Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Current News

Every year I carry out a report into parents’ first-preference secondary school applications.

My 2018 report finds that:

  • Over a third of parents in London missed out on their first-choice secondary school again this year – leaving 31,305 children unable to attend the school they wanted to in September. This is compared to the national average of 17.9%.
  • This is a problem which only seems to be getting worse - 2% more parents in London missed out on their first-choice school this year than in 2017.
  • In inner London boroughs the situation is even worse - only 63% of parents received their first preference and over 11,000 children were left without their first-choice school.
  • Locally in Southwark only 59.7% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school in 2018, compared to the national average of 82.1%.  
  • This is the 8th lowest of all the local authorities in England. The lowest 10 local authorities for first preference school choice are all London boroughs.

Harriet Harman MP, Mother of the House of Commons, said:

“The Government must ensure the right steps are taken to make every school a good school that parents want to choose.

“They cannot continue to cut back on school funding in London and expect schools to be able to continue to improve.

“I have written to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, with a copy of my report to raise parents’ concerns and to propose that Ofsted’s terms of reference are changed so that when they are inspecting a school they look at the views of parents who don’t want to send their child to that local school as well as the view of parents who do have children in the school. This would enable government and councils to act on the concerns of local parents.”

ENDS

For further information contact Rachel Smethers: rachel.smethers@parliament.uk / 0785 2213 922

Notes to Editors:             

  1. Full report: ‘Are parents in Camberwell & Peckham getting the choice of secondary school they want for their child?’ attached.

  2. Data source: Applications and offers for entry to secondary schools in England for academic year 2018/19, DfE. Data collected from local authorities on Secondary National Offer Day - 1 March 2018.

PRESS RELEASE: THIRD OF LONDON CHILDREN MISS OUT ON TOP SCHOOL CHOICE - GOVT MUST ACT

Every year I carry out a report into parents’ first-preference secondary school applications. My 2018 report finds that: Over a third of parents in London missed out on their first-choice...

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Having a good local secondary school to choose for your child is rightly one of the most important issues for people living in Southwark. So every year I carry out a report looking at the number of parents in Camberwell and Peckham who are able to get their children into their first-choice secondary school.

The teachers and support staff in our secondary schools work incredibly hard.  Parents, pupils, teachers, Southwark Council and the local community all want our schools to continue to improve. My report this year shows that 3 of the 8 schools serving children in Camberwell and Peckham – Charter, Ark All Saints and Sacred Heart – were oversubscribed. And St Thomas the Apostle increased their first-choice applications from parents living in Southwark by a third in just one year.

5 of the 8 schools serving children in Camberwell and Peckham were undersubscribed for first choice applications from parents in Southwark. The lowest were Harris Academy Peckham (23% of places available), Harris Boys Academy East Dulwich (27%) and Harris Girls Academy East Dulwich (37%).

Only 59.7% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school in 2018, compared to the national average of 82.1%. That is the 8th lowest of all the local authorities in the country and means 1,180 children in Southwark were left without their first-choice school. In comparison 98.1% of parents in Northumberland got their first preference[1].

This is the story across the whole of London – indeed the bottom 10 local authorities in England are all London boroughs. A third of new pupils missed out on their first choice in London this year, compared to the national average of 17.9%. And this is a problem which only seems to be getting worse - 2% more parents in London missed out on their first-choice school this year than in 2017.

But I am concerned that the progress that’s been made is under threat as the Tories push ahead with the first real terms cut in Southwark school budgets for over two decades, despite the strong opposition voiced by local parents, headteachers, Southwark Council and myself and fellow Southwark MPs Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle.   

The Government cannot expect schools to improve without proper resources. It is ludicrous to suggest that Southwark schools can manage with less, and somehow make cuts of £500 per pupil by just reducing electricity and IT bills.  Local headteachers have been clear to me that they will not be able to make the cuts from those efficiency measures alone. They fear they will be forced to cut teachers, support staff for SEN children and after school clubs, and are looking at their budget sheets wondering how they’ll possibly maintain current standards.

While I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget of an extra £400m for schools to provide what he called ‘little extras’, this hardly gets close to replacing the money local schools have lost since 2010. Many schools in Southwark don't have enough funding to deliver the essentials let alone provide 'little extras'. What they desperately need is improved central government funding - I am calling on the Government to end the cuts and back Southwark Council up in their action to improve schools in the borough. I have forwarded a copy of my report to the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds MP to ask what steps he is taking to ensure every school is a good school that parents want to choose.

[1] Source: Applications and offers for entry to secondary schools in England for the start of academic year 2018/19, DfE. Data collected from local authorities on Secondary National Offer Day - 1 March 2018.

Southwark News Column - Government must ensure every school is one local parents want to choose

Having a good local secondary school to choose for your child is rightly one of the most important issues for people living in Southwark. So every year I carry out...

Women_MPs_of_the_World_group_photo.jpgThe Mother of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman MP, has today published the findings from the first-ever Women MPs of the World Conference which saw women from 100 parliaments and 5 continents debate in the historic Chamber of the House of Commons on 8th November 2018.

The summit considered a wide range of issues and found:

  • virtually all the women MPs face opposition to their participation in public life.  That ranges from abuse online, threats in person and threats to their families.
  • some women had fewer children than they would have wanted because of finding it a struggle to combine their political duties with their family responsibilities.  Some women found that their husband struggled to accept their role in public life.  One was told by her husband to choose her marriage or her politics.  She said her choice was politics but when she became successful he relented, becoming happy to share the limelight.
  • once in parliament, many women MPs find that they are overtly discriminated against - they reported not being called to speak and not being able to sit on committees let alone chair them.  They spoke of being criticised for their appearance including having the temerity to wear lipstick.
  • in many countries there was abuse and manipulation of the quota systems to support women MPs.  This ranged from men putting their wives, girlfriends, mother’s or sisters into quota seats so that they could control them. 
  • women found that working in women’s caucuses across party was essential to ensuring their demands could be acknowledged and met.

  • there was a strong strand of work by women MPs on women’s safety - at home, at work and on the streets.  Many countries are bringing in tough new laws against street harassment.

  • some younger women MPs reported being sexually harassed by older male members of their legislature.

Harriet Harman MP, Mother of the House of Commons said:

“There are now women in nearly every parliament in the world.  We have fought our way in past prejudice and discrimination, often in the face of threats and violence. 

“Women in parliament are pioneers.  We have been elected to sit alongside men in our legislatures.  But we are, as yet, not on equal terms.  We are still in a minority and are relatively new arrivals in legislatures which are male-dominated.

“Most global summits are male-dominated or even men only. For men MPs the international network is well developed, but it isn’t for women. 

“Out of our conference has come a powerful global network of committed women who want to work together for progress for each of our countries and all of our people. There was a strong desire to hold the conference annually in different parliaments around the world so we can continue to support each other and share ideas. Women in politics are a new force for global change.”

