Balls condemns Tories over male MPC
The absence of any female economists on the Bank of England monetary policy committee (MPC) is a symptom of a Conservative "problem with women", shadow chancellor Ed Balls has said.
Mr Balls said it was "astonishing" that the key economic policy-making body had been exclusively male for all but a short period of George Osborne's tenure and promised to redress the balance if Labour takes power in 2015.
All four of the Chancellor's appointments to the nine-strong panel, responsible for setting interest rates, have been male, he pointed out as Labour sought to press home its charge that his party fails to promote women.
Opposition leader Ed Miliband struck a blow in the Commons when he was able to illustrate the attack by pointing to a female-free front bench alongside David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions.
Mr Balls said there were "lots" of women suitably qualified to join the MPC - which lost its last female input when Kate Barker left in 2010 - and suggested the Bank's new governor, Mark Carney, was also concerned.
One of Mr Carney's first moves was to appoint senior banker Charlotte Hogg - the daughter of former Conservative minister Douglas Hogg - to the new role of chief operating officer with responsibility for all day-to-day management of the Bank.
"The Monetary Policy Committee makes decisions that affect millions of women and men across our country," Mr Balls told The Guardian.
"But there have been no women members... since June 2010, just a few weeks after this Government came to office.
"That's an astonishing state of affairs. I know the new governor, Mark Carney, is worried about this too, but the membership of this committee isn't in his gift.
"The Chancellor is solely responsible for appointments to the MPC."
For all but the opening months of Tony Blair's administration in 1997, the MPC had at least one female member under Labour - with four in total having served in its history:
Mr Balls told the newspaper: "The idea that there aren't lots of very talented women who could serve on the MPC is just ridiculous. If Labour wins the election, I'm determined that we put this right,.
"I think this Government's problem with women runs deep. You can't say that the fact that there are no women round the table doesn't have an impact on the decisions that are made.
"This is a Government that is increasingly out of touch with the reality of women's lives and the cost-of-living crisis they are facing and that's a message we're increasingly getting on the doorstep."
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves has previously accused Mr Osborne of surrounding himself with mostly male ministers at the Treasury - suggesting it was linked to a disproportionate impact of spending cuts on women.
"79% of the changes to tax and benefits have hit women compared with men. Given that women earn less and own less than men, it doesn't really seem fair that they have to absorb four fifths of the cuts and tax increases.
"I'm sure that if there were more women at the top table those sort of things might be noticed," she told the Labour Party conference.
Ms Reeves - an economist who worked for the Bank from 2000 to 2006 - has said its culture is also to blame.
"I remember having a few arguments with the head of personnel at the time who told me that it was not a problem, it was just that women were not studying the right subjects.
"That was not true. Women were studying economics at university, they just weren't recruiting them.
"There are women out there qualified to do the job but they haven't been given those opportunities."