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“Conservative-led government is turning back the clock for women in our economy” – Bridget Phillipson MP

Bridget fighting for Sunderland in the HOC1Houghton and Sunderland South MP, Bridget Phillipson has highlighted the effect current Conservative-led government policy is having on women and their ability to contribute to the UK economy in her reply to the Government’s Queen Speech.

Quoting recent research from Aviva, she said:

“In the last quarter alone, 34,000 women gave up work altogether—the fastest rise in women’s worklessness in more than a year”.

Commenting after the debate, Bridget Phillipson MP said:

“I fear that the government’s economic strategy is turning back the clock for women.

“If we are to grow our economy out of recession we will need to harness all the talents, the skills, the dynamism that our country has to offer.

“Government needs to remove the straightjacket preventing women into work and unleash their potential enabling them to work and help drive down the deficit, drive up tax receipts and grow our economy out of recession."

Bridget's speech in full

“I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on the economy. I intend to focus my remarks on one aspect of Government policy where I feel the clock is being turned back: the role of women in the economy.

“Women have been hardest hit by Government policies. In the last quarter alone, 34,000 women gave up work altogether—the fastest rise in women’s worklessness in more than a year, and it now stands at its highest point for more than two decades. More and more women are being forced out of work and back into the home, due to job losses and Government cuts. Cuts to child tax credits mean that, increasingly, work does not pay and families are better off on benefits.

“Women of my generation have taken progress for granted. The women who went before us—our mothers and grandmothers—argued for change and made huge strides forward, and that progress was hard won. They fought for their right to be in the workplace, to be properly rewarded when working and for equality, both at work and at home. We imagined that each generation of women would do better than the last, but I fear that is at risk.

“As more women are struggling to remain in work, they are losing not just income but independence. Ultimately, this is about independence and how government can support women to make the choices that are right for them and for their families, and not be forced to make choices that are not of their choosing.

“Conservative Governments often appear to believe that state action inevitably promotes dependence, but I believe that action by government can encourage independence and gives the individual greater freedom. Economic independence liberates women.

“For the individual woman forced out of the workplace, this is a massive personal blow. For the rest of society, it is a loss of talent, knowledge and expertise. In economic terms, it is absurd to lose women’s contribution at this time. Not only are higher unemployment rates increasing the benefits bill and reducing tax revenues, but higher rates of women’s employment are associated with stronger economic growth—growth that we so desperately need.

“I welcome the Government’s proposals on flexible or shared parental leave. Labour led the way on this in Government, with improved maternity rights and pay and paid paternity leave for fathers, and this proposal is the logical next step. I have yet to see evidence that it will be bad for business, but it will do little in and of itself to help parents who are currently out of work, and it comes at a time when the Government are cutting child care support and taking more from children than from the banks.

“I would like to devote my remaining time to one of the biggest barriers facing women who wish to return to work or remain in work, which is child care. Labour did much to tackle the problem in government. We launched the national child care strategy, which acknowledged that rather than child care being a private family matter the Government had a role in ensuring it was available. That was combined with the creation of more than 3,500 Sure Start children’s centres, many of which are now at risk of closure. We devoted particular attention to supporting single parents back into work as a route out of poverty, which was vital in my constituency.

“Child care costs are rising, at a time when wages are static and Government support for child care has been cut. I am concerned that child care will become less affordable as demand drops and women are forced out of the workplace. Affordable and accessible child care is key not just to helping families but to supporting economic growth and, with it, social mobility.

“There is also clear evidence that early years child care leads to improved outcomes for children, particularly those from the most deprived backgrounds. It improves access to employment and so reduces child poverty. However, parents from lower-income backgrounds are the least likely to use formal child care. Although it is of course for families to decide what is right for them, the Government need to consider that more closely. Having a child at nursery also gives parents access to a wider support network and opportunities such as training. It can reduce the isolation that many parents experience, particularly lone mothers.

“I am pleased that Labour has launched a national child care commission to consider these issues, but I am conscious that it also needs to address the fact that many working parents are struggling not only with working and child care issues but with the need to care for and look after elderly parents and relatives. It must consider both issues together, because parents are often being squeezed at both ends of the scale.

“We need an economy that values and recognises the talents of women. It is about not just women’s right to be in the workplace but creating a more equal and just society for everyone. I do not want to be part of a generation of women for whom the clock was turned back, but unless the Government act I fear I will be.”

Bridget Phillipson MP, Queens speech reply 2012, 14 May 2012: Column 310-311, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120514/debtext/120514-0002.htm#1205144000615

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