By Rachel Reeves MP and Rt. Hon Yvette Cooper MP
David Cameron has a problem with women. Since a Number 10 memo admitted that women were increasingly angry with the government, the Prime Minister has promised he’ll get a new advisor to turn things round. But he still doesn’t get it. Women don’t want more spin doctors or family friendly photo-ops, they want the government to stop causing such damage to women’s jobs and family finances. The real test is whether they use the Autumn Statement to change course, to support jobs and growth and to improve women’s lives.
So far the policies from George Osborne and David Cameron have made life much harder for women across the country. Their decisions have flatlined the economy and pushed hundreds of thousands of women out of work.
The facts are sobering. Women’s unemployment, at 1.09 million, is at its highest level since 1988.
Compared to a year ago, the number of young women out of work for more than six months is up by a staggering 114%. These facts are a shocking indictment of this government’s economic policies and spending cuts and tax rises that go too far and too fast.
Ministers also fail to understand how child care has become a vital part of our economic infrastructure, helping parents combine work and family life. Yet deep cuts to child care support and Sure Start are making it much harder particularly for working mums to stay in their jobs.
Family finances are being heavily hit too. The increase in VAT and rising energy bills means it is harder to make ends meet. George Osborne has already taken twice as much from women than men in tax, tax credit and benefit changes. And increases to the state pension age for women in their late fifties make it harder to plan for retirement.
Faced with these assaults from the government, women across the country have told us they want policies that help them juggle work and family life and help to support their family finances that have taken a hit with the biggest squeeze in living standards for thirty years.
So in this week’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor needs to change course. This is his opportunity to try to undo the damage that he and the government have done to families and women’s lives. And the most important thing is to start by getting the economy moving again with support for women’s jobs and family finances too.
That is why Labour has a five point plan – an alternative set of policies, a better way – to get people back to work, help families feeling the squeeze and by getting the economy moving again get the deficit down too.
First, we would create 100,000 jobs for young people and build 25,000 new homes, providing help to the 410,000 young women unemployed. 18 months after the disastrous decision to scrap the Future Jobs Fund, the government have finally announced a scheme to get more young people back to work. But it will help fewer young people into work than Labour’s plan and it looks set to be funded by freezing tax credits for women and families in work, rather than Labour’s proposal to raise funds from a £2 billion tax on bankers’ bonuses.
Second, we would bring forward ‘shovel-ready’ investment projects like new school buildings. While the Tory-led government cancelled Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, we say they could get many of those cancelled projects back on track, providing children with fit-for-purpose, decent schools. The government should stick to their promises to protect sure start in order to help people balance their work and family lives.
Third, we would temporarily reverse the Tory-led government’s VAT rise. This would put £450 a year in the pockets of families with children, or £275 for the average pensioner household, making a huge difference to family finances. Women and families struggling with the basics – mortgage, rent, bills, childcare, food and getting to and from work will see their money last longer.
Fourth, we would cut VAT on home improvements to 5% for a year, helping homeowners who otherwise cannot afford repairs to their homes.
And fifth, we would give small firms a national insurance break to take on extra workers, helping women who have been hit by cuts to public sector jobs. It would help the 165,000 women who run small businesses, and the 5 million women who work in them.
On Tuesday the Government have the chance to show they have been listening to women. Without women in work it is much harder to reduce the deficit and get the economy back on track. Ministers need a major rethink in their approach to women and the economy. They need to get serious about the long term future of child care and help to balance work and family life – for the sake of both men and women, and the success of our economy too. And they need to stop hitting women so much harder with every new set of policies and plans. The government must use this chance to start reversing the damage they have caused to women and families and start backing women’s jobs and economic growth for the first time.