Letter: Working towards real equality

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article ('More help for working women', 22 November) picks up on points made in the report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (part of a wider research project commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission).

Your leading article is welcome and timely in that it identifies issues of major public policy. Improving the status of part-time work, giving support to working parents, providing career development opportunities to all employees and raising the status of those who stay at home and care for children - the parents and workforce of the future.

The main message of the IFS study is that while the relative income of women has improved over the last 20 years, women on average still only have access to half the independent income of men. This is of considerable concern to the EOC. Women are still significantly over-represented among adults with little or no independent income and grossly under-represented among those in higher income groups.

While on current trends some improvements may be expected, the projected growth is in low paid, low status, part-time jobs, occupied predominantly by women. This seems unlikely to produce a significant narrowing of the gap in average earnings from employment or a rise in women's income from pensions and annuities (one- third of men's, according to the study).

It is misleading to refer to a 'significant stride ahead' in women's earnings power. Women continue to see the work that they do undervalued and part-timers in particular do not enjoy the same access to bonus and pay benefits as full-time workers.

The EOC does not measure progress to equality by reductions in the working conditions and employment levels of men. Indeed, the reductions in male employment already mean that men are facing discrimination when applying for part-time jobs in service industries.

It is important to recognise that people's so-called preferences for part-time work are often constrained by the actual choices available. The challenge for all of us is to ensure that genuine choice and genuine equality do not take a further 20 years to achieve.

Yours faithfully,

KAMLESH BAHL

Chairwoman

Equal Opportunities Commission

Manchester

23 November

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