How best to help the workers? Do the trade unions help anymore? This was one of the topics on ITV’s Agenda last night, and I was one of the panelists along with Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers and Diane Abbott. As you might expect, Dianne went on about how unions are the best hope for the workers and that the minimum wage ought to rise. Jacqueline said she has hardly any dealing with unions, but what would help the (many) woman she employs is being able to deduct the cost of childcare from the tax bill.

It’s a great idea. In Britain, we run an appalling system where we basically decide to go without the talents of hundreds of thousands of well-educated, energetic women because we run an economy where the money they make only barely covers the childcare costs. A recent OECD report explained this in terms: yes, Britain is doing better at educating women. But what’s the point, if you run an economic model that later forces them out of the workplace?

Many contemporaries of mine have found themselves stuck: they never intended to be a stay-at-home mum, they landed great degrees and even better jobs. They wanted to advance their career, and were outpacing the men they were up against. But they then found themselves working to no economic purpose. Why do it? For many women, the extortionate childcare costs in Britain rob work of its economic function. And how many of us would do our jobs for free?

Making childcare tax-deductible would, in a great many cases, be a game-changer. It would cost George Osborne a lot of money, but he’d have to set this against what he’d gain by having so many high-skilled British women back in work. HM Treasury is sadly unable to conduct such calculations – it can only grasp costs and taxes, to struggles with forecasting the positive effect of tax cuts. So this sensible and badly-needed policy is unlikely to happen.

PS: As for Abbott’s a minimum wage rise – I’d like to know how many of those advocating a £7/hour rate (the Chancellor included) have any idea how much of this ‘rise’ would be left over for workers once tax credits and other welfare has been reduced. The answer is about a third, if they’re lucky. It’s a good test: anyone who advocates raising the minimum wage without factoring in how much support they’d lose is not really serious about helping people in low pay.

Tags: Ann Summers, The Agenda, Trade Unions, UK politics