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Londonís unaffordable house prices have killed my career


10-04-2014

 

When baby-time demands more space, the commute gets longer and womenís professional dreams bear the brunt

Rachel Thorn 

London houses for sale
 
'My thirtysomething friends and I are getting up the duff and getting out of the capital and it all boils down to one reason: house prices.' Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

My name is Rachel and Iím a post-Londoner. Just like Stuart Heritage, my thirtysomething friends and I are getting up the duff and getting out of the capital and it all boils down to one reason: house prices.

Sure, there are the advantages of open spaces and nearby family members for our little bundle of joy, but those are just the icing on the substantial cake of affordability. At the risk of winding up people who didnít do the London thing in their 20s (arguably because they had more sense), weíve sold our one-bedroom ex-council flat in Ealing for 80 grand more than our three-bed house in a chichi northern postcode has cost us. And even better, the schools here are amazing so we donít have to face the state-versus-private education dilemma.

But (and why is there always a but?) this choice has come with one major fatality Ė my career. And it would seem that Iím not alone. Itís often women who are taking steps backwards in their professions for the sake of family life.

Depending on whoís asking, Iím an actor, but no, you wouldnít have seen me in anything. Itís all fringe plays in Camden and obscure short films in Hackney at this stage of my career. Unless you decide to get pregnant and move oop north, where even these so-called jobs are pretty much nonexistent. So for me itís farewell to acting, for now.

The equivalent is true of my female friends with proper professions. They spent the past 10 years putting in the hours and made it to the lower levels of management just as their body clocks rang the alarm for baby-time. And then they fancied a second bedroom Ė how unreasonable! When they realised they couldnít afford one and moved to the home counties, then decided they actually wanted to see their offspring and therefore couldnít stand a three-hour daily commute, they were forced to make some kind of career compromise to square the circle. Some are part-time, some have taken a demotion, some have found a local job with a fraction of the career opportunities available in London. Their menfolk have all kept their career trajectories intact and are tolerating the commute.

And this is why, in this day and age, in the UK, where maternity rights are good, the stats on gender equality at work are depressing. Itís the women going part-time, taking demotions, earning less and logically ending up with 75% of the childcare. Last year, the Office for National Statistics found the national gender pay gap to be 19.7%. Itís even higher in London, with men earning up to 36% more than women in the City. Only 12% of male employees work part-time versus 42% of female employees, with part-time staff earning 37.2% less an hour than full-timers. And letís spare a thought for the poor husbands. Men are commuting 51% further than women. Ugh. And all because those pesky London house prices mean having room for a baby is a pipe dream.

So why donít more of us reverse the trend? Why isnít it equally common for men to take the career kick-in-the-balls and for women to do the daily commute to London? Why donít women have a baby, recover during the paid maternity leave period, and then go back to their careers on the 07.35 to Waterloo, while their partners work part-time in the home counties and take on nappy duties? And are women genuinely at a disadvantage here or is ours the elusive happy compromise?

I mean, pursuing a dream career in the Big Smoke wasnít that exciting Ö was it?

www.theguardian.com/

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