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Houston, We Have A Women Problem

21/06/2017 08:19
Leon Neal via Getty Images

When the going gets tough, the not-very-tough look for distractions.

After one of the most polarised elections in living memory; as frightened men attack us on the streets and Grenfell Tower stands as a charred monument to poverty and inequality, the Conservative Party has decided that the way forward for this country lies in getting as far away from it as possible.

Inserting space travel into the Queen's Speech might seem surprising. But really it's just the next extension of already-creaky infrastructure investment deployed by successive Chancellors trying to boost the economy. Bridge-building? Check. Road-building? Check. Space travel? Go on then. We're leaving the European Union - why not blast off from Planet Earth while we're about it.

It is certainly true that innovative investment is what we need right now. Globalised automation is decimating jobs faster than we can count down to the next rocket launch - with white-collar office workers and professionals the next in line; wait til the howls go up then - but governments are still not talking about the future of work and education. What proportion of the workforce does Theresa May plan to employ in these new spaceports and what kind of GCSE or NVQ will it need? How does that fit with the current sausage-factory education system based on squeezing out top grades in traditional subjects via a three-hour written examination?

And how many generations will have to wait until any of this is a possibility?

If we really want to shoot for the stars, there's another way. The trajectory is shorter and clearer and the rewards far greater. Equality for women would straighten out our lopsided, spluttering economy. It would drive our productivity. And it would ease the cohesion of our fractured, failing society.

An education system based on equality for girls and boys would identify and liberate the innovators that we so badly need - encouraging free thinking outside of tired stereotypes about 'men's' and 'women's' work. The corresponding end to the occupational segregation of our workforce would close the 20 percent pay gap and also the 20 percent productivity gap (it's no coincidence; the two are indeed linked) between the UK and its G7 neighbours.

And as we redefine work in the world of gender equality, we will finally be able to identify and invest in the jobs that can't be done by robots. Alongside the roles our children have yet to imagine, thousands more already wait to be filled: Nuffield estimates that if demographic trends continue, we will need 275,000 extra jobs in the social care sector by 2030 - a fact that disappeared into a social care policy black hole at the heart of both the Conservative and Labour manifestos.

The Women's Equality Party presented an election manifesto based on pound for pound investment in social infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure, to provide free childcare and a fully-funded, functioning social care system, because we understand that the workers of the future are the workers so often unpaid, unvalued and ignored in the past. In a gender-equal world, we believe that the work of tending to our young, our elderly, our disabled, our vulnerable would be recognised as some of the most important work there is, and valued accordingly as sought-after work by men and women alike, to the economic advantage of all.

It's not time to leave the planet yet. We can take a giant step for mankind here and now by recognising that a giant step for womankind is all the innovation we need for future generations to thrive.

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women's Equality Party

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