Monday, 12 May 2008

Women and child poverty

I just caught the end of a discussion on Woman's Hour this morning:

Is targeting women a useful way to tackle child poverty?

The Government has said that it wants to eradicate child poverty by 2020, and today the Fawcett Society suggests, in a new report called “Keeping Mum”, that the problem can only be truly tackled by recognising the link between mothers’ and childrens’ poverty. They say that mothers are at greater risk of poverty in the UK than in any other western European country. Jane is joined by Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society, and Lisa Harker, Co-Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, to discuss the new report and the issues it raises.

Brief notes about the content of the discussion.

In spite of legislation, it appears that 30 000 women leave work because they are pregnant. Employers can get away with dismissing women, since the likelihood of any woman challenging them is tiny. It costs too much financially and psychologically.

The speakers admit that the government has taken some action to help and that Tax Credits and Child Benefit are usually received by women.

They talked about 'embedded inequalities '– unequal pay for men and women, and limited opportunities for either sex to combine work and parenthood.

An important step would be to narrow the gender pay gap. Though they gave no figures, they did say that the gap is one of worst in Europe and that the UK has the worst rate of women’s poverty.

They would also like to see official encouragement for fathers to take up paternity leave. It is only recently that fathers have been asked in job interviews about arrangements for childcare - the assumption previously has been that this is the woman's responsibility.

Inevitably, higher taxes are needed to pay for this, but if money is spent to prevent child poverty, it will be saved in the long term. The children will be less likely to be a drain on the Education budget or tellingly, the criminal justice system.

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