Category Archives: Labour Party

Issue of women on boards still not addressed

The annual Davies report published in the last week reveals that female representation on company boards of the FTSE 100 has reached 23.5%, a figure which has almost doubled in the last four years.

In 2011 an appalling low 12.5% of women had board positions on the FTSE 100. Since then some work has been done to address this, the issue has been raised and debate ensued. However, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was, unsurprisingly, reluctant to entertain the idea that legislation would help to redress the balance and certainly it would do so more quickly.

When Lord Davies was asked to examine the issue he recommended that the FTSE 100 should aim to have a minimum of 25% women on its boards by 2015. We are now in 2015 and this figure has not been achieved. A further 17 women need to be added to top positions before this figure is met.

However, perhaps the most interesting observation I can make is that on closer inspection of the 23.5% figure reveals that just 8.6% of executive directors are women which equates to just 24 women opposed to 255 men. The figures also reveal that there are 239 women non-executive directors and 601 men.

Although there aren’t any all-male boards in the FTSE 100, the Cranfield School of Management reveal that in the FTSE 250 there are still 23 all male boards.

Lord Davies has called the latest figure: “A remarkable rate of change.” On the face of it it is, but in reality the majority of women are non-exec directors, so really female representation at company level hasn’t changed significantly.

The only way to ensure women are properly represented at a senior level is to introduce mandatory quotas for top companies. There are very many credible and capable women in business but they are overlooked just because of their gender and this needs to be properly addressed.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

There is “no evidence that the EU was interfering excessively in any aspect of British life,” a cross party group of peers from the European Union Committee of the House of Lords has found.

Their report was picked up by Toby Helm and reported in the Guardian, despite a concerted attempt by the government to bury the Lords extensive examination. Helm noted: “In a hugely damaging move for the government, the committee of the House of Lords, chaired by former Tory minister Lord Boswell, comes close to saying that ministers tried to cover up the findings, which do not support David Cameron’s claims that the EU is ‘becoming a state’ and has already accrued excessive powers.”

Lord Boswell also criticised the fact that £5mn was spent producing the report but no effort was made to make the results accessible to the public who want to know the truth about the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Meanwhile, Lord Hannay, a former British ambassador to the EU, who now advises British Influence, said: “The outcome of the government’s meticulous and evidence-based Review of the Balance of Competencies of the EU is one of the best-kept secrets of recent months, largely ignored by the media and seldom mentioned by the government itself. And yet it is a crucial element in the election debate over Britain’s future in the EU.

“The single, clear message from the review is that in none of its 32 chapters is there a compelling case for the repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster and Whitehall. So, while the EU needs reform, our relationship with it does not warrant wholesale dismantling,” he added.

We had the first of the TV (non) debates last week. Hosting was Jeremy Paxman who has since been criticised for his interrogation of Ed Miliband, after hundreds of complaints were lodged with Ofcom as a result.

George Eaton, The New Statesman’s political editor, reviewed the debates and said: “It was Ed Miliband who had the most to gain from tonight’s TV event – and he did. He was better-prepared, more fluent and more inspiring than David Cameron.”

Eaton observed: “The evening started badly for the PM as a forensic Jeremy Paxman pressed him on food banks, zero-hours contracts and his net migration pledge. Faced with the kind of sustained scrutiny he rarely endures, Cameron was nervy and rattled. “That’s not the question,” he helplessly pleaded when asked whether he could live on a zero-hours contract, a slip that provoked guffaws in the press room. He never recovered from these missteps and rarely appeared in control.”

It was a bumper spring issue from the New Statesman this week. One article in particular struck me, Spitalfields Nippers. It was a photographic story of the lives of children living in the East End of London in Spitalfields, before the introduction of the Welfare State.

There is an authenticity to the pictures though, and the article points out the compassion of the photographer: “Although his subjects were some of the poorest people in London, Warner’s compassionate portraits stand up in sharp contrast to the stereo typical images created by other social campaigners of that era, those who portrayed children solely as the victims of their economic circumstances and sometimes degraded them further by their very act of photography.”

