The Blog

Dear Chancellor - More Help for 'Mumtrepreneurs," Please

I firmly believe that women with children could be unlocked as "mumtrepreneurs" if they had better state support. There is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that more do want to create businesses than manage to do so.

One imaginative way for the Chancellor to boost the economy when he delivers his Autumn Statement next month would be to help women become entrepreneurs.

It is an economic scandal when half our increasingly university educated and motivated workforce finds it all but impossible to run a business, largely because of the way society is structured.

Women certainly do have it all: All the responsibility for children usually, all the responsibility for running a home and probably a less than rewarding job in the middle.

Few employers genuinely encourage women whose lives are defined by the school run, just as few men are prepared to give up their full-time job to allow their partner to focus on her potentially more rewarding one.

I firmly believe that women with children could be unlocked as "mumtrepreneurs" if they had better state support. There is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that more do want to create businesses than manage to do so.

For example, 48 per cent of visitors to the government's businesslink web site are women. They are not going there to find recipes. Yet it was reported in 2005 that only 3.74 of the female adult population was involved with independent start-ups in the UK compared to 6.17 per cent of the male. I doubt that percentage has changed.

A good start from the Chancellor would be free full-time nursery places for all pre-school children, not the modest 15 hours currently given, and free before and after school care thereafter.

It would help unlock all that pent-up dynamism, enterprise and originality being denied to the UK economy if schools actually operated a normal working day, as they do in, say, Portugal, where they have to be open between 9 am and 5.30 with "curriculum-enhancement activities" for the last two hours.

The point is that Government could make it a lot easier for those women who also have children to pursue a business by giving them time to do so.

Critics will argue that this would involve cost. But sometimes another word for cost is investment. In this instance, relieving the external pressures women face means an untapped part of the economy will begin to flow, bringing with it revenue for the Treasury through taxes, not to mention employment across the regions thereby helping the economic recovery take firm root.

The Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship says that every 100 businesses started produce 260 jobs. So it seems reasonable to suggest that money out from the Treasury will bring more money in.

The Government is happy to support homeowners by backing loans. It should help women with strong business ideas the same way, perhaps making them available to projects approved by a "Dragon's Den" panel of professionals.

Even small changes would help, such as a single web site of advice exclusively from Government to women which could cover everything from childcare to finding finance and social media marketing.

There are other more cultural obstacles that have less to do with Government, of course. Men have for centuries networked through professional and sometimes actual freemasonry. I would like to see local professional networking groups for women entrepreneurs; a place where they can swap ideas on how best to raise funds, for example, share experiences from their dealings with accountants and lawyers, and simply feel part of a like-minded community.

But it isn't all what Government should do. Businesses must do much more to encourage mentors, both male and female, from within their own ranks. There are just too few role models, just as there are too few female politicians and senior journalists. More in both those sectors alone would help change perceptions of an economic system that is stacked against women in the workplace almost from the moment they enter it.

George Osborne could stand up in December to deliver an Autumn Statement that really does something historic. But he is, at the end of the day, a man. We may have to wait a little longer.