Category Archives: Labour Party

Gender pricing: women are being paid less and charged more

Labour MPs yesterday initiated a debate in parliament on what is known as gender pricing, or the ‘pink tax’. It may sound  unbelievable but research has uncovered a widespread practice of retailers charging a different price for the same consumer goods or services on the basis of gender. The Times found price differences across a range of items, with those marketed at women 37% more expensive on average compared to those marketed at men.

Examples of products which are more expensive when targeted at a female market include clothing, razors, pens and toys. Boots has today announced a review of some of its products, following calls from Labour MPs and feminist campaigners.

The gender pay gap in the EU stands at sixteen per cent. In the UK, it is even higher at just under twenty per cent. It is therefore extremely worrying that women seem to be penalised when purchasing products. Over the course of a lifetime, these additional costs become very significant.

Governments should be working closely with retailers and manufacturers to establish why almost identical products are marketed to women at a higher price. If there is no discernible difference between the products, we have to ask why they are being presented as suitable for only one gender. Misleading people in this way is a matter of both gender equality and consumer protection.

The European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, which I am a member of, will also be looking at the issue of gender inequality in taxation in the coming months. I will call for robust research into unequal gender pricing and, where necessary, action to root out unfair or discriminatory practices.


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Women’s Committee adopts my report on women refugees

Last week the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) adopted my report which explores the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers.

I was interviewed by the European Parliament immediately after the FEMM committee voted to adopt the report.

The report reveals that women flee persecution in their home countries, embark on perilous trips in the hope they will eventually reach a place of safety. However, en route the majority become vulnerable to sexual violence and other criminal acts such as trafficking. And by the time they reach reception centres they face additional barriers which can cause further harm. As a result they are traumatised, exhausted and disorientated.

The report calls for the adoption of a number of measures which would make women seeking asylum, often travelling with young children and other dependants, feel less vulnerable, safer and more comfortable on arrival in reception centres. Some of the things it calls for include:

• gender-specific training for staff including comprehensive training on sexual violence, trafficking and Female Genital Mutilation.
• gender-segregated sleeping and sanitation facilities
• the right to request female interviewers and interpreters
• access to gender-sensitive health services including prenatal and postnatal care, and trauma counselling
• Childcare”

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War Games

Renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the European Union, earlier this week, grandees of European and British politics spent the day simulating renegotiation talks during a ‘mocked up’ summit.

The simulation also explored what negotiations might look like if Britain voted to leave the European Union.

John Bruton, Taoiseach of Ireland 1996-1997, said the consequences for Ireland would be serious: “Ireland regarded Britain’s exit as an unfriendly act. Peace in Ireland would be set back considerably if, as a result of the UK leaving, the EU we had to re-introduce border posts along the line of Ireland to collect tariffs on EU exports to the UK and vice versa and also had to prevent EU immigrants entering Britain.

“We’d have to have border controls and the effect this would have on the people of Northern Ireland and on the atmosphere of peace we’ve created through years and years of and hard work would be very very bad indeed.”

Another politician to raise concern was the former Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, also a participant. He warned: “If such an exit occurred the consequences would be very negative and as a result of such irrational actions years and years of negotiations [would be needed to resolve it].”

He pointed out that it would pose a big problem for the competitiveness of both the UK and Europe because it would spend and waste a lot of time and money just for the legacy of the Brexit.

Meanwhile, others hinted there may be little good-will towards the UK if it voted to leave the European Union- meaning the likelihood of arranging a suitable trade deal between the EU and the UK would be made difficult. There were also warnings that many of the freedoms the UK expected to achieve if it voted to leave the EU would turn out to be a mirage.

Participants warned that agreements such as those on free trade, the movement of workers and the conduct of UK financial services would still be subject to either direct or indirect EU influence.

During the round table discussions, British politicians were warned “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. In other words it would not be able to cherry pick its best deals. It also warned that British citizens inside the EU would be at a serious disadvantage with “questionable legal status”.