ENDS

For more information contact Rachel Smethers rachel.smethers@parliament.uk / 07852213922

Notes to editors:

  1. Full report attached.
  2. This conference was supported by the FCO, DFID, GEO, Wilton Park, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, IPU and CPA.
  3. The Chamber was used for the plenary sessions. The “breakout” sessions were in the Commons Committee rooms.
  4. The plenary sessions in the Chamber were broadcast live and a Hansard transcript was produced.
  5. The chairs of breakout sessions were women MPs from the UK and other countries jointly.
  6. Women make up 24% of global legislatures. The UK is ranked 38th in the world, with 208 women MPs (32%).
  7. Twitter: #WomenMPsoftheWorld

 

WOMEN MPs WANT INTERNATIONAL NETWORK

The Mother of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman MP, has today published the findings from the first-ever Women MPs of the World Conference which saw women from 100 parliaments...

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The Attorney General has sought to establish a new principle that the Government can ignore the will of Parliament if the Government believes it’s not in the “public interest”. That cannot be allowed to stand.

Speaking in the debate in the House of Commons Chamber today on the Government's refusal to publish the legal advice they have received on the Brexit agreement Harriet Harman MP challenged the Attorney General on this point:

"Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge frankly to this House that publishing this paper on the legal position on the withdrawal agreement and his statement to the House today does not represent compliance with the motion of this House that was passed unanimously on 13 November, and does that not represent the following fundamental point of constitutional principle?

"It would be serious for any Minister to resist a motion of the House, but it is more so for it to be the Attorney, going along with Government defiance of the House, when his very office is about our constitution—when he is the person in Government whose job it is to make sure the rest of them stay within the rules. How can he do that if he himself is acquiescing in breaking them?

"He has in his statement rightly acknowledged that he has a duty to this House as well as to the Government and that his duties involve giving legal advice to the House. It is in our Standing Orders that he is legal adviser to the Privileges Committee.

"So how can we have a situation where the Attorney allows the Government to openly defy the will of the House?

"The Government have a choice: they can either comply with the motion of the House or seek to change it, but they cannot remain in defiance of it. It is the Attorney General’s responsibility to tell them that; will he?"

Read the full debate here

Read the motion of the House passed unanimously on 13th November requiring the Government to publish the legal advice on the Brexit Withdrawal agreement in full here.

No 10 cannot ignore the will of Parliament

The Attorney General has sought to establish a new principle that the Government can ignore the will of Parliament if the Government believes it’s not in the “public interest”. That cannot be...

“This new survey backs up our concerns and those of organisations like Rape Crisis and Limeculture who sit in court supporting rape victims through the ordeal of trial.  The Criminal Bar Association survey shows in a quarter of all rape cases the defence makes an application to the judge to be able to cross-examine the complainant on her previous sexual history and in the overwhelming majority of those cases the application is granted so that the complainant faces interrogation about her sex life in open court.  Reporting restrictions don’t save the complainant from the humiliation of having to answer questions about her previous sex life and now social media means that those reporting restrictions cannot effectively be enforced against those who choose to share the information online.  

The survey of 140 criminal barristers, directly involved in both prosecuting and defending in rape trials, proves that the Government are wrong to rely on the assurance from the Crown Prosecution Service that everything is fine.  This is another serious dent in the deeply flawed CPS research published earlier this year by the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

“It’s clear that a change in the law is needed. The Courts and Tribunals Bill which is now being considered by parliament is the opportunity to do that and address a problem which undermines the prosecution and traumatises the complainant. The Government have launched a Victims Strategy consultation.  But it has a big gap in it unless they tackle the problem of victims in sex cases being interrogated about their previous sexual history”.

Dame Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria said:

“We cannot allow rape trials to be inquisitions into the complainant’s sex life. The fear of a complainant being confronted with evidence relating to sex with other men in open court is, and has always been, a huge deterrent to reporting rape.

“The Criminal Bar Association’s study is further evidence that the Government’s review carried out by the CPS does not reflect the situation in court rooms across the country.

“The Government must use the Victims Strategy and Courts and Tribunals Bill to protect complainants and ensure they are treated fairly in the court room”. 

ENDS

For more information contact: Rachel Smethers rachel.smethers@parliament.uk  0207 219 2057

Notes to editors:

  1. The Criminal Bar Association report found of the 565 complainants, 144 (25%) involved applications being filed under section 41.
  2. The report shows that of those 144 section 41 applications 105 (73%) resulted in questions by the defence being allowed, either by being agreed between counsel, or being granted by the court in full or in part.
  3. Harriet Harman and Vera Baird wrote to the Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice on 8th January 2018 to challenge the Crown Prosecution Service’s research on section 41.
  4. On 29th January 2018 Harriet Harman and Vera Baird launched a cross-party coalition to challenge the Government to take action on the use of rape complainants’ previous sexual history in court.
  5. On 25th September 2018 Harriet wrote to Justice Minister Edward Argar to urge the Government to include complainants’ previous sexual history being dragged through the court in rape trials in their forthcoming Victims Strategy consultation. 
  6. Harriet Harman raised concerns about the operation of section 41 in the Second Reading of the Courts and Tribunals Bill in the Chamber on 27th November 2018.

 

PRESS RELEASE: NEW CRIMINAL BAR ASSOCIATION STUDY CONFIRMS OUR CONCERNS ABOUT COMPLAINANT’S PREVIOUS SEXUAL HISTORY BEING DRAGGED THROUGH COURT IN RAPE TRIALS

“This new survey backs up our concerns and those of organisations like Rape Crisis and Limeculture who sit in court supporting rape victims through the ordeal of trial.  The Criminal...

Today Stephanie Peacock MP and the Mother of the House of Commons Harriet Harman have called on Speaker Bercow to set in train parliament’s adoption of the GMB ‘Work to Stop Domestic Abuse’ Employer Charter to ensure that parliament is an exemplary employer in how it deals with employees who are experiencing domestic violence.  

Adopting the policy would include adopting clear procedures for supporting staff experiencing domestic violence, notifying staff of the policy on posters around parliament and never saying “this is a private matter which must not be allowed to affect your work”. Ms Peacock, a former officer of the GMB union brought GMB members and officers to parliament last week to set out why the new policy is needed and how it would work.

GMB policy has been consulted on with trade unions, employers and organisations combatting domestic violence. And individual GMB members who’ve experienced dealing with domestic abuse while they hold down a job.

According to new data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2 million adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse in the last year.

Harriet Harman MP, Mother of the House of Commons said:

“When a woman (or a man) is subjected to domestic violence, their workplace can either make things worse for them by saying that it’s a personal issue which must not be allowed to affect their work.  Or it can be a safe place to disclose and through which to find help. 

“People suffering domestic abuse need to know where they can get help. Even a poster with a phone number on it can save lives.  

“As a large employer of over 6,700 staff Parliament has the opportunity not only to help our individual employees when they need it most but also to be a high profile example to other employers around the country. That’s why we are urging the House to adopt the thorough policy developed by GMB.”

ENDS

For more information contact Rachel Smethers: rachel.smethers@parliament.uk / 0207 219 2057

 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

  1. GMB ‘Work to Stop Domestic Abuse’ Charter
     - https://www.gmb.org.uk/domestic_abuse_charter.pdf

  2. Domestic abuse findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales: year ending March 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/domesticabusefindingsfromthecrimesurveyforenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018


  3. The GMB Charter launched at a House of Commons meeting on 26th November 2018, chaired by Stephanie Peacock, MP for Barnsley East and GMB member.

