Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Only Labour will guarantee a minimum wage of at least £8 by 2019 and introduce a 10p tax rate handing the women of Britain an extra £132 million a year

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The Independent Online

Women's pay hasn't just stalled – it's gone backwards. Labour's analysis of the official figures shows that a woman working full time is earning less this year that she did 12 months ago. That's not accounting for inflation. I'm talking about actual wages here.

Funnily enough no Government minister ever mentions this. They regularly tell us that there are record numbers of women in work, which of course is a good thing, but when Cameron and Clegg pretend everything’s rosy for working women they show just how out of touch they really are.

A record six million women are now working part-time, earning a third less per hour than they would if they were working full-time, and a record number of these women say they're doing so because they just can't get the hours they want. Childcare costs have risen 30 per cent under this Government, yet this Chancellor hasn’t offered extra support for families. Last week, I met some mums in Dudley, where Sam, 29, who works part-time in Tesco told me that if she had an extra 10 hours free childcare a week she would take on more hours at work. She said: “I could increase my hours – even if it were just for an extra four hours it would be 35/40 extra quid a week and that would make such a difference.”

And what of those working on exploitative zero-hours contracts? I was having a snack in a supermarket café after a morning's campaigning when – after noticing my Labour rosette – the manager approached me. She begged me to outlaw these contracts after telling me that her staff – mainly women – came into work each morning at 8am but didn't know whether they would be there until midday or 4pm on any day. Putting an end to exploitative contracts will give some security to these women and others like them to budget and plan for childcare.

It's women who make up the majority of the 1.4 million workers who are on these contracts.

The workplace is changing in many ways. The number of women registering as self-employed in the last four years has increased and accounts for more than one third of the rise in jobs under this Tory-Led Government. These jobs are in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring. The average wage of a self-employed woman is £9,800, less than they would earn working full-time on the minimum wage and a staggering 41 per cent less than men who are registered as self-employed.

One in four working women now earns less than the living wage. Cate, a university catering assistant who lives in my Ashfield constituency told me she hasn’t had a family holiday for four years and that saying no to her kids has become a normal part of her day. It's for women like Cate that we'll provide tax breaks to employers to pay the living wage.

Only Labour will guarantee a minimum wage of at least £8 by 2019. When 61 per cent of low paid workers are women, women will benefit most from Labour's policy giving a pay rise to 3.9 million women.

The gender pay gap – for years falling under Labour – is back on the rise. When we left Government in 2010 we’d closed the pay gap by almost one third and it was still narrowing but in the past four years progress has ground to a halt and last year went into reverse.

Labour would do things differently.

Instead of introducing a Married Couples Allowance which won’t benefit two thirds of married couples, we'd introduce a 10p tax rate handing the women of Britain an extra £132 million a year. These would be tax cuts for the right people rather than millionaires who, guess what, are mostly men.

We will back more women to start their own businesses by cutting business rates for small businesses next year instead of going ahead with the Government’s corporation tax cut for the largest firms, and we'll extend free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours to support women like Sam who wants to work more hours.

And a Labour government will never forget the women who are struggling to get work. The number of young women who've been out of work for over a year has risen by 50 per cent since David Cameron and Nick Clegg entered Downing Street. We'll guarantee those women a real paid job or training, and the same for those 25 and over who've been out of work for two years.

Gloria de Piero is shadow Minister for Women and Equality