The Gender Pay Gap Gains Are At Risk Of Erosion

Amid the bleak economic outlook, women in the UK had a little something to smile about just before the festive season got under way.

This was owing to the Office of National Statistics‘ (ONS) revelation that the gender pay gap had narrowed markedly.

Figures showed it had dropped below 10% for the first time after women’s earnings increased faster than men’s. The gap between men’s and women’s median full-time hourly earnings had fallen from 10.1% in April 2010 to 9.1% in April last year.

The change followed a 1.9% increase in women’s earnings – up from £11.69 an hour to £11.91 – compared with a rise of 0.8% for men, from £13 to £13.11.

Meanwhile, women working part-time were also being paid more than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap for part-time workers was -5.6%, widening from – 4.3% last year, the ONS said.

Undeniably, as it stands the pay gap based on all employees had fallen from 19.8% to 19.5%.

In this sequence, a month earlier, the minimum wage for women was increased to £6.08 an hour. However, The Telegraph reported on research which suggested women in their 20s were earning more than men of the same age.

But this hard-won progress that has so far been made in narrowing the gender pay gap is in danger of disappearing in a puff of austerity smoke as more and more women lose their jobs.

Female unemployment in the UK is at its highest in 23 years – 1.13 million.(ONS)

Women workers also made up two thirds of the 48,000 hike in the number of people out of work in the three months to December, which brought the jobless figures to 2.67m.

Putting aside the top earners, those women still managing to hang onto their jobs – amid whole swathes of public sector redundancies sweeping across the country – are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

In a report last year, the Resolution Foundation noted that “while the National Minimum Wage protects workers from falling too far into poverty, it does not guarantee a decent standard of living.”

It stated: “The Living Wage is currently set at £8.30 in London and £7.20 in the rest of the country.”

On 9 February, BBC’s Newsnight programme carried a report in which a woman employed by a supermarket chain store revealed she was in rent arrears despite working and receiving benefits.

The night-shift shelf-stacker told the reporter she could not imagine being able to survive on her low income with the additional responsibility of having children to feed and clothe.

Unsurprisingly, research undertaken by the Save the Children and Daycare Trust charities last year revealed low-income families were having to turn down jobs or were considering leaving work because they could not afford to pay for childcare.

The situation has clearly worsened since then given the shocking results of a survey carried out by parenting website Netmums, which revealed some parents are now turning to loan sharks to keep their families afloat.

Of the 2,000 mothers who took part in the website’s survey, a staggering 70% were teetering “on the edge” of financial disaster; 61% were short of money on a weekly basis and 20% were eating less in order to conserve money for the maintenance of their children.

In this context, Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual: A Guide to Surviving the Years One to Four, is now calling for childcare to be viewed as a joint enterprise rather than the sole responsibility of women.

She said: “As a mother I would absolutely go without whatever I needed to, to make sure my children have what they need, without a second thought.

“Both mothers and fathers benefit from being able to work whilst their child is in childcare, so both should contribute towards this expense.

“But very often this doesn’t happen, and mothers are left financially worse off as a result.”

In the same vain, the European Federation of Public Service Union (EPSU) has warned of a “roll back” in the strive for equal wages, if governments do not take into account that women are disproportionately affected by major cuts in the public sector.

Under these circumstances, I am inclined to agree with Gloria Mills, the Chairwoman of EPSU’s women and gender equality committee, who stated: “Equality on all fronts is a mark of a united and civilised society – it is not just for times of economic prosperity.”

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Parents have good reason to fear the redefining of autism

The global reaction to news that a US panel of experts in psychiatry is proposing to redesign the definition of autism has been nothing short of explosive.

The incendiary move has not only struck fear into the hearts of parents of autistic children but also sparked a wider debate among medics and academics about why diagnostic rates have sky-rocketed.

This is because narrowing the criteria of the definition will have serious ramifications; affecting the status of autistic people within society and, crucially, their access to expensive extra services.

The experts – appointed by the American Psychiatric Association – are in the process of revamping a manual known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V).

According to the New York Times, this will be the first major revision of the DSM – which is the standard reference for mental disorders, research, treatment and insurance decisions – in 17 years.

Although the document is not due to be finalised until the end of 2012, the New York Times notes that one study already predicts the new definition is likely exclude many individuals.

However, the DSM 5 panel “strongly disagrees”.

In the 1940s, researchers in the US began to use the word “autism” to identify children exhibiting emotional or social problems but British medics only followed suit in the 60s.

Autism affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people as well as how they make sense of the world around them.

Some people are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have learning disabilities requiring specialist support.

For example, something as pedestrian as teeth cleaning requires a parent to carry out an inordinate amount of thought and preparation beforehand because the child “may react badly to care being delivered because of a previous bad experience“.