 

PRESS RELEASE: PARLIAMENT SHOULD HELP EMPLOYEES EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Today Stephanie Peacock MP and the Mother of the House of Commons Harriet Harman have called on Speaker Bercow to set in train parliament’s adoption of the GMB ‘Work to...

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Royal Mail response - tackling disruption at Peckham Delivery Office

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Universal Credit is a single payment which will replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits for working-age individuals and families. It is the Government's flagship welfare reform and I am concerned that it has been plagued by problems in its design and delivery. 

UC was intended to lift people out of poverty and smooth the transition into work to ensure that it always pays. Unfortunately, the programme has acted as a vehicle for cuts and caused real hardship for many people across the UK. It has pushed claimants into debt, rent arrears and forced some to rely on food banks.

I agree that the rollout should be stopped. 

Indeed, a report by the National Audit Office found that UC may end up costing more than the benefit system it is replacing. It also stated that it cannot be proven that UC helps more claimants into work and concluded it is unlikely to ever deliver value for money. 

More recently, a report from a House of Commons Select Committee concluded that UC is causing unacceptable hardship and that the Government's approach is failing claimants. It argued that the recent announcement of a further delay to the rollout is not a solution. I believe this report reveals the culture of denial about the failings of UC. It is shocking that the Government is still refusing to accept the hardship it is causing and is determined to go ahead with the next phase of the rollout.

As you may be aware, at the Budget the Chancellor announced there would be an additional £1.7 billion funding for UC. However, I am concerned the Government has not addressed wider cuts to social security or the structural problems with UC. I know that figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest that there are £5 billion worth of cuts to social security still to come in this Parliament, which I am concerned will hit the incomes of those who have the least. 

Thank you once again for contacting me about this issue. I am committed to rebuilding and transforming our social security system and I will continue to press the Government on this important issue at every opportunity. 

Government must stop rollout of Universal Credit and fix problems

Universal Credit is a single payment which will replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits for working-age individuals and families. It is the Government's flagship welfare reform and I am...

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Monthly report - October/November 2018

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Action to address Royal Mail disruption

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In an historic first today women MPs from 5 continents and 100 countries met in the Mother of Parliaments as we mark 100 years since the first women in this country won the right to stand for election to parliament.  

Women have fought their way into nearly every parliament in the world.  But we are not yet on equal terms with men in politics. Women MPs around the world want not only to be in parliament but to share power equally and to be able to make change for women in our countries.  As only relatively recent arrivals in politics women MPs are still pioneers in male-dominated parliaments.

We got together at this unique event to share our experience, our successes and setbacks. We determined to fight yet harder to get equality for women in our countries.  We made links so we can work together in the future. We strengthened our resolve to fight the backlash against women in public life and to get yet more women into parliaments, and shared experience of how to deliver for women in our countries, to end violence against women and girls, counter harassment and abuse, balance family and political responsibilities.   

Women in politics are a new force for change. Out of this conference comes a powerful global network of committed women who can work together for progress for each of our countries and all of our people. The sisterhood is global. 

This historic conference was co-hosted with the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP, the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Foreign Office, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Wilton Park.

Prime Minister Theresa May hosted the conference opening reception in Downing Street last night. 

Follow on Twitter at: #WomenMPsoftheWorld


Harriet Harman speech to open the conference in the House of Commons Chamber:

I will start by introducing myself. Sorry for the layout of the House of Commons, which means that I have my back to so many of the sisters here. I am Harriet Harman. I have been a Member of Parliament since 1982, so for 36 years. [Applause.] I represent a constituency in south London, Camberwell and Peckham. I have three children and one grandchild. So that’s me.

I extend huge thanks to Penny Mordaunt, our Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities, for the commitment that she and her Department have shown in bringing us all here together. Thank you so much, Penny. I also thank Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons. We had to have a special vote in the House of Commons to allow you to come and sit here—[Applause.] Andrea, as Leader of the House of Commons, led on that. On behalf of all of us, I thank Theresa May, the Prime Minister, for the reception last night in Downing Street—[Applause.] It was a wonderful event.

I thank all of you for coming: a huge warm welcome to Westminster. As Penny said, these benches with all of you here look very different from how they normally look. It is a pleasure to see you. We have here women Members of Parliament from 100 different countries and from five continents. We are all from very different countries with very different backgrounds, but our goals are the same: we want nothing less than equality. We all share things in common. We are all pioneers. We have all made a lot of progress, but we are still women in politics trying to make progress in what is largely a man’s world. We also look after children and elderly relatives, and we break down barriers. 

When I was a girl I was brought up with the idea that the most important ambition was to get a good husband and, once I had achieved that lofty ambition, to be a good wife to that good husband. Daughters were in households where the father was the head of the household or wives’ husbands were the heads of the households. We have all said, “We don’t agree with that. We do not think women are inferior. We do not think women should be subordinate. We think women should be equal and we want an equal say in decision making. We are not happy with the idea that men make the decisions, but women abide by them.”

We have all made progress. When I was first a Member of Parliament in 1982, it was 3% women and 97% men and women’s voices were not heard. Democracy is about representation. It is not a proper democracy if women’s voices are not heard, so no one is doing us a favour by letting us into Parliament. We are a democratic imperative—[Applause.] We are necessary. Now we are 30% in the UK Parliament, but we are still outnumbered by men. I talked to many of you last night and none of us is happy just to get into Parliament. We want to be on equal terms with the men in Parliament. We are not happy with a situation where it is the men who get selected to sit on Committees; the men who get the resources; and the men who get to speak. We have to not only be in Parliament; we have to be there on equal terms. If you think about it, all those countries where there are more women going forward are the countries that are clearly looking to the future. Imagine a situation where all the governing people are men. That is like the past. That is backward. We women in politics are the future.

It is important for us to be in Parliament because we want to make progress for women in our countries. We want equality for women in our countries. Today I hope to hear about your ideas, what you have been doing and what has worked for you. We want to hear about your successes. What have been your setbacks? How have you overcome them?

I want to give one example of something that we have done here in the UK that has made a difference. We have always known that women at work are paid less than men. Let us be clear about this: that is not because men are cleverer than women or because men work harder than women. It is because of discrimination and inequality. We introduced a law—it came into effect in April this year—that every organisation has to publish their pay gap between men and women. Whether they are private companies or public organisations, every year they have to publish what they pay their men and what they pay their women, so that we can see the gap and can narrow it. It is no surprise to us that eight out of 10 employers pay their men more than they pay their women.

That is one thing that we have been doing, and we are obviously all trying to work hard to tackle the scourge of domestic violence. When we bring forward ideas, nobody says, “That’s a good idea. That’s challenging inequality. That’s an interesting policy. We’ll implement it.” No. We have to fight for it. Nobody says “Come into Parliament and exercise power on equal terms.” We have to fight for it. That is another thing that we have to have in common—we have to be resilient. Over the years, girls are encouraged to be emollient, accommodating and nice, but we have to be really tough. I always say that, if you are not having a row, you are probably not doing enough. To make progress for women, you have to be tough and persistent and press forward.

