Why #likealadydoc has undone Tory social policy

Dominic Lawson really has only got himself to blame. Even The Sunday Times’ infernal paywall couldn’t protect him from the consequences of his  “The One Sex change on the NHS that No-one Has Been Talking About” piece.

In a worryingly perfect validation of the Everyday Sexism project, Lawson appeared to blame the NHS’s medical staff shortfall on women not working longer hours.  Armed with the #likealadydoc hashtag, his remarks were ridiculed, parodied, put in context and utterly demeaned on social media.

He’s wrong by the way – the attack on  women in the NHS  has  been  ongoing for some time – in the  Telegraph in 2013, the Mail in 2014 and on Conservative Home last year .

But has Dominic Lawson actually done us all a service? For he has highlighted an irresolvable contradiction in Tory policy.

Under the Conservatives, the family has been championed as a crucial keystone in keeping society safe, well, happy and productive. As provider and protector, it is moving  quickly  from backstop  to  first port of  call, given  changes  and cuts in  state provision. So it is understandable as well as necessary  that there is an impact on  the workforce and the workplace.  People cannot, to return to Allison Pearson’s 14 year old argument,  have it all.

Or to be more straightforward – people cannot be in two places at the same time.

So this is not just about the junior doctors’ dispute.  Nor is it about the alleged preoccupation of the last Labour Government with target setting.  And it is not even about catching the Conservatives trying to play both ends against the middle.  It also exposes the wasteful and avoidable imbalance in caring in the UK, and why the debate on this needs to be taken to a higher level than ever before. Groups like WorkCareShare are making significant and welcome running here.

Why is the institutionalised default in terms of caring to expect, demand even, that women fulfil this role? It makes no sense – not only in terms of junior doctors’ work-life balance, but also in terms of quit rates of women in key or well-paid jobs, in which both they and the state have invested heavily.

The government will point to changes in legislation that have enhanced provision – but there are yawning, chasm-sized gaps between take up and demand. Access and affordability issues are not bringing addressed  The TUC report that UK Statutory Paternity  Pay is 25% of full time male median  wage and 50% of fathers do not take their 2 week entitlement –  rising to 75% for those on lower income.

And it isn’t only women who bear the brunt of that. Universal and highly flexible childcare   is great in theory – but perhaps not always so good for the kids, or the family unit.  And the absence of propper provision can deny choices as much to dads as well as mums.

I’m not saying that inadequate  arrangements for   childcare or caring in general  is  to blame  for  the junior doctors’  dispute  or is at the root  of Dominic Lawson’s  pitiful analysis.  But it is part of a toxic mix – part of a mismatch between economic and social policy announcements and objectives. The message to the government, surely and clearly,  is  that  to have progressive  public  policies –  such as  better resourcing  in the NHS at weekends – you need  progressive economic and social policies too.

#likealadydoc has undone more than just Dominic Lawson.

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