become dependent on means-tested benefits). This issue is neglected in the Freud Report and its follow-ups - which do not recognise within-household dependency as dependency at all.

 

0.2 I have been researching and writing for more than two decades, particularly on poverty and tax/benefits. Women without children and mothers with their own money have long had the potential to achieve almost as much as their male peers in the labour market - or to make a 'real' choice not to. My main focus therefore has always been on low-income women with limited autonomy, whose choices and ability to earn are constrained by family responsibilities. This focus includes the interrelated impacts of tax/benefit policy on their partnership situations, their individual poverty and autonomy, and their labour market 'choices': all too often policy analysis by all political parties looks at one of these, ignoring the impact of their proposals on the others. Lone parents are now well catered for in policy debate and action. Carers for the disabled are beginning to get the policy attention they deserve. But there is an army of 'invisible' women in couples who are still treated by most policy analysis and action as residuals in the lives of their children and their partners. As individuals, many of them flit in and out of the DWP's radar screen as they shift from partnered to lone parent status and back again, or their partners move in and out of employment. But, in their own right, they are all but ignored.

 

0.3 I set out three overarching recommendations in the next two pages and, in paragraph 1.4, a list of ideas for possible examination. An Appendix expands on this material.

 

 

1.1 The use of the word 'gender' in official publications now usually refers to differences between men and women, rather than distinctions that arise from the economic and social disadvantage suffered by women that have (or have had) care responsibilities. The 'capabilities' approach to defining inequality adopted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a big step forward but in the transition to policy/action it downplays women in general (compared to other disadvantaged groups) and mothers/carers in particular. The Government has decided not to introduce protection against discrimination for carers (or parents) as such (and indeed converting this disadvantage into workable anti-discrimination legislation would be even more difficult than in the case of sex or race). These and other developments mean that, outside pregnancy and recent maternity (and in an overall context where the disadvantage suffered by women qua women compared to men is much diminished compared to forty years ago), and with the exception of Muslim women, the current Equality Bill does little or nothing to combat the disadvantage suffered by the women who most need action in today's world. Mothers and other carers (plus Muslim wives and some male caregivers) without jobs will remain financially, economically and sometimes even legally unequal. No amount of action on gender pay will help them. The Government is doing very little to combat this, especially if the women live in couples: even the right to request is irrelevant to those whose family situations present them with all-but-insuperable barriers to taking a job.

 

Recommendation 1: That the Committee recognise that the current Equality Bill mainly focuses on the remaining inequalities of the women who are already least disadvantaged, that it identify the disadvantage faced by the sub-group of women who are largely ignored by policy and by the EHRC's definition of disadvantage and that it make proposals for non-statutory action to combat these deep disadvantages.

 

1.2 There is mounting evidence that child poverty cannot be cracked without tackling the individual poverty of their mothers. Similarly, without the poverty that arises from years of unpaid caregiving, most Pension Credit payments would be unnecessary. Further, the evidence is now overwhelming that paid work is the best route out of poverty - and that to keep children out of poverty in low-wage families both parents need to earn. On the other hand, the evidence now is overwhelming that many women want to spend time at home when their children are babies and toddlers - and that some, if forced, will choose poverty rather than paid work at this stage in the life course. Carers often also make the same choice. This is effect means that many women are de-prioritising gender equality as defined in the current Bill (i.e. mainly in relation to the labour market). This development is not unique to UK - in Scandinavia, women's labour market participation peaked in about 1990 and remains well below men's (see charts). There is evidence that taking more than a few months off work damages future career and earning opportunities and that most such mothers (and carers) plan to return to paid work sometime - often within the next five years. The increase in marital and relationship break-down also makes it imperative that neither parent should lose touch with the labour market. In most of continental Europe, the right to return to an employer in a similar job lasts for longer than a year - often much longer - so that new mothers are able to spend longer at home without losing their jobs and having to fight their way back into a job. Mothers also receive much better financial support for the short periods when their children are tiny. There is evidence from the United States that mothers are least favoured in job offers, and evidence from the UK shows that much more action is needed to change the anti-mother-as-worker culture among employers here too.

 

Recommendation 2: That the Committee recognise that (a) just as complete elimination of child poverty is now accepted as impossible, complete achievement of 'gender' equality is not achievable either but that (b) a culture and policy framework that promotes and permits long-term or permanent withdrawal from the paid labour market for care is inimical to the welfare of women and children and (c) make recommendations accordingly.

 

1.3 Age disadvantage is particularly suffered by women who spent time out of the labour market and even if this declines with time it will be decades before women as individuals achieve a sufficient level of income in their own right. There is no possibility of equity between men and women, let alone equality, so long as much of the 30bn annually of Exchequer contributions in the form of tax relief is disproportionately focused on the highly paid (usually men). The rise in the state pension age poses new problems, and there are specific issues arising from ageist attitudes among employers.

 

Recommendation 3: That the Committee take action to improve women's pension prospects so that former caregivers are credited with enough to give them individual financial autonomy in retirement and that it revisit the issue of pension tax relief.