We also have to work very closely with women on the outside of our Parliaments. The women’s organisations outside our Parliaments are what sustain us in here and enable us to make progress. As Penny alluded to, we all face a backlash, because, deep down there, the attitude of some is: “Why are women out there speaking in public? Shouldn’t they be at home looking after their husband? Shouldn’t they be in the kitchen? Why are they in Parliament?” There is always a backlash of threats and verbal threats, but also abuse on social media and in the mainstream media as well.

I think it is important that we say to ourselves and to one another that that is not something that we should just expect, or that is normal or an occupational hazard. We should say that to attack us as individuals is not only wrong but an attack on democracy, because we are elected. Our voters have elected us, and they are entitled to our getting on with our job without let or hindrance and without looking over our shoulder. Sometimes, if we are threatened or attacked, we feel that we cannot speak out about it because we do not want to look weak or as though we are preoccupied with ourselves. However, we have to speak out about it, because they are attacks not only on us but on our democracy.

We have to challenge the backlash. Every time women make some steps forward, there are people trying to push us back, so we have to remain persistent. We have to work with women’s organisations outside and within our own political parties. However, we also have to work across parties. As women, if we work together across parties, we can make more progress than we can on our own. We also have to work with men who are prepared to support us. When I was first in the House of Commons, there were virtually no men who supported women’s equality. However, there are now men who understand the importance of women’s equality and who are prepared to support that agenda. When I say support, I mean support—not lead, but support the agenda—[Applause.] We have to be the leadership, and they can support us. There has always been the idea that it is natural for a woman to be deputy to a male leader. We need to engender a culture among men that it is positive and progressive not necessarily to stand forward as leaders themselves, but to support a woman leader. That will take some work, I think—[Applause.]

I hope everybody has a productive day today. I am eager to hear from all of you about your experience. What I would like to see—this echoes what Penny has said—is ongoing discussions among us all. We all see the pictures of men at the global summits. Imagine the pictures from a normal global summit. It is all men. The international network of men is well-established. We need to establish that international global network of women parliamentarians to work together. I hope we will be able to do that after this conference. I hope that we will have this conference somewhere in the world every year—[Applause.] Who would think about hosting it next year? We will not finish the job today. We will make good progress today, but we need to make progress year on year. Thank you so much for joining us. The sisterhood is global. Thank you—[Applause.]


Watch all of the speeches by the women MPs in the Chamber:

Session 1 - Women in Parliament: Celebrating progress, shaping the future: https://we.tl/t-JJLyM1AXmD

Session 2 - Policy focus - how women in parliaments shape the political agenda to tackle inequality: https://we.tl/t-yvQT7BXQSe

Session 3 - Changing the future for women in parliaments - commitments and actions: https://we.tl/t-WsfUhlV9Om

Women MPs of the World Conference - House of Commons 2018

In an historic first today women MPs from 5 continents and 100 countries met in the Mother of Parliaments as we mark 100 years since the first women in this...

Remembrance_Commons_2018.jpgUSE.jpg

Today I joined with the Speaker and Lord Speaker at an act of remembrance in Westminster Hall to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War to remember the Parliamentarians and House staff who died.

The act of remembrance was led by the Speaker’s Chaplin Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

Wreaths were laid at the War Memorial in Westminster Hall and after the service I signed the book of remembrance.

Commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War at the House of Commons

Today I joined with the Speaker and Lord Speaker at an act of remembrance in Westminster Hall to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War to...

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On Thursday 8th November Parliament will be holding the first ever Women MPs of the World Conference in the Chamber of the House of Commons, attended by UK women MPs and women MPs from every parliament in the world, as part of our events to mark 100 years since the first women in this country won the right to stand for election.

Women have fought their way into nearly every parliament in the world.  But it’s not enough for us just to be there, we want to exercise power on equal terms with men in parliament and make a real difference for women in our countries.  As only relatively recent arrivals, women MPs are still pioneers in male dominated parliaments.

It’s always hard to make change if you are just a small minority.

At this historic conference we will get together to share our experience, our successes and setbacks. We’ll determine to fight yet harder to get equality for women in our countries.  We’ll make links so we can work together in the future. We’ll strengthen our resolve to fight the backlash against women in public life and to get yet more women into parliaments. 

The women MPs of the world will be bringing all their ideas and experience to London to share with us and each other. Imagine how it will look when the green benches of our House of Commons are crammed with women from over 100 countries from Sierra Leone, to Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Indonesia, Colombia and New Zealand - all looking very different from how our Commons usually looks.

UK speakers include Secretary of State for International Development and Women and Equalities Minister, Penny Mordaunt MP, Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom MP and shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott MP. International speakers include the first woman speaker of the Bangladeshi parliament, Shireen Sharmeen Chaudhury; German Children and Families Minister, Anne Spiegel and the Colombian vice-president, Marta Lucía Ramirez.

I will be eager to hear what they are doing in their countries as they push forward for women.  Many of them are drawing up new rules to deal with sexual harassment in parliament.  In India they are using a Girls’ Parliament to ensure girls get the idea that politics is for women too.  The Girls’ Parliament is elected and has its own PM and cabinet!  This is a brilliant idea and I’m going to propose to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in Parliament that we set one up in the UK!  One of the issues we’ll be discussing at our conference will be how we get more women elected as MPs.  

Our countries are very different but as women parliamentarians our goals are the same.  We want equality for women and nothing less.  The sisterhood is global and this will be a historic event.  

Members of the public and community organisations are being invited to the public gallery to watch the debates.  So put the date in your diary..!

Follow the # to find out more!  -  #WomenMPsoftheWorld   

House of Commons to hold first ever meeting of women MPs from every parliament in the world

On Thursday 8th November Parliament will be holding the first ever Women MPs of the World Conference in the Chamber of the House of Commons, attended by UK women MPs...

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I’m delighted to have been invited to give this lecture. It is a real honour. In the day to day hurley burley of Westminster and constituency life it’s good to be asked to do a “lecture” as it makes you step back and think longer term, backwards and forwards. And that’s what I’ve done, thinking about the massive progress women have made in British politics, how on earth we managed to do that, but also to face up to how far we still are from equality and what we have to do to get there.  

The past 100 years have seen nothing less than a transformation in our legal rights, in our role in the home and the family, our involvement in the world of work and our participation in politics. It’s been a social, economic, political and personal revolution. So, first, a massive pat on the back for women. This didn’t just come down with the rainfall. But this wasn’t a natural process of evolution. We had to fight for it. So, first, a massive pat on the back for us as women.

We have gone from a situation where a woman was defined solely by her marital status in a household headed by a man - either the daughter in her father’s household, the wife in her husband’s household or, perish the thought, a spinster.

For the married woman, her primary role would be in the home, supporting him and in particular caring for children and older relatives. Many women did work outside the home but their employment was regarded as for “pin money”. Most professions were barred to women and though women were allowed to stand for parliament the percentage of women MPs remained stuck at 3%. Women were wholly absent from the public policy decisions which affected their lives.

We are now in a situation where women, and most men, believe that women are equal with men, not inferior or subordinate to them, that marriage should be a partnership of equals, that women should be treated equally at work and should have an equal say in decision-making.

