Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Sally Young Column

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Sally Young Column

Article excerpt

Byline: By Sally Young

Nearly twenty years ago, I set up a local group `Women for Change' which lobbied for better rights and benefits for women and children.

At that time the maternity grant was pounds 25, maternity allowance and pay were minimal, and hard to access.

There was also no such thing as paternity leave. Child benefit was under attack and support for working parents was invisible.

Childcare was rare, and available only to those on high salaries.

The UK had the worst level of maternity and child support in Western Europe.

In the late eighties and early nineties, employers suddenly woke up to the skills shortage and the loss of experienced workers.

There was a desperate need to get parents back into the workplace, and childcare started to be extended.

The advent of a Labour government, good European legislation and lobbying by many, including trade unions, have contributed to a better and fairer system.

The Surestart maternity grant, for the families in greatest need, is now pounds 500, maternity allowance and maternity pay are paid at higher rates, and there are child tax credits and childcare allowances.

At the same time the role of women in the workplace has changed ( we are better paid, have more senior roles than previously and are taken more seriously.

We are better educated, do better at schools, better in exams and get better degrees. Yet we still earn less than 80pc of the average male wage.

Last year the Government introduced paid paternity leave for fathers, but recent figures show that only one in five fathers took up the entitlement.

Is this because the maximum rate for the two weeks of paid leave is pounds 102 for each week?

Today women have a greater choice about returning to paid work after they have children.

However there is still the same guilt ( worrying you are doing the wrong thing by staying at home and worrying you are doing the wrong thing by taking on paid employment. …

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