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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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The Other Glass Ceiling

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meg spoke at the launch of The Other Glass Ceiling: the domestic politics of parenting yesterday evening, her speech is below. For further information visit: http://www.demos.co.uk/

 

Thank you for inviting me this evening.  

 

Thinking about public policy in the area of the family is complicated. We all have our own ideas of what the ‘good’ family is. We can see this family in its purest form in 1950s TV advertisements. Life was so much simpler then, everyone knew just what was expected, and was able to fulfil that expectation.

 

Well we know it wasn’t so then, and it isn’t so now.

 

Families and family life are messy, confusing to those outside looking in. But we keep trying this arrangement. With thousands of years of practise you might think that by now we would get it right!

 

One publication that may help us get it right for in future is the one we are here to see launched tonight, The Other Glass Ceiling: the domestic politics of parenting.

 

This report examines the everyday life of ‘hard working families’ - those families all politicians approve of. Happily it does not moralise about the differing family structures there are, but examines the many ways that families work to care, protect and support their children.

 

Families Matter

It’s clear that families matter, that they deserve support from society. To what extent and in what ways is one of the areas where politics, religion, the assumptions we carry around in our heads come together, and sometimes collide. How much should the state seek to help, when is helping interfering in the decision making of parents about their own children?

 

This government starts from the premise that we want to help give children the best start in life. We want to enable all families to have genuine choices about how they balance work and family caring responsibilities.

 

We published Work and Families: choice and flexibility, following a consultation on the commitments made in the Ten Year Childcare Strategy. The Work and Families Bill, currently before Parliament, is the first step toward implementing some of the measures contained within it.

 

This Bill builds on earlier measures supporting working families:

  • New paid paternity leave,
  • Extended maternity leave and increased maternity pay,
  • A new right to request flexible working for parents of children under 6 and disabled children.

 

The Work and Families Bill includes:

  • Extending maternity and adoption pay from six to nine months from April next year, with the goal of a year’s paid leave by the end of this Parliament.
  • Widening the scope of the existing law to enable those who care for adults the ability to request to work flexibly from April 2007.
  • We are consulting on the details of the Additional Paternity Leave and Pay scheme - which would allow fathers to take up to 26 weeks additional paternity leave.
  • Helping employers and employees benefit from improved communication during maternity/additional paternity leave.

 

Of course, one of the ways that families have changed since the days of the TV adverts I mentioned earlier, is that many families have both parents in work. And at that time, the idea that fathers might want to have paternity leave, might want to spend time with their new born child, would have been considered slightly odd.

 

The slightly odd then is now becoming commonplace. We have up-to-date information from the Maternity and Paternity Rights and Benefits: Survey of Parents 2005, which was published at the end of March. It helps us base our future policies on evidence of what is actually happening to people as they go about their lives.

 

For instance, we know:

  • Three quarters of mums now take their full entitlement to maternity pay, up from two thirds in 2002.
  • Mums also take more time off work. The average period of maternity leave is now six months, up from four months in 2002.
  • Dads take more time off work at the time of the birth of their child. 93% take time off around the actual birth, and four-fifths take the new paternity pay.
  • Interestingly, the proportion of Dads taking more than two weeks rose from 22% to 36% in just three years.

 

The facts show that parents use the new entitlements to maternity and paternity leave and pay. I have no doubt they will welcome the further range of entitlements contained in the Work and Families Bill when it is enacted into law.

 

Women and Enterprise

As I mentioned earlier, one stark difference between now and the 1950s is that women are in paid work. At present, women comprise 51% of the UK population, and 46% of those active in the labour market. At the moment too many women are engaged in work that is not satisfying, and pays poorly. This has an affect on the resources available to the family unit; it also has a great affect on pension provision.

 

So women lose out. Society also loses as the talent that women have remains unused. We need to help boost women’s entrepreneurial activity, for the individual’s sake as well as our own.

 

One of my Ministerial responsibilities lies in encouraging women to consider becoming entrepreneurs. For too long society has ignored their talents and skills. At present we have nearly a million women self-employed in the UK. Despite this, only 27% of the total self-employed are women.

 

Business enterprise is a vital contributor to the health of our economy, and the diversity of opportunity within society. Enterprise increases productivity, competition and innovation. It creates employment, increases prosperity and revitalises our communities.

 

The benefits of getting more women to think of themselves as possible entrepreneurs are plain. If we had the same rate of female owned start-ups as in the USA, we would have at least half a million more businesses. This would have a major impact on productivity, employment and prosperity.

 

The pace of development needs to be accelerated to tap the massive economic potential represented by the development of women’s enterprise.  We announced the establishment of a Task Force on Women’s Enterprise in November last year. It will provide high profile leadership to accelerate women’s enterprise development.

 

The Task Force’s job includes:

  • Ensuring sustainable funding is available for women’s enterprise development in all regions.  
  • Gender-proofing of enterprise-related policies nationally and regionally.
  • Providing an infrastructure for national statistics, enabling regional, national and international comparison.  
  • Giving improved awareness across Government and in the regions of the economic argument for women’s enterprise development.
  • Women’s Enterprise Units (women-friendly business support) in all regions, fully integrated into regional support structures

 

In addition each Regional Development Agency has been asked to develop a strategy for incorporating women-friendly business support into mainstream provision.

 

So, while I have briefly outlined some of the areas that we are working on I recognise in that annoying phrase, ‘there is more to do’. Some of the next steps that government may take could be in the publication that is launched tonight, or as a result of the debate that it will start.

 

I wish it well, thank you for listening.

 

The photo shows Beverley Hughes, (Minister for Children, Young People and Families), Meg with Sophia Parker and Hannah Green the joint authors of the pamphlet.

 


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