Aisha Iqbal: Create a National Childcare Service and watch the gender pay gap evaporate

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The publication of gender pay gap figures for all major companies is a real eye opener, and a welcome and necessary move in the journey towards genuine pay parity.

The numbers are shocking, there is no denying that, with 78 per cent of all UK companies which have revealed their gender pay data paying women less than men.

In Leeds, the average gender pay gap is 11.8 per cent, just below the national average of 12 per cent.

But it’s in the detail that the real devil of the city’s - and the country’s - level of pay disparity resides.

Many big name businesses are included in the list of Leeds companies who clearly have an issue with a gender pay divide.

But the figures really only tell half the story - in fact, I think they tell just a fraction of it.

Because the pay gap we are talking about is the difference between the average salaries of men and women. It is not the same as equal pay, where firms are required to pay people doing the same job the same salary regardless of gender. It is illegal to do otherwise.

In the light of the Government’s (very welcome) efforts to get firms to be more transparent about their gender pay gaps, politicians have, of course, been ready with soundbites.

Prime Minister Theresa May said this week that the UK must tackle the “burning injustice” of the gender pay gap and a failure to pay women as much as men was a problem which was damaging our society,

Her core point is absolutely right, but the answers don’t lie in political platitudes - they lie in radical policy changes, and big bucks investment.

If we could sort out the real injustices of low maternity pay and expensive childcare, half the job would be done.

I know successive Governments have made efforts to improve conditions for working mums but they don’t go anywhere near far enough.

Even the current Government’s flagship 30-hours of free childcare policy isn’t without its associated problems, with childcare providers fearing they just won’t be able to afford to make it viable.

Big ideas need big money behind them, and I genuinely think it’s time we started talking seriously about creating a National Childcare Service.

The problem of unaffordable childcare - and families working simply to pay for it- is shameful, counterproductive and a real scourge of our modern society.

I don’t know about you, but I would happily see some of my tax money going into funding proper, state-supported childcare services. I’m talking free nurseries from birth for those who want them, support for employers to provide creches, the lot.

Surely in a progressive, successful 21st century society in which women are a vital part of the workforce, this is common sense?

Gone are the simple days when women stayed at home, and men went out to work.

Workforce figures show that in the past 45 years, the percentage of women of working age actually in work has risen from 52 per cent to 71 percent.

Women workers, at all levels, are absolutely vital to the economy.

But this is not really reflected in female-friendly employment legislation in a meaningful, 21st century way.

And it’s not just about simple female/male biology.

Family life as a whole is so vitally important to the functioning of our society, equally if not more so than a healthy economy.

A happy home makes for a happy workforce, and a happy workforce makes for a more successful economy.

Free universal childcare would truly value both the female workforce and family life, and would allow women workers to flourish in higher paid, senior and non-traditional roles of the kind which many employers named and shamed in the gender pay gap lists would love to see more women fill.

That, inevitably, would help close the gender pay gap.

We could look to the Scandinavian countries, where progressives attitudes on childcare are often cited as exemplars.

But with a National Childcare Service, we in the UK can go a step further.

It’s a simple formula really, and it’s about radical “value added” thinking.

The gains - both financial and social - could be immeasurable.