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New Labour 'failed to reduce gender gap'

11 Jul 2007

An examination of the position of women during New Labour's 10 years in Government has found its reforms have failed to reduce inequality between men and women.

The University of Manchester social scientists say though many Government policies have sought to improve the lives of women, many have seen virtually no improvement in their circumstances.

Drs Francesca Gains, Claire Annesley and Professor Kirstein Rummery argue the UK's 'huge' gender inequalities remain virtually unchanged in their book 'New Labour: towards an engendered politics and policy', published this month.

Dr Francesca Gains said: "The Government has introduced a range of policies that have had an impact on women.

"For example, women are to be given pensions credits for time spent in unpaid caring work when they could not build up their own pension rights - a great improvement.

"The provision of maternity leave and availability of childcare has also vastly improved since 1997.

"But this does not add up to a comprehensive and successful strategy to tackle gender inequalities.

"Despite New Labour in 2005 describing itself as 'the most feminist in history' there are still huge gender inequalities in the UK."

Dr Claire Annesley said: "New Labour has succeeded in getting more women into employment but this isn't an instant recipe for gender equality.

"Employment protection for low-paid, part time workers who combine paid work with unpaid care has not improved.

"This affects many women in the UK as they tend to be concentrated in part-time and low paid sectors.

"And the gender pay gap is still one of the highest in the EU."

Professor Kirstein Rummery said: "The focus on making work pay excludes women who either chose not to engage in paid work because of caring commitments or are retired.

"The New Labour Government has not supported non-working women enough and currently fails to value the work women carry out as mothers and carers.

"New Labour has been silent on the issue of poverty experienced by disabled and older women, non-working mothers and carers."

The researchers argue that achieving gender equality is not solely about directing policies at women - it also requires the government to tackle the status and behaviour of men.

But New Labour's policies have had very little impact on the distribution of paid and unpaid work between mothers and fathers.

The researchers point out that: 

  • According to the Government's own statistics, women working full time are currently paid on average 87.4 per cent of men's hourly pay. 
  • Women working part-time are paid 59.8 per cent of men's hourly pay.
  •  60 per cent of carers are women and 53 per cent of lone parent households - most of whom are women - are classed as poor.

Notes for editors

Dr Francesca Gains and Professor Kirstein Rummery are available for comment.

For more details contact:
Mike Addelman
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567