The gender pay gap is simply not acceptable

Labour Party

It was announced, late last week that companies with more than 250 employees must reveal the pay gap that exists within their company between men and women.

Some 8,000 employers are affected by this and those who fail to address the gender pay gap will be named and shamed in a published league table. Employers must calculate and record the figure from April 2017 and by April 2018 the first tables will be published.

Women in the UK still earn on average 20% less than men so it’s quite clear that this must be addressed and urgently. As Labour’s shadow and equalities minister, Kate Green, pointed out if we continue at the current pace it will be another 47 years before any kind of equality is reached. It’s simply not good enough.

I hear concerns of businesses that the tables could become nothing more than a ‘box ticking’ exercise. But the reports will be detailed and businesses and organisations will be required to break these down into pay ranges which will reveal where gaps are at their widest.

Businesses will also be forced to publish their figures on their company websites and senior executives will have to personally ‘sign off’ on the annual figures.

While this announcement goes to some lengths to challenge such blatant discrimination it is a real shame that not a single figure will be released for another two years when reporting becomes mandatory.

It’s not a case of embarrassing ‘bad’ employers, as some argue, rather it forces them to consider a form of discrimination that may not even be a conscious decision for them. Not all employers are bad but it does give them a wakeup call.

Women and men must be seen as equal in the workplace and this really should be happening today. As I’ve said before, closing the pay gap is good for business it encourages talented women who may not have considered doing so before to seek to move into positions of greater responsibility.

And knowledge is power. Without these tables how else can are we able to get a true reflection of the scale of the problem and therefore look at what action is needed to address it.

The TUC wants companies who fail in this area to be fined. While this is not something under consideration in this country, the situation in France where this is in place has had un-intended consequences with some companies prepared to pay the fines instead of addressing the issue of the gender pay gap for which they are being fined.

As a first step reporting is encouraging and should be welcomed, but it may not go far enough and the biggest concern is that the gender pay gap continues to exist for many more generations yet.

A host of packages are needed to change the culture of women being paid less than men and this includes encouraging more girls to study subjects such as Maths and Science as well as introducing mandatory quotas for women on company boards, something I have campaigned for a long time. Without this change will be slow and at a pace that for many women is rightly unacceptable.

Everywoman Safe Everywhere

Labour Party

Since the Tory cuts began, women have been seen to bear the greatest impact in every area of life. One area of growing concern for me is the negative effect of the cuts on women’s safety. 

The safety of women across the country is increasingly at risk. It is at risk because of reductions in police numbers, as seen in my London constituency, and it is at risk because councils are cutting back on street lights in an effort to save money.

It is also at risk because organisations which support women to leave abusive relationships or jobs in which they are sexually exploited and abused have lost their funding. These are organisations like the Derby Women’s Centre which is currently under threat of closure as a result of cuts to its funding. My colleague Glenis Willmott, MEP for the East Midlands and Labour’s  Leader in Europe, spoke out against the cuts to its funding yesterday.

A number of women’s refuges and other specialist organisations which offer a safe space for women who have been abused are also suffering as a result of the cuts. Such organisations provide crucial support to victims of domestic violence, women who have been trafficked and the homeless. Last year I spoke a lot about the Poppy Project and the cuts to its funding. The Poppy project is an excellent organisation which provides support to survivors of trafficking.

For some of the most vulnerable women, like those who have recently left abusive relationships, access to a crisis loan can be an important resource. This is especially true if a woman has had to leave behind her possessions when escaping her abuser. This type of emergency loan can assist her in starting to rebuild her life.

Recent welfare reform proposals shift the control of such crisis funds to already stretched local authorities with no checks to ensure the funding is spent on providing crisis support.

They also rather ludicrously suggest that councils could provide support in kind rather than money to people who apply for crisis funds. Women who have taken the brave move of leaving abusive partners should not have to suffer the lack of autonomy and indignity associated with receiving food parcels.

A coalition of 20 charities, including Banardo’s and Women’s Aid, has called for the ring-fencing of funds to provide crisis loans in a letter to the Guardian last weekend. You can read the letter here.

In response to the ever increasing impact of Tory cuts on women’s safety, the Labour Party is carrying out a Public Consultation.

The Consultation was opened shortly before the Christmas break but I felt given the hectic holiday period it might be a good idea to revisit it with you now we are in the New Year.

The findings from the Consultation will be used get a clearer picture of the cumulative impact of tory decision making and to develop legislative measures that could be used to make women safer. It will also be used as an opportunity to consult on Labour’s proposals for a new Personal Safety Bill.

The consultation is chaired by Vera Baird QC who will be supported by Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Equalities) and Stella Creasy MP (Shadow Minister for Crime Prevention).

If you would like to find out more about the consultation or take part, please visit the Everywoman Safe Everywhere website. Together we can make Britain a safer place for women.

Women are safer with Labour

Labour Party

It was good to see that the commission on women’s safety chaired by former Solicitor General Vera Baird QC with assistance from Labour MPs Kate Green and Stella Creasey has just had its first meeting.

 Now it is established, Labour’s commission will scope out the key current issues on women’s safety with the leading national women’s sector groups. In the New Year, it will go nationwide to gather evidence and find out whether current concerns are justified and whether the reality is better or worse.

 The commission will be looking for fresh ideas and investigating what legislative measures might safeguard women in the future.

 Meanwhile, intense work has taken place in the European Parliament to safeguard the Daphne programme, the only EU programme combating violence against women, children and young people.

 Set up in 1997, the Daphne initiative supports small scale projects that bring NGOs together from at least two EU member states to co-operate on data collection, research, analysis, sharing good practice, training and raising awareness of domestic violence, amongst other things. Daphne funds NGOs public authorities and institutions such as universities. In recent years the annual Daphne budget has been around EUR 20 million.    

 It has generally been recognised that Daphne has been successful and has provided much needed funding and encouragement or projects tackling domestic violence.

 However, there have been attempts to reduce the reach of the Daphne programme. Many MEPs, including myself, were concerned a few months ago when the European Commission put forward plans to wrap Daphne up with other subjects under a catch-all heading of justice, rights and citizenship.

 The European Parliament Women’s Committee took up the baton on behalf of the Daphne programme, insisting that domestic violence be kept as a specific issue under the new proposals.

 Today the Women’s Committee passed a report defending Daphne, which included the following:

 “……..calls on the Commission, when promoting the programme Rights and Citizenship, to make it possible to still identify the projects concerning the objectives of the Daphne programme, which is wisely known, so as to keep the program me’s profile as high as possible.”

 The battle may not yet be won, but I am feeling more confident that the excellent work done by the Daphne programme will continue and that those women and children so desperately needing help will still be able to access EU funds.