Women and Employment
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Women and Employment

Changing Lives and New Challenges

Edited by Jacqueline Scott, Shirley Dex and Heather Joshi

How is women’s employment shaped by family and domestic responsibilities? This book, written by leading experts in the field, examines twenty-five years of change in women’s employment and addresses the challenges facing women today.
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Chapter 15: Policy on Care: A Help or Hindrance to Gender Equality?

Susan Himmelweit


15. Policy on care: a help or a hindrance to gender equality? Susan Himmelweit Economies need to provide both for the production of goods and services and for the provision of care. Traditionally, in the UK as elsewhere, provision for these dual needs has been posited on a gender division of labour; with men taking on employment, earning enough to keep a wife and family, while women, financially supported by such a ‘family’ wage, provide care for children, the old and the infirm, as part of their unpaid labour of running a home and family. In practice, men’s and women’s lives never universally fitted this model, with many women needing to take employment either because there was no man to support them and their children or because the man expected to do so did not earn enough. Although the reason behind the existence of much social policy was the fact that the male breadwinner/female carer model did not provide for all, the model nevertheless has had a powerful effect in shaping policy and retains powerful hold even now on public discourse and the imagination of policy-makers. In particular, financial support for caring, through the Married Man’s (subsequently ‘Married Couple’s’) tax allowance, was until very recently based on supporting a family that was presumed to consist of a single (male) breadwinner who needed to be able financially to support a nonearning (female) carer.1 Though such tax allowances were always a badly targeted way to subsidise the cost of caring,...

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