Except, that is, when it doesn’t suit him. Then, for David Cameron, women are indeed the same as men – but just that little bit cheaper.
Last week, the insincerity of the Prime Minister’s commitment to gender equality was laid bare when the government belatedly published their equality assessment of the new junior doctor contract. Incredibly, it didn’t even try to hide the ways in which the contract discriminates against women, single mothers, carers and disabled doctors. Instead, every discriminatory aspect was brushed off as ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end”. No, that’s not a phrase from Donald Trump, it really is our twenty-first century UK government speaking. Women’s salaries, apparently, are mere collateral damage, to be sacrificed whenever David Cameron’s realpolitik demands it.
To the government’s embarrassment, the outcry provoked by this casual acceptance of gender discrimination has spread far beyond the UK. One of the directors of the World Health Organisation, Jim Campbell, stated this weekend that the new contract contravenes the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Its “regressive policies”, he explained on Twitter, mean “gender equity for junior doctors is at risk” and “female doctors will face widening pay gaps with male colleagues and may be forced to quit medicine”.
That’s quite an indictment. When a prime minister’s policies are so retrograde, so sexist, they fall foul of the United Nations and the WHO, you would hope he might pause and reconsider them.
The essence of the furore is the ways in which the junior doctor contract will introduce a new gender pay gap into the NHS, the world’s biggest employer. Until now, female doctors’ salaries have kept apace of men’s because small annual pay awards prevent part-time doctors – of whom the vast majority are women – earning less over time than their full-time colleagues. But the new contract knowingly strips these safeguards away, meaning that as doctors progress through their training, we will see ever-widening gender pay gaps.
Furthermore, according to the government’s own analysis, the increased anti-social working hours in the contract, with no extra renumeration,”will disproportionately disadvantage those who need to arrange childcare”, the bulk of whom are women. Their solution is to invite carers to find “informal unpaid childcare arrangements in the evenings and weekend” – because, of course, the UK is littered with people clamouring to do ad hoc nannying at 3am on a Sunday night.
As a woman, a mother and a part-time doctor, I have never felt so betrayed by my government. What do I now say to my five-year old daughter when she tells me, eyes shining, that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up? “That’s wonderful, darling, try your hardest, do you best, and at the end of all that hard work, watch a man get paid more than you, for doing the same job as you.”
Britain has the sixth largest gender pay gap in the European Union, meaning that for every pound a man in Britain earns, a woman on average receives only 80 pence. That equates to us working ‘for free’ for 57 days of the year. To me, this is simply unacceptable.
The government is banking on this contract being legal, but what really matters to me is, is it right? Slashing disability allowances in the Budget was legal – yet the government rowed back the moment they realised they’d catastrophically misjudged the mood of the nation.
David Cameron may be happy for our children to grow up into a world where women still get paid less than a man, for doing exactly the same job as a man, but I am not. Nor, I have no doubt, are the vast majority of men and women in modern Britain. 60% of doctors in the NHS are women. With its regressive, discriminatory contract, the government seems hell-bent on driving us away.