People with Asperger syndrome – a form of autism – possess fewer problems with speech but may still experience difficulties communicating.

About 1 in 100 people in the UK have autism. (The National Autistic Society)

Unsurprisingly, the debate over redefining the incurable condition has exposed deep divisions among medics and families.

Allen Frances, who was the chair of the DSM IV Task Force and is the Professor Emeritus at US-based Duke University, wrote in the Huffington Post “the sudden increase in rates of autism comes from the vagueness and easy elasticity of its definition at the milder boundaries of its spectrum”.

He advocates the narrowing of the definition, along with “de-coupling school services from the diagnosis”.

“Severe, classic autism is clearly defined and absolutely unmistakable,” he concluded.

But Gillian Loughran, Editor of Autism Eye – a magazine for the parents and professionals who care for children with the incurable condition – says DSM V “is being seen within the autism community as a way for governments to curtail the sky-rocketing rate of reported cases of autism worldwide, and with it the need for services and benefits”.

She and her publisher husband, Mark Hayes, have spent more than £160,000 on “vital interventions” for their autistic son, Finn.

She added: “We went all the way to the British High Courts twice to fight for early intervention funding.

“The increase in pollution correlates with the rise in autism and chronic toxicity seen in children with autism, which can give rise to the secondary conditions that often affect them, such as inflammatory bowel disease.”

Given the dire state of global economies, it is highly unlikely sufferers not categorised as autistic will continue to be provided for as they were prior to the redefinition.

Hence, they will be the losers and governments will be the obvious winners.

Increasing class sizes should be avoided at all costs

In 2009 The Guardian newspaper published an article based on a report which warned private schools would have to increase their class sizes in the future to cut costs.

The article noted that “since 1981 private schools have reduced the number of pupils per teacher from 12.6 to 8.3 by investing in more teachers”.

It went on to reveal that in some cases teachers’ salaries accounted for 70% of the private educational establishment’s total expenditure.

Gavin Humphries, one of the co-authors of the study conducted by education consultants MTM Consulting, believed this practice was not sustainable.

He also stated that “certain sacred cows” such as the policy of “having a pupil-teacher ratio of less than 10:1 needed to be challenged”.

So why have private schools traditionally favoured small class sizes?

The policy is based on the school of thought that smaller class sizes allow children to benefit from greater individual attention thereby improving their overall performance.

This is significant because it was research suggesting this premise to be a valid one that led the Labour government to introduce the regulation limiting the maximum class size for infants to 30 in 1998.

Last week, Niall Bolger, Chief Executive of Sutton County Council, urged the Education Secretary Michael Gove to increase that limit to 32 to save money.

He claimed such a move would not have a negative impact on a child’s education, the BBC News website reported.

Thankfully, the coalition government chose not to entertain his proposal.

Some would concur with Mr Bolger, who made the plea because of the high demand for school places in the borough and the cost of accommodating extra pupils.

There is also a school of thought that argues improving the quality of teachers trumps reduced class sizes.

Every child has the right to a good school education irrespective of the financial circumstances of their parents.

In theory, it should provide them with a platform from which they can spring forth confidently and capably into the world of work, further and higher education.

In short, its importance cannot be understated.

Increasing class sizes could be the slippery slope to allowing more changes to creep into an already flawed mainstream education system, at the moment.

The London Evening Standard’s front page lead about the poor levels of literacy and numeracy among many of the employees at the new Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford City last September, confirms this point.

The CBI – a body not known for pulling its punches – went straight for the jugular revealing the results of a survey it conducted among “566 employers showed 42% were not satisfied with the basic use of English by school and college leavers”.

It also said 44% of those businesses invested in remedial training to get the youngsters up to speed.

We are only in the second week of 2012 and the standard of schooling in Haringey is back in the spotlight.

The source of the latest controversy to hit the beleaguered East London borough is a leaked Whitehall document which describes its primary schools as the worst in inner London, according to the Evening Standard.

Meanwhile, the furore over the coalition government’s plans to take five of the failing ones out of the local authority’s control to turn them into academies rubbles on.

The alarm bells have been ringing out for quite some time now and I cannot help but wonder how many more young people have to slip through the mainstream education net before something seismic is done to stem the tide.

I realise it is much easier said than done but surely increasing class sizes cannot be the only solution to alleviating the cost of educating extra pupils?

After all, it is a child’s wellbeing and future prospects which are at stake.

Legal aid: The dismantling of a principle?

On 26 October 1945, Mr Marcus Lipton, OBE, spoke emotively in the House of Commons about “the provision of legal aid for poor persons”.

The Labour Party MP for the Lambeth Brixton constituency from 1945 to 1974 told members that it “must be regarded as an essential contribution towards improved social services”.

