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Government bias against women and working parents, say campaigners

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Following Friday's shock announcement that it would scrap the right to request flexible working for employees in small businesses, the Government has been accused of implementing policies that discriminate against women and working parents.

Since the coalition was formed last May, trade union Unite has accused the Government of implementing policies having an 'anti-women' bias.

Unite said the latest example of this bias was the announcement by business secretary, Vince Cable, on Friday that plans to give parents with children under 17 the right to request flexible working from their employer would not be followed through.

Employees in businesses with less than 250 employees will no longer have the right to request flexible working.

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: "Right from its formation, this cabinet has zealously adopted policies that have had an anti-women bias. And Cable's announcement is the latest example of a policy that will make it harder for women to hold down jobs and make a valuable contribution to the economy and the financial wellbeing of their families.

"Only last week, we had Lord Hutton's report on public sector pensions, which if implemented, will hit local government and the NHS, with their huge female workforces, very badly. At present, a part-time female NHS employee can expect an average pension of just £2,500 a year.

"And in the background, works and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, is aiming 'to make work pay', with the implication that women will be forced back to work in very low paid jobs, despite the lack of national childcare facilities and the threat to their incomes.

"If you join up the dots, you can see that there is a strong anti-women bias to Coalition policy."

Work-life balance organisation Working Families (pictured) also voiced its anger at Friday's announcement to shelve the planned extension of the right to request flexible working to parents of 17-year-olds, which was scheduled to be introduced in April. Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families, said: "How disappointing parental rights are downgraded during difficult economic times - what does this say about family-friendly Britain?

"The extension of the right to request flexible working this April corrected an anomaly, which affects only a very small number of parents. Parents already have the right to request it if they have a child under 17 - and until their child is 18, if the child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.

"Any parent who needs flexible working for a teenager of 17 is likely to be dealing with a real crisis. Any employer who refuses even to discuss flexible working in such circumstances is not a good one.

"Parents in such circumstances may have to choose between supporting their child and staying in employment. Fairness for all employees is more important than ever during a recession: employee commitment and performance is critical to every business."