The photos are raw but provide an important reminder when trying to convey how vital a welfare state is rather than constantly deriding those who need it.

The New Statesman article doesn’t appear to be online so here is one of the collection of images from the Guardian from 2014.

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A modern system of maternity leave

In the UK, families are rightly frustrated with a system which has failed to keep up with the realities of modern life. This is why Labour has proposed a number of policies aimed at helping working families to balance their responsibilities. For example, we have pledged to double paid paternity leave and extend free childcare to 25 hours per week.

At the European level, we continue to push for stronger policies. As I have written about recently, the European Commission has announced that it intends to scrap the proposal for a new directive on maternity leave because it has been blocked by the Council of the EU (formerly the Council of Ministers) for several years. Under the auspices of a programme intended to improve regulatory efficiency (REFIT), we have been given until the end of spring to get negotiations going.

The proposal – first published by the Commission in 2008 and adopted by the European Parliament at its first reading in 2010 – aims to extend the minimum length of maternity leave. The version eventually adopted by the European Parliament put this at 20 weeks (the standard recommended by the WHO) and also included a provision for two weeks of paternity leave.

Since then, the situation has not moved forward. Despite the unreserved willingness of the European Parliament to reach a compromise, ministers in member states, including the UK government, have shown strong opposition to saving this draft directive.

Given the current impasse, and the apparent unwillingness of the Council of the EU to get around the negotiating table, Socialists and Democrats group, which Labour MEPs are part of, have put forward a new set of proposals.

We are proposing 18 weeks statutory leave (the current standard recommended by the ILO) with 6 weeks at 100% of previous pay (then 12 weeks paid in accordance with current practice in Member States, or 85% where no such provision is in place).

We are also calling for a new, separate directive providing for minimum paternity leave of ten working days.

These proposals are relatively modest and merely bring the rights of all women into line with those in other member states who already fulfil stronger criteria, such as the 18 week duration recommended by the ILO.

Differences in access to statutory maternity rights across Europe are stark. In Belgium, women are entitled to a minimum of just nine weeks of postnatal maternity leave. In Bulgaria, by contrast, women are entitled to one year of leave. This disparity goes against the right of women workers to enjoy labour mobility; a founding principle of the European Union enshrined in the Treaties. It is simply indefensible that we have such a variation in the standard of women’s rights available across member states.

Women have been hit the hardest by the crisis and our recovery has been characterised by low wage, precarious employment with women unable to play their full role in the labour market. Unfair and unequal treatment of pregnant workers has long-term effects on our economy and is still a major contributory factor in the gender pay and pensions gaps (16% and 39% respectively). This is why Europe urgently needs a modern maternity leave framework that enables mothers and fathers to pursue fulfilling work and family lives.

Moreover, the demographic challenges posed by Europe’s falling birth rate and ageing population cannot be solved if we ignore maternity policy. Recent research has shown that France’s strong birth rate can be attributed to family and child friendly policies.

My reason for supporting these measures is simple: European women deserve better. The crisis of legitimacy facing our democratic institutions will not be resolved unless all actors engage in an open and accountable manner and demonstrate that they are working in the interests of families across Europe.

It will soon fall to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to explain to the British people why they were not able to cooperate with other EU member states on something as fundamentally important as the health, safety and rights of pregnant women. I look forward with interest to their response.

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Discussing Parliamentary Pioneers on BBC Radio Wales

You can listen again to my interview on BBC radio Wales with Vaughan Roderick where I discuss my book, Parliamentary Pioneers, and also how women are represented in Parliament today.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

I managed to catch up with some of yesterday’s Andrew Marr show yesterday. It was great to see two women MP’s sitting on the sofa doing the newspaper review. Yes there was at times a political edge to it, but in my opinion it gave some more context, additional insight and depth to the stories they were discussing. You can watch the paper review here.

One of the things they discussed was an article in the Independent on Sunday in which the Tory education secretary, Nicky Morgan, admitted poor children face soft bigotry.