But just because there’s broad agreement now on the principle of women’s entitlement to equality, that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that this progress did not happen by amiable agreement. Far from it. It came from a hard fight over decades by women working together in the Women’s Movement which gathered force in the 1960’s, 70s and 80s. Those women who fought against oppressive laws and attitudes of men, against patriarchy and male violence and for equality at work were not listened to by a respectful and responsible establishment. Far from it. Obstacles were thrown in their path. They were vilified as subversive, dangerous or, worst of all, unnatural.

Women arguing for childcare were “harming children” by encouraging their mothers to go out to work. Women setting up refuges for women fleeing domestic violence were “undermining the family”, fermenting the notion that a woman could leave her husband. Women arguing for equal pay were “undermining men at work” by challenging the notion that he, as the breadwinner, was entitled to the “family wage”. So while we should be gratified by how far we’ve come, we should never be grateful. It was a fight. And we were only ever fighting for what should always have been ours - our right to equality.

We have learnt many lessons from this decades long fight.

*Change is possible.

*it needs resilience and persistence.

*Change is never accepted with equanimity by those who hold power.

*There will be backlash which is often very personal and threatening in nature.

*It is not possible to make change as a woman acting alone. It is the solidarity of women working together which has forced progress.

*Women have not progressed by having a few inspirational leaders but by working together.

*Change, no matter how well argued for and justified takes years to achieve.

*Don't stand around waiting to be popular. Women who propose change will be criticised as awkward, aggressive and abnormal.

*But women sticking their neck out for change will always have the support of millions of women who, like them, rail against unfairness and face discrimination in their own lives.

Now, not only have attitudes changed but there are women working and making progress in every field of endeavour. Women in engineering, in law, on the shop floor and in the board room. Women in the arts and the sciences. Women are now 32% of MPs. But though women have pushed their way into what were hitherto men only spheres, we are as yet not on equal terms. We’re there - but we’re still in a minority and that needs to change as numbers matter.

Though gratified by how far we have progressed we should be realistic about how much more still needs to change before equality becomes a reality. And we should never be diverted. First it was “don't rock the boat”, then “you’re right, you’ve won, you’ve made so much progress so you need to stop going on about it now”. Then “women have made so much progress it’s now elitist to go on about women. You should be tackling inequality on class/race/disability.”

And ultimately women will stop campaigning for equality and demanding change. But not until the job’s done! And that is not yet.

Tough action to tackle pay gap

Women are still discriminated against in terms of pay. We need further progress on that. When the gender pay gap reporting provisions of the Equality Act 2010 came into effect in April this year no one could carry on denying the extent to which women remain unequal in the world of work. It was clear that 8 out of 10 employers still pay their men more than their women. That this is the case in all sectors including those such as retail which would not exist without women’s work. It is the case in trade unions the organisations who are pledged to fight for equality for their women members still do not pay their own staff equally. Unite, our biggest union pays their men employees 30% more than their women and the teachers union, NASUWT pays their men 40% more than their women. The situation is even starker when it comes to the payment of bonuses. In Facebook UK the men get bonuses which are 60% higher than the women.

It is vital that now, workplace by workplace the pay gap is now exposed. The pay transparency provisions were designed to do 4 things

*empower women employees

*galvanise managers

*spur trade unions

*and arm government

Most women always knew that pay’s unequal but if they raise it were fobbed off, told they’re imagining it or - worse still - labelled a trouble-maker. By exposing the facts in each workplace women are empowered to demand change. It robs employers of the ability to block change by denying the existence of the pay gap. It strips away the secrecy on which discrimination thrives. Women employees will be able to see if their managers are, year on year, making progress to tackle the pay gap and at what rate. They will be able to compare their own organisation’s progress year on year and compare it with other similar employers.  

Managers who want to make progress on the pay gap now have the measurements. They can set targets and judge - and pay - managers based on the progress they make in narrowing the gap. The CBI supports equal pay. They should be actively following that up.

The unions back equal pay. And tackling unequal pay is a way of tackling low pay since women are the majority of the low paid. Now with the extent of the pay gap laid bare Trade Unions need to push it right up the pay bargaining agenda, negotiating targets and holding employers to account. And at the same time they must urgently address their own pay gaps.

But it’s not just for women, management and unions - it’s also for government. It has been a public policy objective for successive governments to narrow the pay gap and now government can see its extent there’s no excuses. They should set targets for each government department. And across the public sector. Levelling up costs. But austerity is over so they should get on with it now.

They should gear up the machinery to tackle it in the private sector. So, I’d want to see the Equality and Human Rights Commission crawl all over the pay gap information - the government would need to reverse the cuts they’ve imposed on the EHRC and give them more resources, The EHRC should set targets for progress for different sectors, for different organisations. I’d want to see the government give the EHRC clear new powers to levy fines if those targets are not met. It was never going to be good enough for the government to show women the extent to which they are underpaid - they need to do something about it.

A percentage of GNI for refuges - like international development

We need further progress on tackling domestic violence - which is underlined by the excellent report of the Home Affairs Select Committee - and in particular the scourge of domestic homicide. There has, rightly, been a big focus - not least in my own constituency of Camberwell and Peckham - on the lives of young men lost to gang violence. In London out of the 101 homicides this year, 22 were gang-related and 21 were linked to domestic abuse. The spotlight is rightly shone on gang violence but the loss of women’s lives at the hands of the men they live with is not remarked on. As if it’s just something that has always happened and will keep on happening. But it isn’t. We need a major drive on prevention. Domestic homicide rarely happens out of the blue. Public services and agencies need the focus and resources to respond to the warning signs.

And we need properly funded refuge provision. Funding of domestic violence refuges is precarious. It’s a fiercely independent sector - and rightly so. That doesn’t mean it should struggle for funds. But it always has done. Even when we were in government and there was much more funding in the system - for councils, for voluntary organisations as well as in benefits and central government programmes - refuges still lived from hand to mouth, never able to plan beyond the next year. We’ve got a Domestic Abuse Bill coming up. We should do for refuges what we’ve done for international development and in that bill set a legal obligation on the government to spend a % of GNI every year on refuges. It would be a drop in the ocean of the public finances but stability for a vital service.

More women MPs and on equal terms with men

We need to ensure that women are not only in parliament in equal numbers but that we are, as MPs, sharing power on equal terms. We need that to be able to deliver the progressive change that women in our country needs.

At the outset of the women’s movement, the push to increase the number of women MPs was predominately a left of centre political endeavour. As feminists, we made our political home in the Labour Party, which we saw as the party of women and equality. And indeed when it came to 1997 our policy of women-only shortlists for selection in constituencies which we expected to win delivered over 100 Labour women MPs and changed not only the face of parliament but also what was seen as the political agenda. So demands for childcare and for the tackling of domestic violence advanced onto the political agenda but they are still not mainstream.

As we press for further progress and draw on our experience, we recognise that new times bring new issues and offer new opportunities but also bring new challenges.

Protecting our democracy from attacks on women MPs

In the age of the internet, social media offers great opportunities for women to campaign together. A woman at home with a baby can talk to women all around the country. Women assaulted in the film industry in the USA can mobilise support from women all around the world. But social media is also a new vehicle for misogynists organising against women, intent on threatening and abusing women who have the temerity to venture into public life.

