Women as voters and MPs

By Pam

Since the General Election in May 2010, “We’re all in it together” has become the cliché that makes many of us justifiably cynical and angry. But if we take a moment to consider, who will suffer from the Osborne Comprehensive Spending Review, we see that it disproportionately affects women, and it may be significant that women are still very badly represented in the House of Commons and in Government.

It was women, particularly working class women who deserted the Labour Party at the last General Election. Dr Éoin Clarke’s analysis (1) indicates that, in 2001, 49% of C2s voted Labour but only 19% of C2 women voted Labour in 2010, the lost 30% opted for the Tory Party to represent them.

Graph showing the female vote in 2010, according to social class

An analysis of voting patterns based on age shows that while young women deserted Labour, young men did not. Young women tend to leave the family home at a younger age than their male contemporaries and so are more aware of the housing crisis, the effects of the cost of living and difficulties in managing a household budget. It seems that older, wealthier people who remembered Thatcherism stayed with Labour, yet ironically the younger, poorer females deserted Labour. Perhaps it is a perception to women of the working class that Labour was “the working men’s party”, perhaps women generally seek other routes than political parties to have influence. Whatever led working class, low paid women to turn their back on Labour, Labour needs to find out, to pause and consider and then to do something about it.

A majority of people are female. Yet, women are getting the worse deal, are getting poorer, and have the least say in their destiny and that of their children. This must be rectified. Labour must reverse this and build a society where women, who make up the bulk of society, have opportunities to learn, work, care and earn on an equal basis with men. Nothing less than equal is tolerable.

Now is the time for the Labour Party to listen to the women of this country and to put in place policies leading to a more representative parliament to represent them.

This data shows that the percentage of young voters deserting The Labour Party at the last General Election were almost exclusively female, with male voters staying loyal to Labour for much longer in their lives.

Labour needs to consider the following:

o Do proposed policies solve the problems faced by women or create new ones?

o Engaging in a political process, which is predominantly occupied by assertive, loud confident men may not create a forum in which women’s views are heard. Some may find it intimidating. Others may have difficulties in attending meetings because of child care responsibilities. If women’s views are not being listened to, how do we need to change our policy making process so that women’s views are clearly heard?

o How representative is our parliament? Around 51 % of the electorate are women, yet only 22% of MPs are women. How can we change the Labour Party, and parliamentary practices to assist women’s participation in national politics.

Single mothers are a particularly vulnerable to the cuts.


A year on from the coalition government’s first budget, research from the Fawcett Society (5) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found:

o The government could assess the different aspects of its tax and benefit policies on men and women using data currently available. This contradicts the claim that meaningful differentiation in assessment is not possible.

o Analysis of all the proposed tax and benefit reforms to be introduced between 2010 and 2015, shows that single women will lose more as a proportion of their income as a result of the cuts, than any other household category.

o Single mothers can expect to lose 8.5% of their net annual income – more than a month’s income each year.

It is clear that single women are bearing the brunt of the cuts. In part, this is because women make up the vast majority of lone parents – and it is this group that are set to lose most under reforms. (12)

Women in Coventry – a study

(Unravelling equality) (2)

A Joint Report of the Centre for Human Rights in Practice, University of Warwick and Coventry Women’s Voices was published in May 2011. This report sets out a detailed analysis of how the current public spending cuts impact on human rights and equality of women in Coventry; and examines eight key areas in which women are directly affected by the Coalition government cuts. The impact is outlined here:

Impact on Employment

Women are likely to suffer disproportionately from job cuts and public sector pay freezes since they form the majority of public sector workers. Together with increased childcare costs, this may lead to lower rates of employment for women and an increase in the pay gap. This will exacerbate overall inequality between men and women in Coventry.

Impact on Housing

Cuts to LHA (Local Housing Allowance) will have a disproportionate impact on women since women are the main recipients. In the short term these changes will cost those affected in Coventry between £8 and £15 a week. This will lead to increased pressure on women’s finances. Together with changes to other benefits and tax credits this will increase the income gap between women and men and may push some women into poverty, raising human rights concerns.

Over time the value of LHA is likely to fall relative to actual rents reducing the number of properties that people claiming LHA can afford. At this stage, the shortage of accommodation for single homeless women in Coventry may also become an issue.

