Editor-At-Large: We can help women into paid work, but where are the jobs?

 

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Steve Hilton, Dave Cameron's "blue sky thinker" might be parodied online and mocked for his ghastly taste in casual wear, but I'll give him credit for one thing – persuading the PM to attend a get-together last week with the heads of the Nordic Baltic countries. Yes, the countries whose television drama we've fallen in love with – intelligent, civilised fare like Borgen, Wallender, The Killing and - soon to come, The Bridge and Lilyhammer on BBC4. This group includes the brave nations (Norway and Iceland) who decided to implement a quota of 40 per cent women on the boards of their public companies. And guess what – nothing ground to a halt and economies didn't implode. There's so much to like about this group, even if you're not a fan of oily fish and snow.

It's clear that Mr Cameron wants FTSE 100 UK businesses to implement a quota system for boards. Unfortunately, every time he says so, an incredibly successful female pipes up and complains that it's "tokenism". Last week, it was the turn of city high-flyer Helena Morrissey, mother of nine, who is in charge of £50bn of funds. She says that "in the UK we adopt a 'comply or explain' approach... rather than being mandated". Well, it ain't working, luv. Even so, Cameron must understand that quotas are only one way of helping Britain's most underused resource, female workers. Yes, we want more women in the boardroom because it has been proved over and over again that it is better for business. Even the head of the International Monetary Fund (female) says so, but we also want a strong chain of women all through the workplace making it more efficient and productive. Women are great team players, excellent at multi-tasking and very good at interacting with customers and clients. Mr Cameron needs to focus on why women who have children have to come back into the workforce several rungs down the ladder.

Last week, a report from the Resolution Foundation revealed that mums who return to work mostly end up in badly paid low-skilled jobs. There's a dearth of part-time work, and employers are not willing to allow women to fit work around their families. Flexitime is only available to women who have been on the staff for six months or more, not contract workers. There's another problem – childcare in the UK is the second most expensive in similar EU countries and can eat up more than 25 per cent of the household budget.

David Cameron is said to be interested in another Baltic Big Idea – tax breaks towards the cost of hired help. In Sweden and Finland, people who employ cleaners, child minders and household help are allowed to deduct half the cost of the staff from their tax bill and the government pays the rest of the staff cost. It's a way of collecting more tax and taking workers out of the black economy. Critics say it favours low-paid immigrant workers and benefits the middle classes. In the UK, Labour was quick to whinge about the scheme benefiting the wealthy households. I disagree. It is out of touch, not Mr Cameron. The truth is, every working women needs domestic help in modern Britain. Paying people to clean, and look after your children is no longer a prerogative of the middle classes. In all income brackets, women are forced to scrimp and save to pay for help (usually in cash) so they can go back to the shitty part-time jobs on offer.

This scheme could bring thousands of workers into the tax system and help women get back to work. Next, Mr Cameron needs to focus on how to ensure that well-qualified mums get decent jobs. If he does, he'll be rewarded at the next election.

Material girl is overpriced

Is she worth it? Madonna certainly created a spectacle at the Super Bowl, with her wonderful Philip Treacy gold headdress and extravagant costumes. A female Spartacus, or maybe a comic-book super-heroine.

There were rumours she was miming – the same rumours that persist every time she mounts a lavish concert, but no one goes to see Madonna because of her vocal expertise. She's about showmanship, and no one is her equal in that department, except her old sparring partner, Elton John, currently starring in lavish Las Vegas and returning to these shores in the late spring. My problem with Madonna is the ticket prices – why should 80,000 of us have to cough up £125 and £70 to see her at her only English date this summer in Hyde Park on 17 July?

At the Olympics, you pay for athletic excellence. At the opera, you pay classically trained men and women to deliver vocal fireworks in long and demanding roles. At a Premier League match, men run around for an hour and a half and you might be rewarded with truly thrilling moments.

At a Madonna concert, you will be miles from the giant stage on which a tiny female figure will gyrate about in lavish outfits, possibly miming, surrounded by dancers and technical wizardry. I'd rather watch the DVD, and not have to queue for the loo.

Magical movies can wither on stage

Last week I saw The Ladykillers, now a play at the Gielgud Theatre in London. Apart from the annoyance of being charged a £4 credit-card booking fee – it was impossible to find the box-office number and so I was forced to book online – the evening didn't really soar.

Peter Capaldi is impressive as Professor Marcus organising his motley gang of thieves, and the set is eye-catching, but there seemed to be a lack of interaction between the players.

In a film, the action is driven by shooting and editing. On stage, there needs to be stuff apart from words that glues everything together and makes it sing. It's fashionable to turn films into stage shows – this week Singin' in the Rain is transferring to London and a stage version of Sam Taylor-Wood's John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, is due late next year – but they don't always improve on the original.

I'm not sure I can face Gatz, the new adaptation of The Great Gatsby, opening in June. It will last eight hours, and one member of the cast reads every word of Scott Fitzgerald's novel out loud.

Wedgwood must be treasured

Britain has produced some of the most beautiful ceramics in the world, and the finest were created at the Wedgwood factories over the past 250 years. I spent many happy hours there researching a book on British teapots.

We might be flops at football, but we're world leaders in tableware. The UN lists the collection as being of unique cultural significance, with its paintings by Stubbs, Romney and Reynolds and archives of Josiah Wedgwood. Now this treasure trove, originally given by the Wedgwood family to be displayed for the benefit of the nation, may be broken up.

The High Court has ruled that the £18m collection had not been placed in trust correctly and has to be sold to pay creditors (including an employees' pension fund) of the previous owners of the pottery, which went into liquidation in 2009. Only five museum employees were covered by the pension scheme.

It is scandalous that a national treasure faces destruction because the Government won't protect our cultural heritage. MPs have tabled an Early Day Motion and questions are being asked in the Lords on Tuesday.

Can the National Lottery step in?

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