Moving on to a discussion about London continuing as Europe’s financial centre, there was broad agreement that continuing to have a financial centre outside of the European border was not viable, as the former EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht pointed out: “How can you expect after leaving the European economy that that economy would accept its financial centre is outside its borders?”

Although this was a simulation the politicians agreed the scenarios and discussions were realistic with former politicians ploughing through possible scenarios, seeking to find a solution.

This was an interesting exercise which gave observers, and other interested parties, an opportunity not just to see what could happen in the specific scenario of the UK voting to leave the European Union but also it provided refreshing insight into how serious political negotiation takes place and how politicians resolve issues through, often heated, discussion and compromise.

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So what’s the plan Mr Farage?

Many of you will have seen, and hopefully shared, the Stronger In campaign film video, which depicts the contradictory and confused messages of the ‘Out’ campaign.


It clearly shows the lack of an alternative the Out campaign has for our country. Do we want to have nothing to do with the EU, have a free trade agreement, be part of the European Economic Area, be part of the European Free Trade Association, renegotiate terms? If we wish to do all of this, what is the point of voting to leave?


Here are some things to consider if we were, indeed to leave:


‘Leave’ supporters say look at Norway. We say do we want EU rules to apply to us when we have no say in them? Will TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) really not affect us in the internal market? Of course it is better that we remain and have our say on issues as diverse as the refugee crisis, international trade deals, climate change agreements, labour and industrial relations as well as data protection rules.


Should we try to renegotiate on an agreement by agreement basis?


‘Look at Switzerland’ we are told. The Swiss model isn’t viable for the UK. No services agreement with the EU exists, a challenge for the UK as so much of our economy is based on the trade in services, so the EU could simply operate as a protectionist bloc. We also have to take into account the political aspects of such a relationship.


The EU has been trying to avoid ‘special’ relationships, instead working to deepen its own internal market, and is therefore unlikely to view a British move towards the Swiss situation with much favour. In fact, since Switzerland’s referendum vote to limit immigration, the EU has rejected many of its terms, surely the cornerstone of the ‘Out’ campaign, and also blocked its students from participating in the highly regarded and competitive European student exchange programme, ERASMUS. So in this case we would not be free to restrict free movement, and our students would not be able to benefit from study abroad.


Should we then attempt a mixture of these things?


Any ‘mix’ would have to be recognised by the Treaties, as well as opening up the problems above. We also wouldn’t necessarily have automatic access to free trade deals made by the EU, and so would neither be able to trade with those countries nor indeed have the backing of the EU in concluding agreements.


As Jean-Claude Piris, former chief legal advisor at the Council of Ministers, has pointed out: “in exchange for access to the EU single market, the UK would have to apply corresponding EU rules”.


So we have to ask again, what is the point of voting to leave the EU, claiming we will regain our sovereignty, only to be forced to apply exactly the same rules as before? Can we really expect, as Mr Farage is fond of claiming, that we can make all the trade deals that suit the UK? Isn’t it far more likely that the USA, China, Brazil, India and the rest of the world, will impose terms on us? Why negotiate from a position of weakness, not having access to the Single Market, when we can do so from strength with 27 other countries forming the largest economy in the world behind us?


Nobody is saying the European Union is perfect, but so much work can continue to be done from inside the European project, not least to improve the rights of women, ensure more transparency in our international dealings, guarantee more security at home and abroad for our citizens, make starting a business easier, encourage and support our young people in education and as they enter the job market.


However, we all recognise the need to be part of that change and to drive it forward. That is where the UK belongs.

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Why has an area of Leeds been given a licence for a managed sex zone?

A pilot project in Leeds where ‘sex workers’ are permitted to operate between the hours of 7pm and 7am has been made permanent.

The initial pilot in the Holbeck area of the city began in October 2014 with the managed area made permanent despite the murder of a 21-year-old prostitute found within the zone just before Christmas.

The death of the 21-year-old is not the only violent crime to have taken place inside the zone, where there have reportedly been numerous attacks and two reported rapes.