He went on to mention how the Army Council introduced the scheme to assist servicemen and women in their “civil affairs” in 1942.

To further underline the vital importance of legal aid, Mr Lipton used a principle built into the Magna Carta: “To none will we refuse or delay right or justice.”

The swingeing £350m cuts proposed by Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, will dismantle that very principle by leaving those without means with no way of obtaining redress of grievances.

It is no wonder that alarm has been raised by some of the most unlikely voices.

When anybody mentions Lord Tebbit, I immediately think of his no-nonsense get-on-your-bike speech directed at the unemployed in the 80s.

Yet the former Tory minister and ex-MP for Chingford has told The Guardian Newspaper that the planned cuts could be “going too far”.

He is openly supporting amendments ensuring minors or parents on their behalf are entitled to legal aid when pursuing medical negligence claims.

At a time when the disparity between the rich and the poor grows ever more vast, the planned cuts raise awkward questions about the link between obtaining justice, our legal system and having access to immense wealth.

Labour needs less rhetoric and more policy

 

I have to say I was completely underwhelmed by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party Conference speech on Merseyside.

 

What was I expecting? Well, my first editor always repeated over and over again: “The devil is in the detail.”

 

Rhetoric is not what this country needs now. Job creation and a buoyant economy are at the forefront of people’s minds.

 

Only strong policies that deliver results will give him the prime ministerial air he desperately seeks.

 

Heather Stewart hit the nail on the head in her Guardian piece on big business, entitled: “End fast-buck culture? First, Miliband needs a revolution in business values”

 

She pointed out that Britain’s business model needed to be re-worked and “Miliband will need to translate his rhetoric into a detailed policy programme”.

 

Fired Starbucks worker’s rant over minimum wage

The Huffington Post tweeted a You Tube video today of a Starbucks employee ranting about the customers he served before he was fired from his job.

It was hilarious to watch and I immediately recognised his vivid and comical descriptions of them.

But this American young man’s incandescence also personifies the harsh reality for people existing on the minimum wage.

The Liberal Democrats have voted for a regionally variable minimum wage. This move will presumably assuage fears that a national one will “destroy jobs”.

The independent reports that in April last year, almost 500,000 people were paid less than £3 an hour.

The newspaper also revealed that Baroness Shirley Williams had “indicated the situation may have worsened” since the wages councils were abolished last year.

If the only way we can get our economy moving in the right the direction is to exploit the already disadvantaged, then we are in trouble.

Self-help gurus such as Anthony Robbins and Robin Sharma advocate chasing your dreams.

This is because a life without prospects is no life at all.

Ten years after 9/11 Westerners ‘still vulnerable’

“We are the centre of our own universe.”

This statement sprang to my mind as I watched some Afghanistan farmers looking nonplussed when confronted with graphic photographs showing the burning twin towers of the World Trade Centre on Channel 4 News.

“When you can’t feed or house yourself,” as one US soldier, based in the country where Al-Qaida orchestrated these atrocities, aptly articulated. “How are you going to care about somebody 6,000 miles away? So I can understand that.”

Only a police district chief recognised the images after scrutinising the prints.

I wasn’t surprised at all. For the last 10 days the UK has been remembering the 9/11 suicide attacks which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, including 67 Britons.

For my generation it is our “JFK moment”.

What were you doing when out of the clear blue sky two planes flew into two iconic buildings that had not only dominated the Manhattan skyline for nearly 30 years but were also symbols of US wealth and invincibility?

I was carrying out pedestrian research on restaurants offering the best deals for students ahead of “Freshers week” on the day the Western world stopped.

I returned to my newsroom to discover it had turned into Madame Tussaud’s with every single member of staff imitating wax works, their eyes glued to TV screens. Even the affable and loquacious receptionists sat mute.

When I glanced at the images on the screen, I initially assumed they were engrossed in an action film.

After all, the footage resembled anything Sly Stone could have produced.

But, no, these pictures conveyed reality. New York was under attack and another plane was heading for the seat for power – the Pentagon.

When I arrived home still in shock, along with the rest of country, I sat transfixed in front of my own television.

How could this happen? Who was behind it? Who would be next?

The answers to my questions were unpalatable.

The audacious terrorist assault in 2001 set in motion a chain of events, including the “War on Terror”, which continue to impact on our daily lives.

In 2005, 52 Londoners died in 7/7. But has the “War on Terror” made the world a safer place? Not according to the International Business Times.

Meanwhile, America has warned of a “specific, credible threat” ahead of the anniversary with security boosted in New York and Washington, the BBC news website writes.

Post 9/11 Westerners carry on but not as before. We have become accustomed to a vulnerability which wealth and materialism cannot protect us from.