This week the Liberal Democrats have announced that they want to see 1 million more women in work by 2020. No one can argue that this is not a welcome and necessary ambition.
In light of this announcement, however, it’s important that the Liberal Democrats’ record on delivering for women whist they’ve been in Government for the past 5 years is put under the microscope.
Many groups are agreed that the combination of austerity politics and welfare reform have hit women unfairly. In fact the Fawcett Society estimates that 74% of the savings being made through welfare reform are coming directly from women’s pockets. Coupled with an economic recovery built on poor quality and low paid employment, women are increasingly feeling the bite of the cost of living crisis.
The combination of these policies and the pressure on women to fill the gaps left as public services are cut indiscriminately, has seen the UK fall to 26th in the world for gender equality. This places us behind countries including Rwanda, Nicaragua and Slovenia. In 2006 the UK was ranked 9th. This fall cannot be tolerated.
Measures such as Shared Parental Leave and an extension to the right to request flexible working should be commended. However, they cannot be used as a smokescreen to hide the damage that the Lib Dems have been complicit in causing. It also cannot excuse inaction in tackling the underlying causes of gender inequality and addressing the ever increasing pressure on household incomes.
Whilst in government the Lib Dems have failed to support a number of actions suggested by the Labour Party that would have greatly improved the situation for women and their families, including raising the National Minimum Wage to £8 an hour by 2020, introducing a tax rebate for firms that pay a living wage and extending free nursery places for 3 and 4 year olds to 20 hours per week.
While in coalition the Lib Dems have consistently supported measures that have contributed to this worsening picture of gender inequality in Britain. Making new promises to deliver for women if elected again are all well and good, but the Lib Dems must also explain why they have allowed women to be made to consistently pay for a recession which they had very little to do with causing.