Impact on Incomes and poverty

Although the increase in Child Tax Credit and the personal tax allowance will benefit many women, taken together the benefit and tax changes in the 2010 budget will cost women in Coventry £29,631,532 The cost to men will be less than half of this. This will further increase inequality between women and men in Coventry. For some women this could lead to a significant loss of income, pushing those women into poverty and raising significant human rights concerns. Lone parents and disabled women, women carers and BME (black and ethnic minority) women are likely to be particularly badly hit by the changes.

Impact on Education and training

Cuts to the schools budget have resulted in a cut to services provided for special needs and mental health support in schools. This will affect some of the most vulnerable children in Coventry. It may disproportionately impact on women who tend to be the primary carers of children.

Cuts to further and higher education may:

o Act as a barrier to women obtaining educational qualifications because of increased fees for higher education and reduced support for further education courses – particularly those who have children, are from poorer backgrounds, don’t speak English and/or are mature students.

o Have negative impacts on women in later life – Women who are unable to obtain educational qualifications as a result of increased fees and reduced support may see their earning potential and job prospects reduced as a result.

Impact on Violence against women

As a result of the cuts there is a high likelihood of significantly worse outcomes for women in terms of the violence they suffer and its impact upon them. Obvious examples include:

o Less successful investigation and prosecution of offenders

o More ongoing mental, physical and sexual health problems for women

o More women trapped in violent relationships

Impact on Health, Social Care and Other Support Services

Women in Coventry will be disproportionately affected by any cuts in social care and support services leading to greater inequality between men and women. The full impact of the health cuts and move to GP commissioning is not yet clear. But there are concerns about services which are more used by women (e.g. mental health) and about funding for services addressing violence against women.

Impact on Legal advice services

Cuts will have a significant impact on advice services and those seeking advice in Coventry, which will disproportionately affect women. The changes could lead to negative human rights impacts including:

o Violations of the right to fair trial where there is no legal advice in particularly complex cases.

o Removal of advice on complex welfare benefits issues, housing issues and immigration issues may also amount to human rights violations under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act.

o Significant restrictions on the local availability of services effectively creating ‘advice deserts” could lead to no effective remedy for any abuses.

o Women in violent relationships will be particularly vulnerable to removal of Legal Aid and current proposals may lead to breaches of their human rights.

Impact on Women’s Voluntary Organisations

All voluntary organisations in Coventry are vulnerable to budget cuts. But women’s voluntary organisations appear to be particularly vulnerable, with some expecting cuts of up to 70% of their funding in the next year. At a time when other cuts are having a negative impact on equality and in some cases women’s human rights the role of the women’s voluntary sector is more important than ever.

Women in the Commons

The Factsheet Women in the commons (3) provides details of women in the Commons and in Government posts and provides an informative history of parliamentary representation by women.

At the General Election in May 2010, 143 women, 22 % of the total, were elected as MPs. This is the highest number ever with one in five MPs now a woman. Labour has the highest proportion of women MPs, 31 %; the Conservatives 16% and Liberal Democrats 12 %.

Conservative MPs Liberal Democrat MPs Labour MPs

MPs (CON) Gender Nos. MPs (CON) Gender % MPs (LAB) Gender Nos. MPs (LAB) Gender %
Male 257 84.0% Male 176 68.5%
Female 49 16.0% Female 81 31.5%
All 306 100.0% All 257 100.0%
MPs (Lib D) Gender Nos. MPs (Lib D) Gender % MPs (Others) Gender Nos. MPs (Others) Gender %
Male 50 87.7% Male 22 78.6%
Female 7 12.3% Female 6 21.4%
All 57 100.0% All 28 100.0%

(UK Population 51 % Female, 49% Male)

Also see( Malcolm across the Pond data)

Recent Development in Women’s Representation

In 1997, the record numbers of women candidates were returned. A record number of women candidates stood for election, due, in part to the Labour Party adopting a policy of women-only shortlists. This mechanism was withdrawn in 1996 when an employment tribunal found that is was in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Since then uncertainty about the legal position made it difficult for parties to develop policies on selection procedures aimed at introducing more MPs into parliament. The Labour Party was the only political party to use all-female shortlists in the 2005 and 2010 General Elections. At 31.5% women Members, Labour certainly is more representative than other parties, but still has a long way to go in order to fairly represent an electorate in which the majority is female. Compare this to the data (7), for female involvement in Nordic Countries, of 42.1% female.