In the past when we were subjected to threats, we were reluctant to complain. We were trying to prove that women could be in politics and feared that if we complained we’d be seen as weak, only concerned about ourselves, not about our constituents. And anyway we had no confidence that our concerns would be taken seriously.

But threats to women MPs are not because we are weak and they are not just unwarranted attacks on individuals. Nor are they an expression of free speech. They are an attack on our democracy. Voters are entitled to elect whoever they want. Once that person has been elected they should be able to get on with their job without let our hindrance.

I think there is still a reluctance among MPs (men as well as women) to reveal the full extent of the abuse and threats they - and their family - are subjected to. I think it’s even more prevalent than we realise. I think this is the sort of thing which could best be addressed by a Speaker’s Conference to consider how we draw the line against harassment of our political representatives and protect our democracy.

New opportunities for cross-party working

Women’s engagement in Parliament has had two phases so far and I think we’re on to our third. First a handful of Labour women sustained by women outside parliament. Second, a critical mass of Labour women in parliament working together. And the question is whether we can now make progress with the third phase - women in parliament working across party.

In the 1980’s, when I was first an MP one of only 10 Labour women (in total there were 22 women) there just weren’t enough of us to make an impact just working together. As a feminist I couldn’t have survived in the hostile male-dominated world of Westminster without the explicit and vocal support of the Women’s Movement backing campaigns for childcare, against domestic violence and for more women in parliament. Then, after the huge leap forward from the All-Women Shortlists with over 100 Labour women we were able to be a critical mass, a real force for change in parliament. But there was not a body of feminists on the Tory side for us to work with. For a start, there were hardly any women on the Tory side, and those who were there were certainly not feminist. I was used to being in combat with Tory women and certainly not in collaboration with them.

But there’s been a big change. The success of feminist ideas has meant that there are now not only more women on the Tory benches but that many of them are avowed feminists. They have been brought up by women who espoused the notion of equality for women. Many of them are what I describe as the “daughters of the women’s movement”.

And the 2015 election brought in 20 SNP women. They were doctors, lawyers, journalists and with many of them being new to politics had less instinctive acceptance of the traditional divisions between parties in the Commons. And they are feminists. From Wales, we see Liz Saville Roberts and from the Greens we have Caroline Lucas. From Northern Ireland we have Emma Little- Pengelly and Sylvia Hermon.

The big question is, now that we are here, in numbers, on all sides and with a common philosophy can we notwithstanding our party loyalties and division between the parties, work across parties on issues of concern to women. I’m confident that we can. I’ve already experienced this first hand working with Maria Miller, Jo Swinson and Hannah Bardell to get maternity leave for women MPs. Collaborative cross-party working between women is cemented under Maria’s leadership on the cross party Select Committee on Women and Equality.

We have already seen it on the work that Stella Creasy has led on extending abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland. Maria and Andrea Leadsom are working with Valerie Vaz, Dawn Butler and Jess Phillips to rid parliament of sexual harassment.

As “Mother of the House”, I’m working seamlessly with Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt on our conference which will bring women MPs from 100 parliaments together in Westminster. If you’d have told me even 10 years ago that I’d have women allies in the SNP, the DUP, in the deputy leader of the Libdems and in the Tory Cabinet I’d wouldn’t have believed it. But that is now the case and in a parliament where loyalty within parties is now unprecedentedly fragmented, the 209 women in parliament have the potential - where we can identify issues of common concern - to work together as a truly coherent force to push further change for women.

But as we forge new cross-party alliances, we can’t forget about the progress we still need to make in our own parties. Though now 45% of Labour’s MPs and half our shadow cabinet are women, we can’t rest on our laurels. We still have male dominance in the leadership of the Labour Party. We have a male leader and deputy and men lead the party in Wales and in Scotland. We have never had a woman Labour Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister. That is an embarrassment for a party which espouses equality - particularly when the Conservative party have managed not just one but 2 women leaders and Prime Ministers. The next leader of the Labour Party simply must be a woman and there are many brilliant and committed women in parliament for the party to choose from. There are many brilliant and committed men in the PLP too - and one of them can be deputy.

New allies for women in parliament - men MPs

There is new opportunity in the changing attitudes of men. The attitude that women should be subordinate to men and should stay at home to look after the children is, mercifully, far less prevalent. We have a new generation of men who have been brought up by mothers who believe in women’s equality, mothers who have gone out to work. These men are “sons of the women’s movement” who, in turn, support their wives as they go out to work and believe they should play an equal part in the home. We now have that generation of “sons of the women’s movement” in parliament and we see, for the first time a cohort of men MPs for whom it is second nature to back up and speak up on causes led by women.

The global sisterhood

The women’s movement has always been internationalist in outlook and we are in solidarity with our sisters around the world who have the same commitment to equality, who face the same obstacles as us and often many more. We must strengthen those links and that solidarity as we all make progress.

And that, with the support of Mr Speaker, and Penny Mordant and Andrea Leadsom, is exactly what we will be doing next month in the House of Commons Chamber. Women have fought their way into nearly every parliament in the world. But even when they get there they are still pioneers in a man’s world. And they’re not satisfied just to get in, they want to exercise power on equal terms with men. On 8th next month we will have women MPs from over 100 parliaments round the world coming to meet in our Commons chamber. We’re all trying to work out what’s the best way to tackle domestic violence and unequal pay. We’re all trying to work out how to deal with sexual harassment outside and inside politics. And how you sort things to ensure women MPs who are pregnant can still cast their vote in parliament. And we’ll admire each other and learn from each other and form bonds to work together in the future.   And think how amazing the green benches of the Commons will look when instead of men in grey suits its women from all over the world.

Conclusion

As we mark the centenary of the first British women winning the right to vote and stand for parliament, we still face many of the old battles and also some new ones. But

*we are emboldened by the progress we have already made.  

*We have new allies and opportunities.  

*We have new global networks.

The women’s movement has been one of the most successful movements for change in modern times. We have won the battle of ideas. Now we must win the battle for the reality of the change.

Speaker's Lecture Series 2018 - Women in British Politics - Where Next?

***Check against delivery*** I’m delighted to have been invited to give this lecture. It is a real honour. In the day to day hurley burley of Westminster and constituency life...

Like the overwhelming majority of people in Camberwell and Peckham I wanted us to stay in the EU and indeed I campaigned locally and across the country for Remain. Despite the strong Remain vote in Southwark, unfortunately the result of the Referendum was, by a small majority, to leave. I remain deeply disappointed about this and am increasingly concerned that our fears about the impact of Brexit far from being exaggerated, understated the devastating impact that Brexit would have on jobs, our economy, employment rights, the environment and our security.

There are only weeks until the Brexit talks are meant to conclude but the Government still have no credible plan, no viable solution to the Irish border and there appears to be no support in Parliament for the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposals.

If Parliament votes down the Prime Minister's Brexit agreement or she cannot reach an agreement with the EU, I believe we must keep all options on the table including a public vote.

However, after the mistakes and mishaps of the last two years, I believe we should be prepared for the possibility that the Prime Minister may fail to deliver the Brexit agreement that our country needs.

