Category Archives: Labour Party

New EIGE index shows progress on gender equality in the UK has regressed

The European Institute for Gender Equality has this week released the latest Gender Equality Index for the EU. It shows that we are still only half way to achieving equality across all relevant domains and that progress on gender equality in the UK has actually gone backwards.

The overall score for the EU rose slightly from 51.3 out of a possible 100 in 2005, to 52.9. Progress has not been uniform however – some Member States have improved while some have regressed. Important gaps remain across key areas: work; money; knowledge; violence against women; decision-making; and health.

The UK’s score has dropped slightly from 58.9 to 58.0 out of 100. In particular, in the area of work – which measures levels participation, segregation and quality of work – the data shows that the UK is falling behind. Women have been hit hardest by failed Tory policies.

Interestingly, the composite index reveals that the unequal division of unpaid work (such as childcare and housework) is still only at 37.6 out of 100. Women still undertake the vast majority of housework across the EU and this is a major barrier to equality.

The data on violence against women highlights the importance of changing attitudes in society and in institutions and that further data collection must be carried out. To address this, I have called for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and supported the creation of a new EU framework directive on violence against women.

The EIGE Gender Equality Index is a unique and valuable instrument for measuring overall progress and demonstrates the scale of the task required to achieve gender equality within and across the EU.

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Date set for scrapping of mobile roaming charges

Roaming charges are to be scrapped, and finally a date has been set. In just under two years (15 June 2017) Europeans will pay the same price as they do at home when they use their mobile phone anywhere within the EU.

The networks will phase in the new rules: from April 2016, operators will be limited to the following maximum roaming charges: €0.20 per MB, €0.06 per SMS and €0.05 per minute.

There will also be stricter net neutrality rules, from April next year when internet service providers will be banned from blocking any online content apps and services. However, the net neutrality rules will allow blocking for some exceptions, such as to counter cyber-attacks.

The announcement is significant because EU governments had previously said roaming charges for mobile phone users travelling in the 28-member bloc should remain at least until the end of 2018.

The new rules will have a significant impact on over 500 million Europeans who are affected the minute they leave their own country and arrive at another European destination. Not only will the rules be clearer but European citizens will no longer be penalised for making calls or sending messages back home.

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Tories hit families with welfare cuts

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Tories planned £12 billion worth of welfare cuts will have the greatest impact on families. Tax credits and other working age benefits are expected to be slashed and now the right leaning think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), has branded it ‘extremely unfair’.

Despite Cameron Making a speech on the issue of welfare yesterday, his ministers still refuse to give specific details on how the government plans to save £12bn. One possibility is to cut child tax credits back to 2003 levels for those in work as well as housing benefit. It is also thought that some disability benefits could also be affected.

Labour warned during the election campaign that tax credits would be vigorously cut if Cameron returned to power. And Ed Miliband took to Twitter yesterday criticising his speech and suggested that Cameron disguised his own effort to cut tax credits as a way to help working people: “The PM’s one-nation speech feels like a weak attempt to explain why it is OK to cut tax credits and say you stand for working people.”

Although cuts are inevitable, Labour always said it would be done more sensitively, and not aggressively, hurting the most vulnerable in society the hardest. Indeed, Andrew Harrop general secretary of the Fabian Society said of Cameron’s proposed welfare cuts: “This isn’t ‘one nation’; it is nasty politics and terrible policy. The prime minister … hopes to improve life chances for all, but singles out children as the main targets for cuts, once again.”

During his speech Cameron attacked the tax credit system which helps lower paid workers to stay in work. Instead he favours encouraging employers to pay higher wages, based on a living wage.

But he is unlikely to force employers to pay a living wage which would replace the lost tax credits, therefore failing to address the problem of helping working families on low incomes, or to protect the most vulnerable within those families, namely, children.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson has revealed how he faced a thinly veiled attack from David Cameron in the run up to the general election after he threatened to ‘close down the BBC’. Robinson said it was hard to know whether the comments were a joke or a veiled threat.

However I think there is something rather more sinister here. The editorial integrity and independence of the BBC is hugely important and the BBC is under pressure from all sides to ensure it always meets extremely high standards.

Furthermore, elections are especially busy periods and commentators noted how, during the election, senior Tories piled pressure on the BBC pointing to its coverage and on the broadcaster’s future. As Robinson pointed out, ‘The result, was to add to the already intense pressure the BBC faced and this had a real impact on the corporation.’

Clearly it had had an impact and during the interview with the Guardian, Robinson said he had ‘thought quite a lot’ about Cameron’s comments since first writing about them in his recently released book about May’s election. He said they had been interpreted by BBC staff as a veiled threat and ‘another bit of pressure’.

Robinson said comments ‘dropped into conversations publicly and privately’ by other senior Tories, such as the former culture secretary Sajid Javid’s (about alleged BBC bias) added to the effect on staff.

Meanwhile there was disappointing news from the digital industry after figures revealed a significant decrease in the number of women employed in the industry.

