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There are more working mums than ever, but the gender pay gap is still here

Mums are now not only bringing home the bacon (on a budget), but are cooking it, serving it and washing up the plates afterwards

Two weeks have now passed since the royal birth, and it’s fair to say that the Duchess of Cambridge remains the most famous new mum in the country, and most probably the world.

On one hand, Kate will face extreme and unimaginable pressures after the birth of Prince George; she is probably also facing many of the same emotional ups and downs that many new mothers face; but other pressures especially financial are unlikely to be her primary concern. One thing is certain: she will not be relied upon to bring in the income needed to support her new family. She will never be a breadwinner.

Working mums in the UK are breadwinning at a higher rate than ever before and this doesn’t look set to change any time soon. IPPR’s new research shows that 1 in 3 working mothers across the country are now the family breadwinner, which means they earn as much or more than their partner, or are working single mums. That is over two million mums, an enormous rise of over 80 per cent n the last 15 years. This trend is not restricted to one group of mother, but can be seen across all age groups, income groups, and family types.

Yet, despite this, many working mums face challenges that most working dads don’t . There is a ‘motherhood pay penalty’ where mums earn a shocking 26 per cent less than the average father; many mums face a step-back in their careers when they go on maternity leave; and are still expected to play the ‘traditional mum role’ by doing a ‘double shift’ working and a majority of the housework.

Mums are now not only bringing home the bacon (on a budget), but are cooking it, serving it and washing up the plates afterwards.

There are some people who are perhaps struggling to adapt to a different reality. We can no longer assume that dad will be the breadwinner and mum the full time carer. But families have changed and so must the policy landscape.  Working mums must be given choices that will help them break down the barriers to work and better reflect what is now the reality for many families.

One way in which this could be done is through universal and accessible childcare. The cost of childcare is rising rapidly in the UK – at more than double the inflation rate over the past year – and is higher here than in most other OECD countries. With earnings stalling, there is no doubt that many families are under pressure, and the high cost of childcare only intensifies the pay penalty for women. Universal childcare could help working mothers balance work and caring responsibilities.  IPPR analysis shows that it could also produce returns to the exchequer of up to £20,050 over four years, which could be re-invested in delivering more affordable childcare.

Mums often take on part-time roles to allow them to also care for their children, but this can lead to them being unfairly disadvantaged by having to take a pay cut or a step down in their career. What we need in the UK are flexible work opportunities that provide women with more genuine choices with regards to work and care. An example of this can be found in Germany, where parents can decrease their working hours to care for children at a reduced income. When they return to work, they continue to receive a lower income to pay for the difference. In practice, this means that if a parent works part-time for two years, they will receive 75 per cent of their normal income over four years. As well as providing greater flexibility, this also has the benefit of preventing sudden changes in income. The UK should watch and learn.

Another way to better support families is through a more progressive parental leave system. The Icelandic government recently passed legislation to transition to a system of five months maternity leave, five months paternity leave and two months parental leave for parents to decide how to use it by 2016. This is a long way from current provision in the UK.

With more working mums than ever before now responsible for the financial well-being of their families, we need to see more being done to break down the barriers that are still placed in front of them. The gender pay gap needs to be quashed once and for all.  This means thinking creatively and providing working mothers with choices.

Today, the Duke of Cambridge’s two-week paternity leave from the RAF will be up, but he and Kate will not face the precarious balancing act of caring for their child whilst generating enough income that will trouble many parents in the UK.