 

1.4 Some examples of the sort of approach and detailed policies that the Committee might care to consider under Recommendations 1.1, 1.2.and 1.3 above:

 

- Explicitly recognise that current official usage of the word 'gender' usually now means 'men and women' and neglects women's social role as caregivers: caregiving is recognised only indirectly and occasionally (1.1)

- Distinguish between different groups of women and explicitly focus the gender sections of the Committee's investigation on women who are most disadvantaged (1.1)

- Ensure that the EHRC's definitions of disadvantage take full account of caregiving - a move that is all the more essential because the government has decided not to include it in the statutory stream of policy (1.1)

- Balance the Equality Bill's focus on 'gender' equality for women in general with investigation and recommendations that lead to more gender equity and autonomy for women who are disadvantaged (whether temporarily or permanently) not least by being outside the labour market altogether (1.2)

- Increase the amount of Government money made available to people (usually women) who are out of the labour market for care reasons, perhaps by recommending to the Treasury that it permit them to claim Working Tax Credit on the basis of their individual income when they either have a child under two or claim Carer's Allowance (this would be cheaper, better targeted and involve less 'deadweight' than extending maternity pay) limiting this households with annual income under, say, 30,000 (1.2).

- Recommend to the Treasury that it permit 'second adults' in such households (i.e. under 30,000) to claim Working Tax Credit in their own right when they start to earn, in effect making the partner's tax credit transferable from a sole earner and converting Working Tax Credit into a seamless means of support for each individual worker-carer in low-income couple households. This would also cut back the so-called 'couple penalty' in Working Tax Credit (which in fact applies mainly to comparisons with lone parents who earn) (1.2)

- Recommend to BERR that it extend the right to return to an employer after maternity leave to two years from the current one year (if necessary, restricted to mothers or fathers with some service entitlement). This would still be shorter than in continental countries that use their female labour force more efficiently than we do. (1.2)

- Given that over 500,000 women with home responsibilities are jobless but wanting to work, and that over 500,000 WTC claimants are male sole earners (presumably claiming the partner's WTC in addition to their own), recommend that DWP focus as much attention on identifying the 500,000+ women who want to work and give them labour market activation opportunities on a par with benefit claimants. Women whose male partners who are employed are a forgotten army of potential workers - they get help from the state only when their partners lose their jobs and/or when their relationships fail so that they become jobless single mothers (1.2)

- Extend Home Responsibilities Protection to the forthcoming Personal Accounts (National Pension Savings Scheme): if this were done, the need for Pension Credit would be diminished to perhaps 10% of its current level, and mis-selling could no longer be validly alleged in connection with this scheme (1.3)

- Recommend that the biggest source of inequality among pensioners - the 40% (soon to be 45-60%) tax relief on pension contributions - be reduced to 20% and the 'lump sum' be taxed at 20% for those with pension values above, say, 100,000 at the time they claim it (1.3)

- Legislate now to extend the age discrimination limit for employers from 65 to 68 in say, 2012, to give an impetus now to culture change (particularly among employers) well before the new age limit for the state pension comes into force. (1.3)

- Take action under the proposed new 'Equality Duty' to ensure not only that those who already have jobs can continue in employment until age 65, but that getting a new job in your fifties or older is made much easier.

 

2. Appendix: Some detail

 

2.1 Para 1.1 above: The Interim Report of the Equalities Review in 2006 listed eleven inequality challenges. Only three of these mentioned women and only one was concerned with women's roles as caregivers[1]. The vulnerabilities of women as caregivers may achieve a higher profile in the final 'list' drawn up by the EHRC as the basis for implementation of its remit. But the usage of the word 'gender' equality to mean 'equality between men and women' does not help caregivers. Research for the DWP suggests that the most disadvantaged mothers and wives in the employment context are Muslim women[2]. However, white mothers (lone and partnered) account for the largest numbers because they account for over 90% of women in the sample and employment rates of all mothers of younger children are on average 15-25 percentage points lower than other women (about 15%pts less than mothers of older children and 30%pts less than single women without children). Research now distinguishes between discrimination whilst in employment (for example in access to training), discrimination in the process of getting a job and discrimination in being unwillingly deprived of a job. Different groups suffer varying levels of discrimination in each of these situations. It is also beginning to distinguish (a) discrimination by employers from (b) discrimination within the home and (c) employment disadvantage arising from the caregiver's own attitudes, including views of what they 'ought' to do. The programme of work-focused interviews and the New Deal for the partners of benefit claimants illustrate these distinctions[3]. The vast majority of non-parental carers among those assessed in this scheme were caring for the main claimant and felt a mixture of duty to care with a wish to 'escape' their caring role into paid work, at least for some hours each week. Few parents of small children would consider formal childcare. 'There was much evidence that traditional gender roles of male 'breadwinner' and female 'homemaker' still exert a strong influence over many couples' (p25) and amongst those for whom English was not a first language, the main [male] claimant was more likely to be the decision-maker. The 'yield' from these programmes was found to be low and DWP does not seem to provide labour market activation services for non-working partners of people who are not benefit claimants.