Just 27% of those employed in the sector are women, according to a new report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). This is a 6% drop from an already poor percentage of 33% in 2002 and well below the UK average of 47% for female employees.

Not even the report’s authors could give a clear indication as to why so few women are involved in the sector or why the numbers have fallen.

It is estimated that Britain will need 1.2 million digital workers by 2022 and UKCES’s report suggests that the number of women working it he digital sector will still not have reached the level in 2002 of 32%, believing it will barely rise to 30%.

More girls need to be encouraged at a young age, in schools through technology clubs, such as TechFuture Girls, a nationwide network of after-school computer clubs. Such groups have an important role in addressing the gender balance and will help to encourage girls to participate in the digital sector.

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Women who seek access to abortion should be supported not criminalised

Reproductive rights are still far from being a reality in Europe today. Across the EU, many Member States restrict women’s access to abortion and abortion-related care. Some criminalise the procedure altogether.

Recent non-legislative reports in the European Parliament have highlighted the importance of reproductive rights. However, access to abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services is fragmented and, in some cases, now under threat.

In a report earlier this month, the European Parliament affirmed the right to safe and legal abortion and urged the European Commission to include reproductive rights in its next health strategy. A majority of MEPs accepted that universal access to reproductive health services is a human right. Yet, in many Member States, women are being treated as criminals simply for trying to access family planning.

Amnesty International has launched a new campaign, She is not a criminal, focused on the situation in Ireland. It is part of their global campaign on reproductive health and rights, My Body My Rights.

In Ireland, abortion is only permitted in cases where the woman risks death and she must carry a foetus to term even if it is unlikely to survive. This can result in extremely traumatic experiences for women, particularly those who have mental health problems.

Although abortion is illegal – and carries a 14 year prison sentence – women can travel abroad to undergo the procedure instead. It is estimated that as many as 4,000 women and girls travel from Ireland to the UK each year to access abortions. This of course leaves the poorest and most vulnerable women without options.

Through the success of the referendum on equal marriage, Ireland sent a powerful message to the rest of the EU and the world that its citizens believe in equality and universal rights. I hope similar momentum will soon build for a change in abortion laws in Ireland and across the EU.

As we saw in the equal marriage referendum, this kind of change will not come about automatically. This is why I strongly support Amnesty’s campaign and urge you to get involved too.

She is #NotACriminal.

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Investigating and prosecuting rape must be a top priority

In the last ten years, the number of reported rapes in London has risen by 68%. For the same period, the number of people charged with rape has increased by just 17%.

These are some of the findings of a recent independent report by Dame Elish Angiolini into the investigation and prosecution of rape in London. They highlight how survivors of sexual violence are so often let down by the system which is meant to be there to protect and assist them.

Rape is one of the most serious and yet misunderstood crimes. Despite the popular perception, it is most commonly perpetrated by someone known to the victim. The report underlines that broad changes need to be implemented, including ensuring that professional attitudes are fully supportive of complainants’ needs. Police and other agencies must be equipped with the necessary expertise to assist victims and give them the confidence to pursue justice.

It is vital that women who have experienced sexual assault and rape are encouraged to come forward. However, the report says, this must be matched with the resources needed to investigate and prosecute cases whilst supporting complainants.

I welcome this report and will continue to follow developments. Combating sexual violence should be a priority for police not just in London but across whole of the UK and the EU.

You can read the full report here.

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My letter to European leaders calling for gender balance on the EESC

I have long campaigned for equal representation of women and men in politics and in public life.

That is why I have written to leaders of the European institutions setting out why it is necessary that we work towards achieving gender balance on the European Economic and Social Committee.

Dear President Tusk, Dear President Bettel, Dear President Juncker,

We strongly urge you to appoint the new Members of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in a Gender Balanced way that will best represent the composition of the European society. By October 2015 the EESC will be appointing its Members for a new 5-year mandate. It currently has 353 Members drawn from economic, social and various interest groups in Europe. In 2015 the membership numbers must be reduced to less than 350 in accordance with the EU treaty. The Members of the EESC will be appointed by the Council of Ministers after proposals made by the Member States. In this process the Council needs to consult with the Commission, which will make a proposal according to articles 301 and 302 of the TFEU.

The EESC is the ”House of Civil Society” and its role is to promote participatory democracy and advance the values upon which the European integration is founded. Last year in the EESC plenaries 46,000 votes were cast by men, and just 13,000 votes by women. This is not representative of civil society by any means.

The Council and the Commission, have the responsibility towards the EU Treaties and the European citizens to make the appointments of the EESC Members in a fair, gender balanced way that reflects European society itself. Because there is a no modern European Democracy without Gender Equality, we call the Council and the European Commission to reach equal representation within the EESC by appointing 50% women Members to this extremely important EU institution. This should not be taken as a quota, but as a true representation of civil society under the mandate by which they perform their duties.

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