by Jasmine Stephens, Family Editor
The general election is now only weeks away and the parties have all been clamouring for your votes. The economy, welfare, housing, immigration, the NHS; all have featured heavily in the debate. However, when they want to attract the female vote, top of the list for discussion through the window of a pink bus is that old chestnut; childcare.
Yes, childcare is a key concern. It’s hideously expensive, inflexibility can cause huge problems particularly for shift workers and when it comes to childcare for school-age children both availability and quality are notoriously patchy. However, beyond these challenges lies another question; why are both the provision of childcare at home and the responsibility for juggling work around suitable external childcare still being shouldered disproportionately by mothers?
According to a governmental report, 56% of working mothers in the UK are working part time hours, compared to only 7% of men and research shows that those women who take time out of employment after having children face a ‘motherhood pay gap’ that increases with every child they have. A Department for Education survey found that more than half of stay at home mothers would prefer to be in paid employment ‘if they could arrange reliable, convenient, affordable, good quality childcare’ and nearly a quarter of employed mothers would increase their hours given the same. This isn’t just an issue of early years education or the economy; it’s an issue of equality.
A survey by Bright Network has found that 56% of recent female graduates are already worried about how they’ll manage childcare alongside their careers. How many recent male graduates would say the same? Rachel Spedding, the Managing Director of Bright Network said, ‘The findings reveal the pressure that many female graduates are already feeling about juggling jobs and childcare.’ An additional pressure that young female graduates could well do without in a time where the gender pay gap in the UK still stands at 19.1%.
We are going in the right direction. Since June 2014, every employee has had the statutory right to request flexible working and as of April 2015 parents can apply to share leave after the birth of their baby and yet childcare remains a highly gendered activity. Spedding believes that employers must also do their part to help redress this imbalance; ‘Our research shows that it’s important for employers to clearly convey their commitment to supporting career development for women. If more employers promote forward thinking attitudes and provide a supportive infrastructure, female graduates will feel more confident about their personal and professional futures. More women being encouraged to climb the career ladder will lead to a more culturally balanced landscape at board level’.
One thing is for certain, unless we continue to push the dialogue forward, the gender pay gap and the idea that mothers are primarily accountable for childcare will continue to work hand in hand to perpetuate each other. I believe our daughters deserve the chance to fulfil their potential without experiencing unnecessary pressure from society’s acceptance that childcare is still principally a woman’s responsibility.