The Fawcett Society (5) refers to a report from The Centre of Women and Democracy, looking at the impact of recent local elections on women’s representation, and reports that out of 3,500 seats, there was a net increase of just 20 women councillors. (Nan Sloane, report author) states, “This is shocking, and goes against all the rhetoric that we hear so often about the need for more women in public life.”

It is clear, that women are suffering more than anyone. It is clear that women no longer believe that the Labour Party represents them. Furthermore, women are not engaging in political parties to the same degree as men.

Anna Bird of the Fawcett society says. “ Nearly a century on from winning the vote, women remain outsiders in the corridors of power. We are underrepresented on town halls across the country where men outnumber women 4 to 1.”

Labour must consider and implement policies addressing gender inequalities

o Recognising the impact of cuts affecting women, Labour must develop policies to reverse these effects. In opposition Labour should address the issues and ensure the Coalition government is held to account for their actions.

o Implement the policy proposed by Harriet Harman that either Party Leader or Deputy Leader must be female. A balanced team of men and women make better decisions.

o Set up consultation groups in areas of deprivation inviting women to put forward suggestions, which will help improve their lives.

o Alongside the move for the Leader of the Labour Party to choose the Shadow Cabinet, it is paramount that the voice of women needs to be maintained. A minimum of 40% of the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet, should be women members; this percentage being raised to 50% over 5 years.

o Set up consultations with women within parties, workplaces, trade unions, women’s groups as to how to support them to further become involved in local decision making within local councils.

o Flexible maternity/paternity leave on full pay.

o In the workplace, ensure equal pay and conditions, including part-time workers, and a living wage to bring all low-paid workers out of poverty.

o All communities should provide good quality care and support for the elderly, disabled and mentally ill people, both helping them and relieving the burden of care from so many women.

o Continue with short listing of women candidates in selection of parliamentary candidates, until proportional and equal representation of women and men in the parliamentary Labour Party is met and maintained.

o There needs to be a reassessment of procedures and practices within local government and parliament and an investigation to ascertain how women could be included more and how they would like to become more involved in making decisions which affect them.

o Consult with women’s groups regarding issues for women, recognising women do not always engage with mainstream party political meetings, and set up workgroups with aims of addressing these issues.

o Respite for carers of one day a week to be funded.

o Playgroup Provision of free 5 hours p/w offered to every child from two years

o Nursery Education provision of free 15 hours p/w offered to every child from three years.

o Pursue universal affordable childcare policy (13), as proposed by GEER

o Amendments to the Equality Act made by Teresa May Nov 2010 should be reversed.

o Develop a Women’s Act that would enshrine women’s rights in policy-making and implementation. (14)

o Increase benefit income in order to improve the lives of women living in poverty and support their families’ well-being; (14)

o Reverse the cuts to SureStart Centres

o Women and girls must have equal access to education and training. That must include crèche facilities for parents returning to work or study, after time off to care for children. In our schools we must ensure an end to sex differentiation in the subjects offered to girl and boys.

o Improve access to education, flexible and varied methods of study and access to a life long Qualification Pathway so improving the quality of life for women and improving their employment prospects.

o Pursue an affordable housing policy so that women are not held in a poverty trap where they cannot work because of loss of housing benefits.

o Women must have the freedom to choose whether or not to have children without punishment for their choice. There must be free, safe and reliable contraception available. The access to the right to termination of pregnancy where there is agreement for two doctors should remain, within guidelines recommended by medical professionals. A woman who exercises her right to terminate her pregnancy should be offered counselling before and after the procedure. She does not do so lightly, and must be treated with respect and sensitivity.

o Safety from sexual/domestic violence. All individuals who are victimised should have access to safe rehousing if necessary.

o Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace creates misery for many women, and there should be active promotion of policies in the workplace to eradicate this.

o A 35-hour working week, and flexibility for part-time work.

References:

1 An account of Dr Éoin Clarke’s speech at the Launch of GEER about why Labour lost voters’ support at the General Election.

2 “Unravelling Equality” A Human Right’s and Equality Impact Assessment on Women in Coventry. May 2011 Warwick University Law School , see link

3.http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/m04.pdf

A Factsheet, “Women in the House of Commons”

4. http://malcolmthepond.blogspot.com/2011/02/are-our-representatives-representative.html

An insight into MPs and how representative they are of the electorate

5 Fawcett Society: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/

Government Equalities Office:

6.

http://www.equalities.gov.uk/ Equality and Human Rights Commission:

http://www.eoc.org.uk

7.

