Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

Thursday of this week was Equal Pay Day. This symbolises the date on which women – who earn 15% less than men in the UK – effectively cease to be rewarded for the work they do.

A TUC report published on the same day suggested that in some industries the difference between male and female pay can be as high as £16,000 – the equivalent of a London Living Wage job. The best paid roles were shown to be worst affected, with female health professionals – who receive £25 an hour compared to the £50 earned by male equivalents – faring especially badly.

Figures from across the political spectrum attacked the continued existence of the gender pay gap, with TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady calling it a “huge injustice” and Chancellor George Osborne admitting there remains “a long way to go”. However, Conservatives – including Equalities Secretary Maria Miller – opened themselves up to accusations of paying lip service to the issue by refusing to adopt affirmative measures. Miller said on Friday “I don’t believe government intervention will work”, arguing instead that “cultural change” is the answer.

That we still have a gender pay gap more than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed is a sign that ‘cultural’ changes do not come about in isolation. They require some kind of socio-economic stimulus from government. The UK’s post-austerity backslide on gender equality highlights this; laissez-faire policies have penalised women more than men, and we have fallen behind many of Europe’s more proactive Member States. Since 2010, for example, Holland, France and Italy have all, thanks to binding legislation, accelerated far faster than us on the subject of getting women into boardrooms.

Insisting on voluntary solutions to close the gender pay gap means that the effort to achieve gender equality continues to swim against the tide. The overwhelming momentum of more immediate marketplace drivers is simply too strong. If the elimination of the pay gap is ever to be achieved then a more substantial commitment from government is required.

The end of the week, meanwhile, saw the City of London Corporation’s Lord Mayor’s Show at Michaelmas ‘Common Hall’. At the event on Saturday Fiona Woolf formally took office as Lord Mayor of London, becoming the 686th appointee to the role.

Woolf is an impressive candidate, who has fought her way to the top of the legal profession and been given a fellowship at Harvard. The Lord Mayor’s position has been an almost exclusively male domain since it was created in 1189. Woolf’s election makes her just the second woman to hold to post – the first being the 1983 incumbent Dame Mary Donaldson.

A ratio of 343:1 for gender representation is unimpressive by any standards. It falls a long way short of Lord Davies’ 25% target for women on boards!

The City of London’s gender pay gap currently stands at 33%. This means that, despite being a place which sets the economic tone nationally, it actually lags behind the rest of the country for women’s pay. Let’s hope that Woolf’s appointment symbolises a wider commitment to gender equality from those in the financial sector.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

For much of last week politics was dominated by David Cameron’s ‘EU Speech’. Andrew Rawnsley’s analysis had some interesting observations, such as the fact that much of the jubilation following the speech came from the ‘enemies on the benches behind him’.

Rawnsley noted that it was the wrong people clapping: “Those most delighted by his promise of an in-out referendum are the visceral Euro-haters for whom he has just fired the starting gun on a five-year campaign to leave Europe whatever he comes back with from any renegotiation.”

The other point that Rawnsley makes rather well is that it is an issue Cameron has previously resisted, but it was a speech he was forced to give for internal party management reasons, and in that, Rawnsley writes, it has been a success, but argues this will be short lived.

Rawnsley warns that after the initial buzz “the speech will prove to be a terrible mistake, quite possibly the fatal error of his premiership. David Cameron has taken a great leap into the dark, which would not be so serious if he were not making his country jump with him.”

Indeed another point, well made, is that Cameron can’t possibly know who he is going to attempt to negotiate with because there are a lot of elections between now and 2017, not least in Germany this autumn. You can read his article in full here.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to downsize, it will have its funding cut and will inevitably lose some of its power. The Guardian asked, ‘will it lose its purpose?’
As its funding will be slashed from £70m to £17m, many have raised fears about the government’s regard for rights.

It was, as the article points out, a difficult beginning for the EHRC and it required reform. However, several people who are close to the organisation have suggested “there appears to be a deliberate attempt to give the reformed body a lower profile.”

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has confirmed fears in a written response to the Guardian Questions: “Miller acknowledged the change of style and said the EHRC should avoid being a campaigning or lobbying organisation.” She said: “Of course we need impassioned lobbyists in the area of equalities but that is not the role of the EHRC. It shouldn’t be leading emotive campaigns; rather its role is to be an expert witness [and] to make recommendations on the basis of the facts”.

You can read more on the future of the EHCR here.

When it comes to abortion ministers should deal in facts

Labour Party

The studies on survival rates for babies born before 24 weeks, published in the British Medical Journal, shed a welcome light onto the debate about the current 24-week limit.  In October the Minister for Women, Maria Miller, said the limit should be lowered because babies are surviving at ever younger gestational stages, while the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, called for the limit to be halved to 12 weeks.

