Pay Gap? Try Working for Free All Year Long

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Here is a link to my recent letter published by the Guardian about Polly Toynbee’s article on the ‘pay gap’. One of the things about the pay gap discussion is the tendency to forget the unwaged work done by mothers, often at great financial sacrifice and risk for her future economic security. Time to talk income, not pay; after all if your average feminist is incensed at ‘working for free’ from September to December, why is there not similar outrage about the unpaid work done by women from January?

“I read Polly Toynbee’s article with one foot in the school run and one nursing my youngest child. As a mother of two young children who has voluntarily taken time out of the workforce, my decision to forgo my income and career to raise my children must surely contribute to official figures which show that the pay gap between men and women is stubbornly persistent. I would certainly agree with Polly that caring work, traditionally done by women, is undervalued. However, we must go further: no more so than when the work is done for love not money by a mother herself, rather than outsourced to the market.

When it comes to the pay gap there is undoubtedly a significant issue of the period of time a woman spends in unwaged caring for her children. The fact is that caring and motherwork is not valued and is entirely unpaid under our market-driven economy. This failure by society to ensure that a woman is not financially impoverished for her choice to care for her family is at the root of the disparity in income between men and women.

Given that the objection to the pay gap is the relative loss of women’s income (caused in part by time out of the workforce) it is surely time to reflect on a universal basic income or a carer’s income – to ensure that women do not sacrifice financial security or parity in order to carry out the important work of family.

If the terminology changed to reflect this issue – so that we no longer talk about a “pay gap” but rather an “income gap” – then this predicament facing mothers would be more apparent.

As it is, talk of the pay gap is well and truly stuck within the rules of neoliberal capitalist individualism, with no room for valuing the extremely important work of care and childrearing”.

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