Opinion piece by Fiona Grahame
When grandad Grahame came home from work with his pay packet he handed it all over to granny. That was unusual in early 20th century Scotland. She would take out what was needed and hand him the rest back. Granny was a very clever woman who could budget and save out of a Docker’s pay. Of course she had years of practice having been in service from a young age because that was the norm for working class women in rural communities.
I had a stay at home mother who was excellent at selecting good fresh food and cooking it up. As an orphan from an extremely poor background they had tried to put her into service. At age 14 the young Margaret was handed a grey uniform to wear. She didn’t even stop to try it on. Instead she got a job in one of the many Midland factories where you worked hard but you didn’t doff your cap to anyone.
We are now in a period which sees women take on leading roles at the top of our political institutions. In the UK the Prime Minister, in Scotland the First Minister and in Europe Angela Merkel all demonstrating that for some women there is no glass ceiling. They have well and truly broken through and smashed their way to the top.
The 20th century saw an advancement in rights for women in this country (albeit it at a somewhat leisurely pace) but for the majority of women the 21st century has been a great disappointment. And in particular these last few years.
Unbelievably there are employers who consider the wearing of high heels an essential requirement for women to do their job. Now I did have a spat with a middle management office constricted type when I worked out of doors. He objected to the colour of my wellies as they were not black. As if any tourists braving driving rain and gale force winds would be concerned that my wellies were green. Of course he had never worked out of doors in all weathers so had no understanding of the work I was doing and what was actually important about it.
This also applies to those who think the wearing of high heels makes you more efficient and skilled at your job and who clearly who have never spent a day tottering about in them. Recent research from the University of Aberdeen commented that:
“a wealth of studies demonstrated wearing high heels increases the risk of developing musculoskeletal conditions from the spine to the toes and also increases the chance of injury.”
“wearing high heels increases women’s attractiveness to men and can reward female wearers with other benefits in terms of male attention and their own view of their beauty, so high heel wear clearly has social benefits as well as health drawbacks.“
Jings that is how far women have progressed in the 21st C. And even the top notch female politicians are not immune from this as comments are regularly made about what they are wearing rather than what they are saying and doing.
For many women in this country the 21st C is now a time of increasing hardship. Women in Scotland earn £182.90 per week less than men and yet make up 49% of the work force. According to Close the Gap, 64% of workers paid below the living wage are women. This is due to a combination of factors, a major one of which is the continued misuse of zero hours contracts and this is linked directly to the type of employment women are engaged in. These are jobs which often reflect a woman’s dual responsibilities as the main carer in a family be it for children or elderly relatives. Balancing care and work has also led to women being under employed leading to increasing numbers seeking advice about in work poverty.
Close the Gap state :
“the gender pay gap in Scotland is 11.5%. The gender differences in the Scottish labour market, with a pay gap of 12% for full-time workers and 32% for part-time workers is shocking in the 21st Century.”
“The reasons given for these differences in pay include: ―occupational segregation, where women and men do different types and levels of work; inflexible working practices which make it difficult for women with caring responsibilities to participate in the labour market equally, particularly at senior levels; and discrimination within pay systems.”
This means that even those who are in work will be relying on welfare benefits to ‘top up’ their incomes. The same benefits which have now been cut or restricted. An estimated 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and child tax credits, compared to 10% of men’s (Fawcett Society). Of all in-work families receiving child tax credits, 87% of recipients were women. For in-work single parents, 94% of recipients were female. (HMRC).
Child tax credits are now capped at two children – meaning anyone with two children or more will no longer receive child tax credits at the birth of their next child or subsequent children, unless an exception applies. The exception to the 2 child cap can be applied if the woman can claim that the conception of the additional child (the +2) was due to being raped or because she was in a coercive relationship where she had no choice in becoming pregnant. This has now become infamous as ‘the rape clause’. On the same day the UK Government brought in the ‘rape clause’, the Scottish Government announced that the two child cap would not be implemented in Scotland’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme. This scheme reduces the council tax those on low incomes have to pay, with over 75% of recipients not having to pay any council tax at all.
Older women have now discovered that the state pension they so relied on being able to access at age 60 is no longer available to them and they will have to continue to work for several more years. For me it is now 66. You can check when yours will be available here.
Why is this important to these women now called WASPIs? It is important because they weren’t fully informed that these changes were going to be made. Many of them have had times when they had caring responsibilities and weren’t able to work and so couldn’t build up a decent workplace pension. They expected to be able to access their pension and put their slippered feet up at 60 but that has changed saving the UK Government £millions and affecting 2.6 million women.
So well done to those few successful women who have clambered to the top in their professions whether or not they were wearing high heels at the time. And let us continue to encourage girls to be ambitious in the careers they seek to follow and the choices they wish to make. And let us also continue to remind those women who are successful that they are the exception, that our society continues to be infested with inequality. They have a responsibility to ensure that this inequality is not ignored but addressed and eliminated.
“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” Kofi Annan