Speaking in Brighton at a Unison/Equal Opportunities Commission meeting at 12.45pm today at the TUC, Harriet Harman MP will say:
13th September 2006
Public policy must step in to prevent the demands on women at work dictating how many children women have and what age they start a family. Work must not be allowed to jeopardise family life.
We must make sure that women are able to make further progress in the world of work, with greater job opportunities and better pay.
But we need to make sure at the same time as we reinforce women’s role at work we tackle the problem that
· Women feel they have to have their children later otherwise they will lose out at work
· Women are having fewer children than they want because of the cost of childcare and the price that they pay in lost job prospects
· And women still feel caught in having to make a choice between having as much time as they need to be a responsible parent and achieving the success they could at work.
Women are now a necessary part of the workforce and are entitled to equality of opportunity. But we need to guard against the problem of women feeling they have to have their children later or sacrifice their work prospects. Women should have the choice of when they have their children. And many do not want to delay as it is harder to conceive and it means that the grandparents are older – sometimes so much so that instead of being active and there to support their daughter - they themselves need care from their daughter just when she has her hands full with her own children. That means tough action to promote flexible working and to give parents stronger rights to choose their hours.
And with women working it becomes more difficult for families with lower incomes to have the size of family they want. The high cost of childcare and the price that she pays at work if she works fewer hours, means that many women are stopping at one child when they’d love to have more if they could afford it. This is the personal reality behind the “demographic time bomb”. Public policy should not tell women how many children to have. But it should give them more choice. The proposal from CPAG to increase child benefit for the second and subsequent child is worth considering. The second and subsequent child used to be less costly than the first. Women’s role at work has now changed that. Now, with women at work, the second and subsequent child is more demanding on the family finance. We need to look again at child benefit in this regard. And we need to step up our investment in childcare so that it is not too expensive for families on lower incomes to have more than one child in a nursery or afterschool club at any one time.