Even the Daily Mail are outraged. It seems that women are still doing most of the housework, despite forty years of feminist advancement. Eight out of ten married women (87%) are still doing seven or more hours a week of housework, the equivalent of an entire working day spent on housework.
But fear not, it seems that help is at hand and it could come to your household in next week’s Budget. George Osborne knows that he needs your votes to get a majority at the next election. He’s also got abig idea for the next Conservative manifesto. If he can make childcare tax deductible, he can meet what senior Tory strategists call “the gender challenge”.
When David Cameron went to Sweden recently, he did some thinking aloud. He made some remarks allowing No10 to hype up the suggestion that the Government was seriously considering Swedish style tax relief for working mothers to use domestic staff. The Swedish government allows people to deduct from their tax bill half the cost of household services such as cleaning, cooking, lawn-mowing and babysitting.
David Cameron said: “What you do in Sweden in terms of tax help and tax relief, not so much on child care but on other things that help women go out to work, I thought that was a very interesting idea that I want to look at further.”
Help with childcare is a great idea. Help with housework is a different proposition. As Anushka Asthanawrote in last week’s Times (£), childcare is an issue of common concern for many women. But if the Chancellor does introduce tax relief on domestic cleaning staff in the UK, it will help well off families while further entrenching gender inequality among lower earners.
New IPPR analysis, published this week, shows that just one in ten married men (10%) do an equal amount of housework as their wives but that a slightly higher proportion (13%) actually do more housework than their wives.
The latest statistics show the number of ‘house husbands’ in Britain has trebled in the last 15 years, although there are still just 62,000 men who are economically inactive and say they care for family or the home.
But this shows that couples find it easier to split into traditional ‘breadwinner’ and ‘homemaker’ roles than they do to share employment, childcare and housework. The revolution in gender roles is unfinished business.
Just 3% of married women are getting away with doing less than three hours of housework each week. It is likely that most of these couples have paid help although there are no official figures for the number of UK homes that employ domestic staff.
Patterns of housework have slowly changed over the last half century. Households from higher socio-economic groups are more likely to have ‘laundry and ironing’ done by someone other than a woman or her partner. But the proportion has declined over time, with 6 per cent of professional and managerial women who were born in 1958 saying someone else does the laundry and ironing (when they were 33 years old), compared with 3.6 per cent of professional and managerial women born in 1970 (when they were 30 years old).
The biggest advances have been made by women who do not have dependent children in their home. Just over one in five women (22 per cent) born in 1958, but without children, say their partner shares laundry and ironing equally. Almost a third of women (30 per cent) without children born in 1970 agreed. Academic evidence suggests that dual earner couples without children are the most gender equal.
Evidence shows that men in dual earner couples with higher levels of educational attainment now contribute substantially more to childcare than men with lower educational attainment. This change has occurred since the 1970s. But for other household work – excluding childcare – the same change has not occurred. Instead, there has been a ‘catching up’ among men with lower levels of educational attainment since the 1970s but they only equal the contribution of college-educated men. Overall, parents appear to be including their children in their own leisure time.
Academic evidence from Denmark shows men are the unequal party, if you take into account average working day, housework and leisure activity. Other evidence shows that a national universal childcare policy increases women’s participation in the labour market and that welfare regimes play an important role in gender equality.
Feminism needs fathers. Childcare services, rather than tax relief for nannies or cleaners is the best way forward for a family friendly, more equal Britain. Men should work more flexibly, take greater responsibility for caring for their children and do more housework.
The state should offer universal pre-school childcare, which will pay for itself over time by increasing the UK’s female employment rate and boosting tax paid by working mothers. The route to gender equality requires society to change and for men to voluntarily do more of their fair share. In twenty first century Britain, real men do housework.
Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR
Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo