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Will The New Budget Damage Women' Roles In The Workplace?

24/03/2011 11:58 | Updated 22 May 2015

There was an awful lot of macho hyperbole in George Osborne's Budget speech. In a single dramatic gesture he announced that he was sweeping aside all that burdensome red tape that has stopped companies getting with the business of making money, and ensuring that Britain was open for business again.

Hurrah and Huzzah, or whatever it is that they say at Eton.

In a remarkably vague (but never-the-less commanding) announcement he said he was cutting regulations that cost British businesses £350 million a year, and reviewing everything on the books on the basis that anything that would constitute a burden to business would have to go *beats chest*.

The announcement was met with a chorus of approving noises from his largely baritone audience. Unfortunately he missed a small point. You see this red tape hasn't all been pointless nonsense. Some of it has been quite key in protecting the most vulnerable workers in the UK - including women.

Look back to 1975 when statutory maternity pay was introduced. It was decried as a burden on businesses and the end for smaller companies. It was considered too high a price to pay for women to be able to 'have it all'. It goes to show that what today may seem like an outlandish regulation that's strangling small business, will tomorrow seem like a basic right and a bare minimum.

George hasn't gone as far as rolling back maternity rights. In reality most of this announcement is concerned with scrapping some expensive and specific regulations. One is bringing forward the "dual discrimination rules". This would have allowed someone to combine discrimination claims against their employer – for example on the grounds of sex and race – which would have inflated the number and cost of claims. Another is axing plans to extend the right to request time to train to businesses with less than 250 employees, which is where the bulk of the savings were made.

In addition, going forward, businesses with fewer than ten employees will be free of new regulations for the first three years – although this won't include the scrapping of the default retirement age. It means any new maternity rights coming out of Europe could be sidestepped by smaller organisations.

We're told that this is a bold step forward to rescue the poor small businessman. Forget the plight of women struggling by on a pittance in the sure and certain knowledge they can't afford to take more than the bare minimum of time with their newborn, instead let's focus on the struggling entrepreneur who is going to have to take a short break from bleeding her dry in order to line his own pockets.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not planning to lie down in the road outside Downing Street any time soon. For a start it's cold, dirty and pointless – as a group of women who tried to stop George Osborne getting to the House of Commons demonstrated yesterday. It's just that surely we ought to take a moment of reflection and consider what lies at the heart of this move.

Osborne is trying to get rid of burdens on business. But surely sometimes we should be allowed to be a burden on businesses.

There are times in our lives when we can work 12 hour days and spend every waking second thinking up new and inventive ways of making money for our employer, and times when we have to take our foot off the gas and recover from a major illness or consider our responsibilities to our families. Do we really want to live and work in a society where that's unacceptable, that when you cannot give everything to your employer you're out on your ear? Do we want to accept that having children is effectively the end of any meaningful contribution we can make to the economy? Or do we want to take on George and his macho posturing and defend our rights?

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