Inter-Parliamentary Union: The Women’s National Commission:

Single Houseor lower House Upper Houseor Senate Both Housescombined
Nordic countries 42.1%
Americas 22.3% 23.5% 22.5%
Europe – OSCE member countriesincluding Nordic countries 22.0% 19.7% 21.5%
Europe – OSCE member countriesexcluding Nordic countries 20.1% 19.7% 20.0%
Sub-Saharan Africa 19.8% 19.7% 19.8%
Asia 18.3% 15.3% 18.0%
Pacific 12.4% 32,6% 14.7%
Arab States 11.4% 7.3% 10.7%

Regions are classified by descending order of the percentage of women in the lower or single House

8.

http://www.thewnc.org.uk/ The UCL Constitution Unit:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/

9. Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics:

http://www.qub.ac.uk/cawp/

10. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jun/16/harriet-harman-cant-leave-equality-tories

Harriet Harman ‘ A boost to women’s rights”

11. http://kieronam.net/?p=239

A discussion on women’s representation.

12. Document: Single Mothers: Singled Out The impact of the 2010- 2015 tax and benefit changes on women and men.

13 . ‘A Bold Approach to Childcare.’ https://think-left.org/2011/08/16/a-bold-approach-to-childcare/

14 A study on “Women and Poverty” Experiences, empowerment and engagement Women’s Budget Group A project to empower women in poverty to take part in the policy-making process.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation ISBN: 978 1 85935 637 1

I

12 thoughts on “Women as voters and MPs

  1. There’s another thing the Labour Party could (should) do as well… it needs to ensure that members of the Party, especially those in positions of trust / leadership, are fully aware of what sexism (&c) is, and how it must be avoided. I suspect a lot of the issues raised above would be more easily dealt with if those with influence (at all levels, not ‘just’ at the top) were actually conscious of the biases they, mostly unwittingly and perhaps even lazily, bring to the debate.
    Equality starts in every day life, in personal and local relationships…. as they say, the personal is indeed poltiical.
    So where’s the training which will give rise to this new consciousness?

  2. Thanks for your comment. That is very true, PP. How often do leaders intimidate? Strong leaders are one thing, those that exclude are another. I am disappointed that we have yet still to see a female Labour Prime Minister… Thatcher put women back years. The other day, someone said that they had been told by teacher that, “Physics isn’t really a subject for girls.” Why is it that sexism is not taken as seriously as racism? Our politicians and our teachers need to address this seriously. Often it is a matter of , “keeping the boys quiet.”

  3. Pam, I think sexism is put aside in a way which racism isn’t (and indeed shouldn’t) be, because most men are connected to women in a different way from being connected to other men of different ‘ethnicity’ or ‘race’.

    This is a theme I pick up from time to time, because it just doesn’t change. The fact of the matter is that man-to-man is generally a different thing from, say, man-to-woman, whatever one’s skin colour, and there’s a power dimension to the day to day reality of sexual politics which isn’t always so pressing in interactions between people, especially men, of different ethnicity. Those with an unacceptable take on ‘race’ relations don’t usually share homes with the people they fail to respect.

    As a corollary of this, I’d have to add that sexism is rarely challenged in even Labour Party meetings, unless it’s really overt and brutal, whilst (again, as it should be) racism is something that leaders, usually men, are comfortable, even keen, to challenge in most situations. So overt racism is thankfully now rare, whilst sexism remains rife – and often not even widely perceived.

    There’s a sort of unconsidered pack instinct which some men share when it comes to sexism within a group (or meeting). Other fairer, less sexist, men find this very difficult to arrest once it’s in full swing, whether in the Labour Party or elsewhere. This pack behaviour can make for very unacceptable assumptions and considerable unpleasantness, but – unless there’s an urgent trigger such as horrid name-calling or similar – there doesn’t seem to be any straightforward way to stop it.

    So when is the problem going to be sorted? I ask because unless it is, the situation you describe will continue, albeit sometimes in more subtle forms.

    Decent men are going to have to look more carefully at their perceptions of what’s happening, so they begin to see this pack instinct; and they themselves are going to have to do the challenging of their sexist peers’ behaviour, instead of leaving it to the women…. Well, we can hope…

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