Labour campaigners braved the drizzle this afternoon outside Wincheap Primary School, to raise support for an issue close to locals’ hearts. In July 2017, Wincheap Park received a long-overdue re-vamp, transforming it into a venue that has become very popular with children and parents alike. Walk past it on a sunny day after school closing time and the numbers speak for themselves. Until, that is, a child requires a trip to the toilet. The former toilet block on the site served the main road for a number of years, until recent problems with drug use closed it permanently, resulting in the sale of the site. Currently, children either opt to return home, which is sometimes a considerable walk, or to go behind the bushes. Labour’s campaign, to encourage the Council to “spend a penny” was well-received by parents at the school gates, who recognise the need for the toilets’ return.
Campaign leader Paul Todd understands the difficulties facing parents due to the lack of facilities. “Being a father of four children,” said Mr Todd, “all of whom attended Wincheap Primary and made good use of the park over the years, the closure of the toilets means that this wonderful resource is being under-utilised. I’m passionate about putting it back on the Council’s agenda.”
While the site is currently in private hands, the building stands vacant, unkempt and over-grown. If the existing toilets could not be returned to Council ownership, space exists for an alternative block, or even a single toilet, within the park boundaries, subject to its opening hours. Unmanned toilets have been a success at Toddlers’ Cove and in the Dane John Gardens, where ultraviolet lights have addressed the issue of drug use. While the Council may consider Wincheap’s park to be on a smaller scale, of interest only to locals, the issue is a matter of quite some importance for parents, and the nature of the busy A28 means the park also attracts passers-by. Labour campaigners will be submitting their arguments, and the petition, to the Council in the coming weeks
I couldn’t help but groan and bang my head on the table last week when I read that Kent County Council’s leader Cllr Paul Carter believes that part-time workers prioritise their families and “are not focussed on their jobs.” As a mother of two, I’ve worked both full and part-time since becoming a parent eight years ago. So, I’m intimately familiar with statements like this which I associate with what has become known as “the working mother penalty.”
If reports in the local media are accurate, Cllr Carter said, in last Tuesday’s personnel committee meeting, that the reason part-time workers aren’t assessed to be as competent at their jobs as full time workers is that;
“Their priorities are different from their jobs because their primary role is to make sure that their family is right and appropriate.”
“This is the same for some men with paternity leave when they are sharing all those roles and responsibilities in the modern world and way.”
And so part-time Kent County Council workers are awarded performance based pay at a lower rate than their full time counterparts.
What Carter doesn’t say explicitly, (and I wish he would) is that he is talking about women working part-time. Euphemistically he refers to parents, but he would do better to address the problem head on because then we can call this what it is – a gender pay issue. Women do disproportionately make up the majority of part time workers. This can be to balance paid work outside the home with unpaid work caring for their young children or for other family members (spouses, parents). And women are punished for it despite our economy absolutely depending on this unpaid labour. Twenty years after the birth of their first child, a woman’s hourly wage will on average be a third lower than the hourly wage of a man with a similar level of education.
Earlier this year research published by the IFS and funded by the Joseph Rowntree foundation found that women working part-time contributes massively to the gender pay gap because the effect of part-time work is that it simply shuts down wage progression. This is what we are seeing here in Kent County Council. And it is infuriating when this bias is simply justified as “right and appropriate.”
That Councillor Carter made these patronising and outdated remarks about part-time workers prioritising their families over their work is not surprising. He is on the record as saying their is no glass ceiling for women at KCC despite a gender pay gap of 12% and only one woman in his cabinet. He doesn’t want to recognise the problem is there. And if he won’t acknowledge it how can we count on him to address it?
Rather than relying on his own biased assumptions, I call on Cllr Paul Carter and other council leaders to try to understand this complex issue more fully. Why aren’t part-time workers at KCC valued as highly as their full time counterparts? To what extend is this is down to a sexist double standard? I call on Cllr Paul Carter to educate himself about the working mother penalty and the realities of the gender pay gap and seek to address these issues within KCC as a matter of urgency.