THERE has been seemingly good news recently of increasing levels of employment. It has been largely stimulated by the growing numbers of women entering the workforce.
Rates of economic inactivity tell us who is not available for work, but not the reason. They may be students, retired, or, particularly in the case of women, looking after the family – whether their children, their spouses or dependent parents. They are termed ‘inactive’ yet many are productively engaged, albeit it in the private sphere, which in today’s society doesn’t seem to count for much. The rate of adjusted economic inactivity is the key to telling us who actually might theoretically want employment, such as the long-term sick, the short-term sick or those who are discouraged by being unemployed, many of whom have become alienated from the world of work.
As women have moved out of so-called productive inactivity from the family into the workplace, this means an increasing proportion of the inactive (as opposed to simply short-term unemployed) will be men. Explaining this rise solely in terms of the decline in manufacturing and traditional male industries is clearly insufficient. It ignores the impact of feminist ideology on economic and social policy on people’s choices.
Feminists from Betty Friedan onwards have taken a dim view of women’s traditional caring for the family role, seeing it a sign of women’s oppression and a burden that rendered women dependent on men. They have made it their mission, for some 50 years now, to ‘liberate’ women through work to bring about the financial independence they assumed would result.
Successive governments have come under huge pressure from this very active but not necessarily representative lobby to change taxation and social policy to free women from any financial dependence on men.
There have been some critical milestones in governments’ response. The first was the advent of independent taxation without a concomitant option of a household or transferable tax with the Thatcher government in 1988. Chancellor Nigel Lawson said it was no longer acceptable that the income of a married woman should be taxed as if it belonged to her husband. But his reform of personal taxation had two objectives: ‘First, to give married women the same privacy and independence in their tax affairs as everyone else; and, second, to bring to an end the ways in which the tax system can penalise marriage.’
Unfortunately he did not remain Chancellor long enough to see the second and critical part of his reform through.
The result, for the last 25 years, has been the penalising of families, none more so than where one parent wants to stay at home to look after the children, while the other (usually the man) acts as chief provider. Thanks to the UK’s hyper-individualised tax system, families have been treated ever more unfairly over the years, in contrast with our OECD neighbours.
This oversight set the trajectory for a long line of ‘feminist’ policy-makers, ‘career’ women but also honorary ‘woke men’, with their quite different motivations from their mainstream female constituents, to complete their mission to get all women out of the domestic sphere and into work. The pressure from campaigners, such as Gingerbread, the Daycare Trust and the Equal Opportunities Commission – which reported early on about the ‘under-utilisation’ of women in the workforce – came in tandem. Labour’s 1997 victory, seen as a victory for women with its record number of female MPs, but in fact a victory for feminism, put radical feminists such as Harriet Harman, Patricia Hewitt and Mo Mowlam – none of whom had sympathy for the mother at home or her male provider – at the heart of government.
Tony Blair’s New Labour government created a Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office while Gordon Brown furthered the working woman revolution with tax policy designed to encourage lone parents into work (rather than marriage) under the guise of lifting children out of poverty. Its effects were documented by Jill Kirby in her policy analysis The Price of Parenthood, which was to be a combination of minimum hours work at best to qualify for more generous levels of state support.
The 2010 Coalition government decided to reform rather than reject the tax credit system (leading to years of debate over Universal Credit) which had trapped so many families in a tax churn, explained by Peter Saunders in a detailed paper for Policy Exchange. This accepted rather than rejected the Brown-Harman mantra that getting mothers out of the family and into work was the solution to child poverty, and committed to further tax free childcare incentives. With Nick Clegg, the husband of a feminist businesswoman, at the helm, the policy-makers ignored the fact that so-called ‘inactive’ women were in fact productively engaged in the private sphere and that many had no desire to increase their working hours. ‘You think we are worthless,’ Laura Perrins challenged him on air to his dismay.
Both Labour and Conservative remain blind to the downside of the economic productivity equation – the money they would need to spend on financial incentives such as childcare and paternity leave and the cost to businesses of introducing ‘family-friendly’ flexible employment. They have not yet grasped that childcare will never make economic sense or be affordable to anyone but the high-paid, nor have they grasped that the desire to provide for their families lies at the heart of the male productive role.
Such blinkered vision has led to taxpayers’ money and policy going in one direction only – getting women into work and throwing good money after bad into ever more round-the-clock childcare, whether this is what mothers and fathers really want, and regardless of children’s best interests.
The outcome of this strategy has been bad for everybody. Work provides men with more than just an income. It provides them with the wherewithal to express their desire to care for their families. It provides structure, purpose and social networks. It lends to a man’s sense of identity and self-worth. Take it away and you remove part of their manhood. This is why changes in employment have a particularly severe and well-documented impact on the health of men.
Yet governments and the media still regard getting women into the workforce as their priority, though the resulting male inactivity extends well beyond its impact on men as these statistics show:
· A woman is 38 per cent more likely to file for divorce if she works more than her husband;
· She is 29 per cent more likely to divorce if she has had to increase the number of hours worked outside the home in the last five years; [i]
· And despite those years of feminist indoctrination, 80 per cent of women said they would ostracise a man who failed to provide for his family ‘as he should’.
An analysis of the emerging gender gap in labour markets and education demonstrates the links between unemployment and single parenthood. Increasing numbers of mothers (including those with children under four) in full-time employment means homes are empty. Families spend little time together and children are packed off into wrap-around schoolcare from morning till night. State boarding schools are starting to open for children as young as four.
There really should be little mystery about high rates of depression and mental health issues which we hear young people are suffering from. All too often they are growing up without knowing the meaning of family and home or experiencing its security.
It has also had an impact on community. Women who are now compelled into the workforce once shaped their families and communities in ways which extended well beyond the home. It is not only about looking after children, crucially valuable though this is. It is about creating a realm which provides security, safety, and an alternative arena with a set of values which are independent of the state. It is about cultural activity, whether choirs, reading groups, theatre or going to church. It means having people at the grass roots who can inform local and central politicians about the measures which would make a difference to their communities. It is about having a body of parents monitoring their schools who are ready to step into action when they see profoundly damaging ideologies being taught. It means having eyes in the community so that burglars will not feel that they can so easily walk into your home. It means having people around to help care for elderly or sick family members, or simply do shopping for the disabled person down the road.
When feminists sent women into the workplace they didn’t just destroy the family, they also destroyed the community which sustained mothers, fathers and children. Perhaps it is a reflection of the value of men to the workforce that with the advent of additional and replacement female labour force growth in productivity did not go up. It went down.
[i] A Cherlin, Worklife and Marital Dissolution, in George Levinger and Oliver C Moles, eds, Divorce and
Separation, 1979, pp. 151-66.