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Furore at Farage "No discrimination in City" comment

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UKIP leader Nigel Farage sparked widespread outrage with his controversial comments about the ‘worth ‘of women working in the City after they had taken career breaks to have children .

But it’s his assertion that there was ’no discrimination against women at all’ in the City that arguably deserves greatest condemnation. Because as employment law expert Arpita Dutt – a partner with City employment specialists BDBF – argues, the facts suggest the exact opposite to be true. Nigel Farage’s ill-judged comments in his widely reported speech this week were probably more about political posturing and positioning than anything else. After all, his UKIP party needs to keep its profile high amid predictions its set to seriously rival the Conservatives at the next General Election.

And what better way to grab a few headlines than launching an attack on working mothers. Most serious people have dismissed Farage’s comments as the ‘ranting’s of a babbling fool’ and not to be taken seriously. But it’s clear they will be accepted as fact by the growing number of people who appear to be switching allegiance to UKIP. So his assertions need to be countered as they fly directly in the face of the facts. Significantly, his claim that ‘there is no discrimination against women at all’ is a patent untruth.

If he had cared to examine the facts he could have easily seen how wrong he was to make this assertion. Although there have been great steps to end workplace discrimination particularly in the City, it unfortunately continues to be an issue facing women, and remains an issue even for those at the highest levels as the recent case of Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard and his alleged victims highlights. Employment Tribunal figures show that workplace discrimination is on the rise. The 2011/2012 annual statistics record that there were 10,800 sex discrimination claims with an additional 28,800 equal pay claims and 1,900 pregnancy related claims.

The 2012/2013 statistics are likely to reflect a similar story. Indeed, the quarterly statistics for April to June 2013 revealed a 40% increase in sex discrimination claims and a 63% increase in equal pay claims in that period. Mr Farage also ignored the plethora of researched reports into discrimination in the financial services sector which highlighted systemic issues of gender discrimination at all levels. Significantly, this included board level appointments and a 55% pay differential between women and men women working full-time in the finance sector in 2009.

In 2005, three years before the global financial crisis of late 2008 and subsequent economic recession, a landmark study by the Equal Opportunities Commission (since merged with other bodies to become the Equalities and Human Rights Commission) found that half of all pregnant women suffered a related disadvantage at work, and that each year 30,000 were forced out of their job.  Eight years on, the available evidence suggests that figure has ballooned to some 60,000.  Just last month a shock report by pressure group Maternity Action, claimed that since 2008, as many as 250,000 women have been forced out of their job simply for being pregnant or taking maternity leave. His suggestion that young women will only do as well as men in the workplace if they “sacrifice” family life arguably provoked the biggest backlash.Putting the pros and cons of that claim to one side, it is simply bad advice for women.

Of course, maternity discrimination remains prevalent but employers won’t change if women simply opt out of choosing to have a family. His jaded view also flies in the face of the progress made by many employers and the government to combat the culture of sex discrimination which has plagued the City. Indeed, more and more employers are promoting a healthy balance between work and family life (including encouraging flexible and home working) and recognise the commercial advantages of doing so. At a time when Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is encouraging women to ‘lean in’ and not give up and Helena Morrissey was recently appointed CEO of Newton Asset Management  having had five children and now is a mother to nine, Mr Farage seems to be stuck in the 1920s.

Both these female business leaders recognise that sex discrimination still exists in the City, but both also serve as role models along with many other talented women in the City. I can’t help but see a certain irony to all this in so far as Farage acclaims Margaret Thatcher as his heroine. What would have happened if she had stayed at home to look after her children?  Without her inspiration would he have got involved in politics ? Now there’s an interesting thought.

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