Mothers in paid jobs 'still wrongly depicted as scatty clock-watchers'

Working mothers are wrongly seen as “scatty and clock-watching” by employers who fail to understand that they have already done a day’s work before they leave home, the shadow childcare minister, Lucy Powell, will say today.

As the Treasury moved to offer reassurances that maternity and paternity pay would be protected in future – after David Cameron confirmed they would be included in a proposed welfare cap – Powell will call for a revolution to overcome prejudices faced by working parents.

In her first speech since her appointment to the frontbench role, Powell will say working mothers are still depicted in the same way as the character played by Wendy Craig in the 1970s sitcom Butterfiles.

Powell, who recently returned to Westminster from maternity leave, will say: “Too often working parents are given a bad name at work: seen as not focused on the job or having to leave early or take time off. I want to bust this myth. I want to champion working parents, particularly working mums, and I want business and other organisations to join me.

“Far from being scatty and clock-watching, working mums have done a day’s work before they leave the house – we don’t waste a minute of our day. We are highly productive at work because we have to be. We are loyal and creative employees. We should be celebrating not berating the role parents play in the workforce and in society.”

Powell will criticise David Cameron for appointing just one mother – the culture secretary. Maria Miller – to the cabinet. She will say: “This is a job for all of us. It is shocking that there is only one mum in David Cameron’s cabinet, and the depiction of working mums on the TV hasn’t moved on much from Wendy Craig’s character Ria in Butterflies. That’s why we need more working mums in positions of power and culturally to reflect the positive contribution we make.”

In her speech Powell will highlight Labour‘s plans to extend free childcare for three and four year olds with working parents from 15 to 25 hours. Such policies are designed to help working mothers who face an “an impenetrable glass ceiling”. She will say: “My generation of women expected that we could ‘have it all’ but we are all too often still having to choose between career and motherhood, and being plagued by guilt whichever path we take. There remains an impenetrable glass ceiling for working mums.

“I want my daughter’s generation to be able to have the best of both worlds and to have real choice. So my main message to you today, is that in order for this to be realised we need an ambitious agenda for childcare and family policy.”

Powell’s speech comes after the Treasury tried to offer assurances that maternity and paternity pay would be safe when they are included in a welfare cap to be introduced next year. The ToryTreasury twitter account, run by close aides of the chancellor, tweeted that the welfare cap was designed to target the housing benefit budget, which accounts for just over 20% of the £120bn welfare spending that is to be subject to a cap from next year.

Maternity and paternity pay, which is due to cost about £2.5bn a year within the next four years, accounts for 2% of the amount included in the welfare cap. The treasury says that it is important to include maternity and paternity pay in the cap to ensure that if a baby boom is predicted – prompting a rise in the cost of benefit – then cuts can be made elsewhere in the welfare budget to protect the benefit for young parents.

ToryTreasury tweeted: “If there is an unforecast baby boom the government should have to find the cost elsewhere or win a vote on increasing the cap.” It also tweeted: “It would be up to government of the day what to cut … fast growing benefits like HB much better candidates.”

Osborne’s office clarified the government’s thinking after the prime minister was asked by the Labour MP Fiona O’Donnell to clarify whether maternity and paternity pay would be included in the cap. Cameron told MPs: “As the chancellor announced at the time, what is out of the benefit cap is the basic state pension. I think that is important. On all other welfare spending, we need to ensure that we are distributing properly the different sorts of welfare.”

The chancellor announced in his autumn statement last week that, from next year, a cap would be imposed on welfare spending although jobseeker’s allowance and the state pension will be exempted.

The state pension is underpinned by a “triple lock” that says it will rise by the highest of either average UK earnings, CPI inflation or 2.5%.

Grant Shapps, the Tory co-chair, claimed that Labour would prioritise cuts to benefits over protecting the basic state pension. Shapps spoke out after the shadow work and pensions secrerary Rachel Reeves told the Daily Politics on BBC1 that pensions would be included in Labour’s welfare cap.

Labour sources accused Shapps of scaremongering after No 10 ran into trouble over the prime minister’s remarks in the commons. The sources said that Labour was committed to upholding the triple lock for the basic state pension during the period of the welfare cap announced by the chancellor. But they said that future plans for welfare spending over a longer period of 20 to 30 years would have to examine the basic state pension.

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Mothers in paid jobs 'still wrongly depicted as scatty clock-watchers'
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