Inquiry into why women are paid less than men

FEMALE RIGHTS
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The Independent Online
AN INVESTIGATION to establish why women's pay falls behind men's was promised by the Government yesterday. Tessa Jowell, minister for women, said that by the time women reached their mid-50s they only earned 65p for every pound men earned.

She hailed the Government's strategy to improve the lot of women as a "programme of listening, a programme of action, a programme of delivery. It is not just what government can do for women, but what women working with government and in their communities can achieve for themselves and their families."

But, during a debate to mark the 73rd International Women's Day, the Government's handling of women's issues was criticised by Harriet Harman, former social security secretary, who accused ministers of "macho rhetoric". After Peter Mandelson's resignation there had been talk of getting in "big hitters, big beasts and big guns" to deliver its message, Ms Harman said. "You can either adopt macho rhetoric or talk like women do - you cannot do both. This government is for women; they should not be afraid to say so."

Calling for more female cabinet ministers, Ms Harman said: "The Government should avoid making policy on their own; they should make it with women." Female ministers should be given a higher profile to promote key measures such as the right to take leave when their child was ill, due to be introduced under the Employment Relations Bill. "We have not heard a whisper about this new right ... it has been squeezed out by debate about trade-union recognition."

Theresa May, the Tory women's spokesman, accused ministers of putting rhetoric over substance, saying that since Labour came into power the pay deferential between men and women had gone up.

The new Working Families Tax Credit would bring more families into the welfare net, she said, while entitlement to widow's benefit had been cut, with up to 250,000 women likely to miss out.

"This Government has not listened to women," she said. "Its priorities are more about its own priorities than women's priorities." Her concern was echoed by Jackie Ballard, for the Liberal Democrats, who said benefit cuts under the plans for welfare reform would hit women harder than men. "The impact of legislation should be carefully examined to ensure gender equality."

But Ms Jowell pointed to a series of measures such as the increase in childcare benefits, the National Carers' Strategy and the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, which had already helped women.

Mr Brown is expected today to unveil a "Budget for families" that hands more state help to poor families.

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