 

 

2.2 Paragraph 1.2 above. The LFS statistics list 538,000 female 'homemakers' as being without jobs even though they want to work (compared with 1.5million who do not want a job). It is difficult to see how the Equality Bill will help them. Amongst claimants of Working Tax Credit, 500,000 are male sole earners (including those without children). Evidence is mounting that, on the one hand, many mothers do not want to be in jobs while their children are tiny - nor to judge from the limited evidence so far do they want to equally share care at this age with the fathers of the children. Current attitudes on breadwinner/homemaker roles such as those quoted above may not be a valid indicator of future attitudes in Britain. But the evidence from Sweden (see charts) points in the same direction. The Fawcett Society, ippr and others have all published compelling research to the effect that it will be extremely difficult, even impossible, to defeat child poverty without reducing their mothers' poverty too. Essentially this means giving more money to mothers while their children are tiny, and removing the barriers to them going back into jobs as their children grow. One of the most important barriers to paid work across all mothers and carers seems to be financial. Amongst the partners of claimants cited above, a quarter said they would be worse off financially if they took a job. In its first years, the household-assessed tax credit regime had a big beneficial effect on reducing child poverty, but at the price of building barriers to second adults taking jobs (and both adults increasing their earnings).[4] The more that the Government heaps money into WTC and Child Tax Credit, the more their effect on child poverty and diminishes as they reduce the marginal gain to earners from paid work, and especially the gains from having both adults in couples in work. In 2007, Mike Brewer of the IFS concluded that increasing WTC would particularly help one-earner families, while a transferable tax allowance would deter 'second' earners from taking a job.[5] Doubling the WTC for couples in its current format would have a deterrent effect on second earners. Only in effect by giving the 'second adult' their own WTC or the household a double WTC if s/he took a job can this effect be overcome (there are several ways of achieving this technically). The Treasury launched a consultation on Tax Credits earlier this year, but took no action in the November 2008 PBR. If the tax credit programme has indeed reached a stage of diminishing returns, then until something is done to remove or limit the financial barriers to work, it is difficult to see how the DWP can achieve much more reduction in child poverty and inequality in employment through labour market activation.

 

2.3 Paragraph 1.3. One way to cut the several Gordian knots associated with Personal Accounts would be for the National Insurance Fund to pay annual credits to the Personal Accounts of those who qualify for Home Responsibilities Protection. It would provide a big, simple wadge of money to the private sector providers - and much of it would come back to the Exchequer a few decades later in the form of lower means-tested pension credits: two-thirds of Pension Credit beneficiaries are women (although women in couples do not usually receive the money - 80% of couple claims are paid to the man and the individual incomes of women in pensioner couples are hardly more than a third of men's). But the biggest single source of inequality arises from the current system of tax relief on pension contributions, which the November 2008 PBR puts at about 30bn p.a. (gross of tax paid on pensions). It is indicative that when the November 2008 Budget announced the higher tax rates for very high earners (to 60% in two small income bands), the IFS calculated that the yield might be nil rather than the projected 1.6bn - not least because these folk would simply increase their pension contributions in order to reduce their taxable income. It is often argued on a variety of grounds that this pension tax relief could not or should not be reduced. Many admit that there is little defence for the tax-free status of the lump sum - but nothing is done. Pension providers are daily giving out that day's valuations of individuals' pensions, in contexts of job moves and divorce for example. The 'final salary' Universities Superannuation Scheme, to quote just one example, provides annual figures for the percentage of salary being paid on each individual's behalf by their employer and the employee - 14% and 6.35% respectively in 2005. Given today's levels of employment flexibility and career breaks for care (not to mention corporate bankruptcy etc), reliable progress up the career ladder to a 'final salary' pension is by no means a certainty for many, even in the public sector. If the Select Committee really means to 'evaluate the effectiveness ...of the DWP in achieving equality in employment' and how the DWP would 'have to change to achieve greater equality in employment', it is difficult to see how it can ignore this greatest of all state-sponsored inequality in the context of employment.

 

 

November 2008



[1] Ben-Galim, Campbell and Lewis (2007) Equality and diversity: a new approach to gender equality policy in the UK, International Journal of Law in Context, 3,1.

[2] Berthoud and Blekesaune (2007) Persistent Employment Disadvantage, DWP Research Report No 416; note that religion may be a bigger driver of persistent employment penalty than ethnicity.

[3] Coleman and Seeds (2007) Work-focused interviews and New Deal for Partners, DWP Research Report No 417.

[4] For a longer discussion, see Campbell (2008) Labour's Policy on Money for Parents: Combining Care with Paid Work, in the journal 'Social Policy and Society', 7.4, October 2008.

[5] Brewer (2007), Chapter 12 of the IFS Green Budget