Why, then, has the Holbeck area of Leeds been given permission for a permanent managed sex zone? Putting sex workers and prostitution in a ghetto like this won’t solve the problem. Moreover it is hugely concerning that the decision was made less than three weeks after the prostituted woman I’ve already mentioned suffered fatal injuries an attack.

The project was apparently launched, following research which revealed that Police action against sex workers was failing to reduce levels of prostitution. That doesn’t surprise me- but to my mind the solution which then followed, to create a controlled zone, was the wrong one.

I agree that prostituted women should not be prosecuted by the Police; however, another more understanding approach is, I believe, more helpful to these women the vast majority of whom do not do the work they do through choice.

Many readers of this blog may know I favour the Nordic model of prostitution which decriminalises the seller of sex and instead criminalises the purchaser of sex. I heard on a radio debate last week that since this model was adopted in Sweden there has not been a single reported murder on a sex worker.

I’m concerned that other local authorities are now considering a similar model following the apparent ‘success’ of the Leeds project.

Superintendent Sam Millar, who heads the Safer Leeds community safety partnership, said: “Our job is to keep people safe and that applies when people put themselves in risky situations”. But I honestly believe there are other more sensible and more effective ways to help those in dangerous situations.

One way is to adopt the Nordic model as I’ve outlined but also to work in partnership with other agencies and stakeholders to help these women find a way out of prostitution which I believe they almost never go into out of choice.

There are far better and safer ways to deal with prostitution than by the creation of an unsafe hazardous area disguised as a ‘safe’ place to carry out sex work.

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How do you tackle sex trafficking across Europe?

The problem of sex trafficking in Europe was the subject of a documentary broadcast on the BBC World Service last week which I was a contributor to.

The programme, Red Lights and Red Lines, is a fascinating exploration of how Europe is seeking to tackle the problem. While some countries favour liberal reforms, others take a conservative approach – either way it appears that neither have the answer to eradicating the growing problem of sex trafficking within and across Europe.

How European policy should develop to tackle the issue is still very much in debate.

I’ve posted the entire programme because the level of insight into the problem is so interesting.

I hope you find it equally valuable.

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DUP’s new leader must address Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation

The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) in Northern Ireland has a new leader. Arlene Foster, the first woman leader of the party was unanimously elected last year and begins her new role this week. Of course, I wish Mrs Foster well as the leader, and will follow with interest to see how she sorts some of the social and moral issues with which the Northern Ireland legislature is faced.

While there may be a honeymoon period of sorts, Mrs Foster must show leadership in relation to her own party’s wide ranging views on issues such as same sex marriage and abortion. The latter is an area in which Mrs Foster has a responsibility to address with urgency. Indeed, Mrs Foster has the opportunity to help many women and girls in Northern Ireland who are faced with punitive abortion laws, developed in the 19th century.

Reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion law is urgent, not least following a landmark ruling last month which found the current abortion legislation to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) by the High Court in Belfast.

Explaining his decision, Mr Justice Horner said he found the current law to be in breach of the ECHR because it does not allow abortion’s for women who become pregnant through rape or incest or as a result of a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis.

Despite its unlawful abortion law the BBC reported that Mrs Foster would not be drawn on the issue: “Mrs Foster has reiterated the DUP’s opposition to same sex marriage and has declined to respond directly to questions about whether DUP MLAs might get a free vote on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality,” its report said.

In another interview Mrs Foster said she opposed bringing Northern Ireland’s abortion law into line with the rest of the UK by extending the 1967 Abortion Act, which applies in England, Scotland and Wales, but would “consider carefully Mr Justice Horner’s judgement”.

Northern Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in any country within Europe, relating back to legislation from the 1861 Offences against a Person Act.

It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who undergoes or performs an unlawful abortion could be jailed for life.

Mrs Foster may be looking forward to a settling in period but she has both an opportunity and obligation to improve the health care of women living in Northern Ireland by urgently addressing this unlawful and punitive piece of legislation.

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