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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK

UK Politics

Women demand help with dual role

Many women have to juggle work and family life

Women across the country are demanding more help to balance family life and work, according to a government report.

They want more recognition of the various roles they have to juggle, says the report launched on Wednesday by ministers for women Tessa Jowell and Margaret Jay.

The BBC's Aminatta Forna: "Of most concern to women is balancing work with home life"
It is based on the findings of a nationwide consultation with more than 30,000 women and will be accompanied by discussion of an action plan for tackling the issues identified as being of most concern to women.

But critics say the report offers nothing new.

Jackie Ballard, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on women, said the government had abandoned previous promises to put women at the centre of policy decisions.

[ image: Voices attempts to set out the government's agenda in an accessible way]
Voices attempts to set out the government's agenda in an accessible way
"This new agenda offers no new measures," she stated.

The report's findings are published in a one-off glossy magazine called Voices which also carries advertisements of government initiatives for women.

The government says 50% of women read women's magazines so the format is an ideal way to reach them.

The magazine will be sent to women's organisations, local authorities, libraries and other organisations. A leaflet summarising the report will be available from British Home Stores and Mothercare.

Twelve of the women who took part in the consultation exercise met Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street on Wednesday to discuss the results.

Mr Blair said it was right mothers should have a choice over whether to work.

"Women now have many jobs. In the space of a day they can be at work but they can also be mum, granny, wife or partner. They are the linchpin of the family," he said.

The report found women's top concern by a long way was balancing work and family life.

Other priorities include support for women carers, the pay gap between men and women, career advice and positive role models for teenagers, teen pregnancy, violence against women, health, pensions, help with setting up a business and recognition of cultural diversity.

The government says women want to be valued in all the roles they might play, including motherhood.

Baroness Jay said: "Women should be valued for all the roles they play in society, but being a mum is a crucial role.

"Society is indebted to mums for looking after children and ensuring strong families. Mums are important. Mums matter."


Although eight out of 10 mothers now work either full or part-time, many with children under five choose to stay at home.

Harriet Harman, the former Social Security Secretary, wants a £70 a week tax break so mothers of babies can have the option of staying at home to look after them.

Dorit Braun, head of the Parentline charity, said many women felt pressurised to go back to work because motherhood "still has a second best tag".

Sally Beck of mothers' organisation Watch said women of young children should stay at home.

"Children suffer terribly when they are separated too early from their mothers," she stated.

However, the government says it has put in place policies which help women balance work and home.

[ image: Baroness Jay: Women want choice]
Baroness Jay: Women want choice
For example, it is working with employers to promote more flexible working patterns and wants to reduce the pay gap between the sexes.

It says women with children are up to £70 a week better off under Labour due to initiatives such as the Working Families Tax Credit.

Many women-oriented policies have been welcomed by organisations which support women, but with reservations.

The Women's Aid Federation, for example, welcomed the government's recent Living Without Fear initiative for tackling violence against women.

But it says it needs to be backed up by more cash for women's refuges.

"We are desperately in need of a national strategy for support services," said spokeswoman Myra Johnson.

She added that most refuges were run on an ad hoc financial basis and their funding problems were getting worse.

She said statutory funding for refuges would show the issue was being treated seriously and also called for a national public awareness campaign on that attitudes which make domestic violence acceptable.

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