For a body supposedly committed to eliminating inequality between the sexes, the Women and Equalities Select Committee don’t exactly lead from the front. Only three of the 11 members are men. To some, this will be a welcome corrective to the still male-dominated House of Commons. To others (such as Philip Davies, one of the three male members), it is a sign of how, in Westminster, the cause of equality is narrowly focused on the interests of white professional women. There is not a single ethnic minority representative on the committee.
This week, committee chair Maria Miller announced her ‘deep disappointment’ that the government has not adopted their proposals on closing the gender pay gap. They are not satisfied with new rules coming into force in April which will compel all companies with more than 250 employees to publish data comparing the remuneration of male and female employees. They wanted that duty extended to firms with 50 or more employees, as well as a right for anyone to work flexible hours unless an employer can prove a pressing reason not to allow this. They wanted employees to have a right to ‘care leave’ of up to six weeks and more shared parental leave.
The government has rejected these suggestions, but not because the Prime Minister has gone back on her promise to boost the interests of women in the workplace. While a government has to face all kinds of competing demands, the Women and Equalities Select Committee, by contrast, is increasingly coming to resemble a single-issue pressure group. It cannot see, for example, that there is an economic cost to regulations. Imposing yet more bureaucratic duties upon small businesses, however well these duties might be intentioned, detracts from their ability to create well-paid jobs.