She told the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) that Children from poor backgrounds are still being written off as low achievers by their teachers because of the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. She said more needed to be done to stop children being held back. The article didn’t go into exactly what a conservative government would do but Labour has promised to put an end Westminster’s “alpha male” education reform culture.

The shadow education secretary,Tristram Hunt, speaking at the same conference, promised to call time on the “exam factory” approach of recent years and offer in its place greater autonomy for teachers and school leaders.

Hunt said: “The cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see everything through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.”

“Change must come from the bottom up,” he said, adding: “through giving teachers and school leaders the freedom and autonomy to deliver an exciting education”.

He also said the existing model of school improvements simply didn’t work: “The existing model of school improvement is creaking at the seams. The idea that if we just raise the targets, stamp our feet and demand a bit more, then every child will fulfil their potential is now, surely, approaching its end stages.

It is a scandal, that three quarters of children from one area (in this instance Trafford in Greater Manchester) achieve five good GCSE passes while just a 30 minute drive away in Knowsley only 35% of children get the same number of passes.

The ASCL’s general secretary also spoke and warned that the government’s continuous reform of the curriculum was impacting negatively on students because it made it impossible to measure how well England’s schools are performing, in addition parents and employers found it difficult to understand what qualifications are worth.

Meanwhile in France, the far right group led by Marine Le Pen, the Front National failed in its bid to come top in France’s regional elections, putting the party far behind Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP. The UMP secured 30% of the vote in the first round of elections against the FN’s 26%.|

This was an interesting development as polls had suggested that Le Pen’s party would come top. Perhaps following an initial surge in interest voters who had previously considered voting for the far right group can see what the Front National party really stands for and are therefore not prepared to give it the support it requires.

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My speech on the Tarabella report on gender equality

The European Parliament on Tuesday adopted by a large majority – 441 votes for, 205 against and 25 abstentions – the annual report on equality between men and women drawn up by Belgian socialist Marc Tarabella. This report highlights areas where urgent action is needed if we are to achieve targets on gender equality, particularly in the area of women’s employment.

The report comes at a time when progress on gender equality it stagnating and addresses a number of key areas of concern including violence against women, the gender pay gap and maternity leave.

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Half of single parents borrow money to cover childcare

A report by Gingerbread, the advice and support charity for single parents, has found that almost half of single parents (47%) have been forced to borrow money from family, friends or the bank in order to cover their child care costs within the last two years.
The report found that the Government’s claim that Universal Credit will make work pay is totally flawed.

In its release the organisation stated: “The report also shows that a decade old cap on the childcare costs parents can claim back means that, even with the extra help set to be rolled out under Universal Credit – where support will rise from 70 to 85 per cent of costs – for many single parents it still won’t make financial sense to work more hours.”

We know the financial strain many families face when it comes to childcare costs, but for single parents the high cost of childcare could force them out of the job market altogether- which is the reverse effect of what is intended.

In addition, it’s terrible to think that some single parents, in particular, have to turn to friends and family in order to help them cover costs, another sign that they are not receiving the support they need in order to stay in the job market.

The expense of childcare costs can be crippling for families and the financial burden is often very stressful.

Although low income parents will be able to claim up to 85% of childcare costs under Universal Credit this is capped at a limit which has remained unchanged since 2005. However, in the last 10 years, the report finds that the average cost of a part time nursery place has increase by around 70%.

Some of the respondents when interviewed shared some shocking experiences which saw them forced to ‘beg the child-minder’, ‘raid savings’, ‘take out a credit union loan’ or even ‘go without food’. Some felt that their experiences of parenthood was affected as a result and over a third said they used at least three different forms of childcare.

Many said childcare affected their ability to combine work with parenthood. Almost a third said they would work for longer with better childcare, while others described a ‘patchwork’ of assistance including not just schools, nurseries and child-minders but after-school and breakfast clubs, babysitters, grandparents and friends.

Supporting parents back into the workforce is paramount. For many parents having some form of paid employment, whatever it is, is fulfilling but for parents returning to employment, especially single parents, who may have taken a relatively long leave of absence they should be supported and encouraged not faced with barriers.

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