This week EU bosses have objected to the extension of paid maternity leave. In the UK, smaller employers get a rebate of statutory maternity pay, and larger ones a significant contribution.
UK businesses have objected to the immigration cap saying this creates a skill shortage.
We have to decide whether we want women in the UK to have babies. If they do so under current circumstances, it is at considerable risk to their earning potential and career. Business owners tend to say having a baby is a personal or family decision and nothing to do with business, but where do customers come from?
Our pensions funding crisis is due not only to the fact we live longer (thank goodness), but to the falling birth rate, leaving less young workers to support us in our old age. The gap is filled by legal immigrants who not only substantially staff our health and caring professions, but also pay tax and national insurance and help fund our pensions.
If women continue to have children at below replacement levels, we will continue on this trend. Women are entitled to make the personal decision to have as many or as few children as they feel they can support. However, national minimum wage in the UK or even the average wage in the UK will not keep a family, particularly in the SE where housing costs are very high, with only one wage earner. The whole family budget often depends on two wage earners to keep the family out of poverty.
Women willingly take care of their families, often suffering terribly as a result if they are divorced and find themselves with little or no pension provision. Women also undertake a significant amount of unpaid time as carers of their parents.
Women continue to earn less than men and hold down less senior positions. This may be the result of prejudice, or taking decisions to be available to the family and not work such long hours outside the home (women still seem to perform the majority of housework inside it).
If all the women in the UK of childbearing age decided not to have children, where would we be? It would be a private decision with very profound public consequences. Let’s stop pretending that being a lower earner over a life time having had children is a personal decision made voluntarily by women and look at the reality. We chose to have children. We do not chose to become poor!
We need to ensure that our brightest and most able women feel they can have children (and bring them up ) without profoundly disabling themselves in a world where money and careers are key measures of success. The “Big Society” has always existed – every mother, daughter, sister and aunt has been working in it, mostly unpaid, for centuries. But it is the “Little Society” where paid employment and career progression exists. And most women are disadvantaged here because of the “Big Society” role they take on.
We are a nation that includes some very intelligent men and women. Surely we can work out a way to give women a way to earn equally in the corporate world. We could start by stopping pretending that it is nothing to do with us whether a woman has children, and that we do not benefit from it in any way.
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk. You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye. Our specialist site for pregnancy and parenthood at work can be found on www.balancingthebump.com