I am committed to judging any Brexit agreement against Labour’s six tests that were set out by the Shadow Brexit Secretary in March last year.

When or if there is an agreement for Parliament to vote on, I do not accept that it should be a 'take it or leave it' choice between what may be a bad deal or crashing out of the EU without an agreement. I believe a No-Deal Brexit would be catastrophic and the Government does not have the right to plunge our country into chaos because of its own failure.

This is why, if any agreement is voted down by Parliament, my preference is for there to be a general election - to try to get a Government that can negotiate the best agreement for our country. However, if a general election is not possible, all other options for breaking the impasse must be kept open including a public vote.

As your elected representative in Parliament, I welcome your views and comments throughout this process. Thanks once again to all those who have contacted me on this issue.

 

People's Vote

Like the overwhelming majority of people in Camberwell and Peckham I wanted us to stay in the EU and indeed I campaigned locally and across the country for Remain. Despite...

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Monthly report - September/October 2018

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Brandon Tenants’ Association reps Joy Allan-Baker, June Lewis and Eileen Piper came to Parliament today so I could thank them for all of their hard work on behalf of residents in the difficult days and months following the tragic killings of Rhyhiem Barton and Siddique Kamara.

We discussed how I can further back them in their demands to increase youth activities on the estate, CCTV and local police. When an estate is in a state of shock it is so important to have the constant voice and presence of dedicated tenants reps. We are all indebted to Joy, June and Eileen and all TRA chairs and secretaries who do an enormous amount of work for  residents.

 

Thanks to Brandon Tenants' Associations

Brandon Tenants’ Association reps Joy Allan-Baker, June Lewis and Eileen Piper came to Parliament today so I could thank them for all of their hard work on behalf of residents...

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Great turnout for the borough-wide, all women campaign session in Rye Lane today. Thanks to Cllr Jasmine Ali for organising and to all Cllrs and members who came out to talk to local people about the issues affecting them. 

Rye Lane Campaining

Great turnout for the borough-wide, all women campaign session in Rye Lane today. Thanks to Cllr Jasmine Ali for organising and to all Cllrs and members who came out to talk to local...

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Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the Crosland Lecture. It is a great honour.

And it’s a real pleasure to be here with Mel Onn, my colleague and your MP. And to accept her invitation on your behalf to deliver this lecture.

I remember when I met Mel as your candidate, in the General Election campaign in 2015.

Austin Mitchel, who won the seat for Labour after the untimely death of Anthony Crosland in 1977, had been a huge figure all my decades in the PLP and was so identified as Grimsby MP. As a young woman, and a lone parent, Mel, born and raised in Grimsby, seemed such a contrast to Austin. Grimsby had changed massively in the decades since Austin became your MP. And now there was to be a big change in the MP. And it was a tough campaign. We’d hoped to get into government...but it turned out our backs were against the wall. And we were far from confident of winning here in Grimsby.

But as we went out and about chatting to people in Grimsby it was evident how completely confident she was of her Labour values and how direct she was with the people we met. She had a natural air of authority.

Since then, in parliament, Mel has become one of our bright hopes for the future - now being shadow minister in the Housing team an issue which is going up the agenda of concern here in Grimsby and something for which she has a deep personal understanding, having been brought up on housing estates and experienced homelessness as a teenager.

Our Labour Party, and our democracy is all the better for the arrival in parliament of Mel and alongside her, the new cohort of young women. They are forthright, admirably resilient. They expect to be on an equal footing irrespective of their gender. They do not expect to defer to anyone or anyone. They don’t expect to apologise for being young, for being a woman, for being a mother. Nor should they.

We just need to be in government so that Mel can speak from a position of power not from opposition. And one of the driving reasons why we need to be in government is the scourge of inequality. When you mention inequality everyone agrees that it’s a bad thing. For most of us the main reason we are in the Labour Party is because we detest inequality and see Labour as the way to fight it. But though we all agree that it is a scourge - it’s worth spelling out why, why progress to tackle it has been uneven and what we still need to do about it.  

Inequality is a breach of human rights

Every young person is entitled to fulfil their potential, to follow their chosen path as best they can, to have a decent life. The fact that it is harder for that to be the case for a young person from a low income background and easier from a young person from a wealthy family is anathema to the Labour Party. It makes us fume with indignation and burn with resentment against the injustice to any and every child who suffers from inequality. The opportunities for a young person should not be greater for someone from a wealthy family and fewer for a young person from a low income family. Being born in London should not be a social or economic advantage compared to being born in the North. Inequality is a breach of an individual’s human rights

The individual needs the state to create a level playing field

It baffles me that the Tories are regarded as standing up for the individual against the state when in fact it is the state that needs to act to ensure inequality does not blight the lives of individuals. The state does not hold back individuals, state action is necessary to hold back the inequality which blights the lives of so many.

So it should go without saying that inequality is bad for the individual if you, as that individual are restricted in your life chances because of the family or region you are born into. And you need more of the state, not less.

Inequality can take many forms: no hierarchy of inequality

Inequality can take many forms. It can be because you are black or Asian, or because you are a woman, or because you are gay, or disabled or old. Inequality is bad whatever it is rooted in. No-one should be discriminated against because of their gender, or subjected to homophobia or racism or written off because they are past 60. That is poisonous stigma based on prejudice that sees only the category and not the individual for what they are. And there should be no hierarchy of inequalities. It is not worse to be discriminated against if you are black than if you are a woman. It’s not better to be stigmatised because you are disabled than if you are gay. Whether what is the basis for your being oppressed its wrong. And anyone who fights against any inequality is doing something important. So I firmly resist the “what about” tendency that says well, you might be fighting against gender inequality but “what about class”. Or you might be fighting against class inequality “but what about racism”. Whatever discrimination the struggle is against it is combatting discrimination and inequality and I applaud it. All those who are fighting for equality should respect and support each other, working on the different front-lines of inequality. The solutions to different strands of inequality are different. The policy that will liberate a white lone parent - like childcare - will not help in the fight against racism. But it’s worth striving for. Fighting against racism will not of itself liberate women - of any ethnicity - but it’s still worth doing. There are plenty of oppressors so we need to turn our fire on them - not on each other. It is pointless and a distraction to compete about which sort of inequality is the worst - when it’s all bad and there’s plenty of it.

Inequality is bad for the economy

Inequality is bad for the economy. Structural inequality is the opposite of meritocracy. Where there is opportunity for enterprising people with initiative to set up their own businesses, the economy thrives. When companies have a talent pool to draw on their business grows and so does the economy. Inequality holds back and economy. The economy loses out if business overlook people because of their ethnic background. Half the talent of the country is wasted by discrimination against women. Think of all the scientists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose contribution has been lost to this country because they are women. Now, this is widely recognised in international development - that discrimination against women holds back the economy. But somehow it seems to be easier for some people to recognise the truth of this abroad than to act on it at home.

Inequality is bad for society

Societies which are more equal are more harmonious, less conflicted, more at ease with themselves. That seems obvious. We instinctively draw back with unease when we see gated communities - people having to lock themselves away for fear of those who live beside them. But greater equality also means better health for all - and not just for those on lower incomes. The figures show clearly that more equal societies are healthier. So tackling inequality ought to be seen as part of any public health strategy.  

Equality is the foundation of our democracy

Strangely, for a society which remains so unequal, equality is the principle on which our democracy is founded. That each person has just one vote - that the vote of a millionaire is no more important than the vote of someone who’s unemployed. And we want the government to be based on the will of the people, not on the influence of money so we have laws (often put under considerable strain) to regulate election spending to try and prevent money trumping our democracy. And we look across to the USA with horror about the extent of the influence on politics of big business and wealthy lobbies - such as the National Rifle Association.

The struggle for equality

But though it seems to us self-evident that equality is a good thing and inequality is a bad thing, making society more equal is a struggle. No-one says “oh thank you for pointing out about sex discrimination. We’ll stop it right now and put women on an equal footing”. Far from it. Racial inequality has been documented for years. But it is still prevalent. Charting and exposing inequality is necessary but it doesn’t, of itself, stop it. Winning the arguments for equality doesn’t mean it happens. Entrenched privilege is hard to shift. Those who have a vested interest in the status quo are not quick to give up their privilege. It’s not called the struggle for nothing. And if we want change, that’s what we have to do. Not only did we have to struggle to get into government - and that took us 18 long years from 1979 t0 1997, but I had to struggle to implement policies to tackle inequality even when we were in government.

The pattern of inequality in the UK

When we got into government in 1997 we embarked on programmes to tackle deprivation and poverty. We tackled pensioner poverty - which was the biggest group of those in poverty. We set targets for tackling child poverty and put it into law. We put resources into tackling in-work poverty though the tax credit system. We introduced a National Minimum Wage. We began the work which would start to halt the growing gap between rich and poor as well as programmes to tackle discrimination against women, minority ethnic communities, the disabled, the elderly and on the grounds of sexual orientation.

To take things further our 2005 manifesto promised to bring in a new Equality Act. When I was elected Deputy Labour Leader in 2007 Gordon Brown appointed me Minister for Women and Equality. I thought it was essential to include inequality on the basis of social class in the new Act - and to that I had to press on past those who said it was not in my remit and that I should stick to gender, race, disability etc.

To lay the basis for action on class in the Equality Act, I pressed for a Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth - like the Royal Commission which was set up in 1974 under the Labour government of Harold Wilson. It produced 5 reports between 1974 and 1979 but - unsurprisingly - one of the first things the Tories did when they got into government was to abolish it!

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t succeed in getting agreement to a Royal Commission. Some of my colleagues in government feared that as we had been in power for 10 years a Commission might show us in a bad light, might show that inequality was still prevalent - which of course it was. My argument that we had made progress but we needed to show the extent to which further progress needed to be made, and embark on it, did not win out. But I fought on and did ultimately in 2008 get agreement to establish a more modest version - a National Equality Panel - chaired by the highly respected academic, John Hills of the LSE. The panel’s findings were striking:

  • That before Labour got into government in 1997 the gap between the top and the bottom was growing
  • That when we got in we succeeded in halting that gap growing
  • But more needed to be done if we were to begin to narrow the gap
  • That - and this is obvious if you think about it - the bigger the gap between the top and the bottom, the wider the gap between the rungs of the ladder, the harder it is to climb up that ladder. So a more equal society is more meritocratic and allows for upward social mobility in a way that a very unequal society doesn’t.
  • That class trumps ability and by the age of 7 the bright working class child is overtaken by the less able middle class child.

Clause 1 Equality Act

So, armed with the findings of the National Equality Panel that more needed to be done and by government, we drafted, as the first clause of the Equality Act a new law to propel action against socio economic inequality - inequality rooted in class background. What Clause One says is that every public authority must, in every decision they make, consider whether it would widen or narrow the gap and take action to narrow the gap. It was to apply to every government department, every council, every university, and all our health and education services. What it would have done is put at the heart of all the actions of every part of the public sector the drive to end class inequality. It would have made the Treasury be clear about how each budget was contributing to narrowing the gap. It would make the Transport Department ensure that transport infrastructure narrowed the equality gap. It would stop the Department of Communities and Local Government cutting funds to councils in deprived areas while sparing councils in wealthy parts. It would have made all decisions by every Council, whether on housing, planning, or children’s services, part of a huge drive to make the public sector an engine to tackle class inequality. It would narrow that egregious gap between rich and poor and between richer and poorer regions. But we lost the election in 2010 and again, predictably, one of the first things David Cameron did was to say that he would not bring Clause One into force. So it’s there, on the statute book, but not implemented. 

Implement Clause 1 - My challenge to the Prime Minister

Theresa May, in her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street, spoke of how she was determined to tackle what she called the burning injustice

"that if you’re born poor you will die, on average, nine years earlier than others......If you’re a white, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.

"If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.”

She’s right on that. The fact that by the age of 7, children with a higher social class background but low assessed ability overtake those from a lower social class background who were initially assessed as having high ability is nothing if not a burning injustice!

But under her government it’s getting worse. And, as has always happened with a Tory government, the possibility of those born at the bottom to rise up the ladder is becomes more remote. The chance of the bright working class 7 year old to achieve their potential diminishes, while the not so bright middle class child forges ahead. That is downright unfairness and the very opposite of a meritocracy.

So my challenge to the Prime Minister is, if you mean what you say about tackling those burning injustices, if you are genuine in wanting to tackle lack of social mobility then implement Clause One. It’s no good saying that you want to tackle inequality and while leaving Clause One lying dormant. The Scottish government have implemented it. It came into force there in April this year. In Wales, they’ve already done something similar, placing a legal duty on public bodies to set out annually how they are progressing in terms of achieving equality and are considering whether they need to go further and fully implement Clause One.    

Class inequality cuts deep scars across England. Clause One has been consulted on and legislated. Model guidance of how to implement it has been drafted and consulted on. David Cameron chose not to implement it - but now Theresa May is prime minister and unless she implements it, it will be evident that her concern for those “burning injustices” are just crocodile tears.

The next Labour government

To make any real progress in tackling burning injustices rather than seeing them grow worse, we need a Labour government which will once again embark on the quest for equality. The agenda for tackling inequality is the essence of our Labour values across the piece, whether it’s

  • strengthening and supporting trade unions to empower people in their workplaces
  • tackling the exploitation of zero hours contracts and the gig economy
  • universal free childcare to liberate parents from the expense and worry of juggling home and work
  • a muscular regional strategy. Resentment in regions which felt left out of a London-centric economy and politics lay behind the views of many who told me they were going to vote Leave
  • requiring Universities to take bright children from state school and end the imbalance highlighted by MP David Lammy
  • ensuring the Equality and Human Rights Commission have the money and powers they need to be rigorous enforcers of the equality agenda.
  • playing, though our international development agenda, a major part in the fight against global inequality.

These are policies driven by a moral purpose but they also take us forward in the direction of a modern dynamic economy and harmonious communities. And whether up here in Grimsby or down south in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, they are at the very heart of Labour’s DNA.

The Battle Against Inequality - The Anthony Crosland Memorial Lecture 2018, Grimsby

**Check against delivery** Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the Crosland Lecture. It is a great honour. And it’s a real pleasure to be here with Mel...

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Monthly Report - August/September 2018

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