 The finding from the two studies conducted 11 years apart is that there has been no significant improvement in the survival of extremely premature babies born before 24 weeks.  This contradicts Cabinet ministers’ claims that the abortion limit should be lowered because, to quote Maria Miller, “the science has moved on”.

 As the Independent puts it in their leader, “by pouring cold water on Ms Miller’s claims, the figures also amply illustrate the danger of politicians’ co-opting half-baked science to bolster personal prejudices, however sincerely held. Those with the power to govern have a duty to establish the facts. Abortion is a tricky enough issue already without ministers adding to the confusion”.

The Tories should look to their own record in the House of Commons before ruling out quotas for women on company boards

Labour Party

Maria Miller in the Sunday Times a couple of days ago derided what she called Labour’s “obsession” with the number of women on company boards.

At least we now know where the Tories stand on the issue. As the Sunday Times points out, Miller’s comments signal a shift in the Tory-led Coalition’s approach to women in the workplace.

In February 2011 Government Ministers welcomed a landmark report by Lord Davies of Abersoch which set a target of 25 per cent female representation on the boards of the top 100 listed companies by 2015. Earlier this year David Cameron said he would not rule out going further and using quotas as a means of getting women into top executive jobs, according to the Sunday Times.

Miller, it appears, is now moving away from Cameron’s position. She apparently sees helping women juggle work and family life and providing greater access to childcare as the answer to getting more women on to company boards.  While both of these are extremely laudable aims, they are only steps on the road to equality for women in top posts.

A look at the Tories’ record in electing women to the House of Commons is instructive. Having introduced all women shortlists (the parliamentary equivalent of quotas) for Commons constituencies before the 1997 general election, 31 per cent of current Labour MPs are women. The Tories, who have no mandatory system but rely on voluntary measures, have only 16 per cent.

Later this week European Commissioner Viviane Reding will make a further announcement about her plans for more women on the boards of leading companies. Miller will, of course, continue to oppose quotas. She also claims that Viviane Reding’s proposal has already been rejected once, which is quite simply not true. In actual fact, as opposed to Tory EU make-believe, when Reding introduced her ideas at a recent meeting of the European Commission, no decision was taken in order to allow time for further discussions – hardly a rejection.

In the course of the Sunday Times article Miller inevitably trotted out the old cliché that women want and expect to reach the top on merit not because of political correctness. I get extremely angry with this attitude, implying as it does that women do not have the ability to fill and do well in top jobs and that women appointed as part of a quota system will merely be tokens.

Women are just as able and intelligent as men. They do, however, have children and sadly discrimination still exists. Quotas are a means of getting women to where they should be. Once that is achieved, quotas will no longer be needed.

There is no need to reduce the time limit for abortion

Labour Party

Recently appointed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s startling statement that the abortion time limit should be reduced to a mere 12 weeks should give us all pause for thought.

Hunt is the person at the very top, the man who will be charged, if the time ever comes, with any legislation on abortion.

I need hardly point out that halving the current time limit of 24 weeks to a mere 12 will virtually outlaw legal termination all together. We will return to the era of Mike Leigh’s acclaimed film Vera Drake when back street abortions were the only answer and women suffered and sometimes died.

I, and I believe most reasonable, compassionate people do not wish to return to the situation before the 1967 Abortion Act.

Abortion is of course undesirable. It is always difficult for those involved. Rarely do women choose to have a termination. When a woman decides to have an abortion she generally does so because the health of the unborn child or her own safety is at risk, she has been raped or her circumstances are so impossible that a child would be unlikely to thrive. We should, in addition, not forget that a termination has to be agreed by two doctors.

The NHS’s own website states that the majority of abortions (98%) are carried out before 20 weeks, 90% of which are performed before 13 weeks.  Information from the Office for National Statistics states: “For women in their twenties and early thirties the percentage of abortions has remained relatively stable and is now in decline.”

Despite many medical advances over the past thirty years, the evidence simply does not stack up that foetal viability has improved past 24 weeks.  Only a tiny number of abortions take place at this point in the gestation cycle, and it is nothing short of scandalous that a Secretary of State can demonstrate such disregard for facts, while also doing nothing to support women who undergo this procedure.

We all want to see the number of abortions in Britain falling. The reality is, however, that abortion will always need to be an option for some women. If safe, legal and clean abortions are made harder to obtain, the numbers of women seeking illegal terminations will certainly rise; thus greatly endangering their lives and long term health.

Given that the majority of abortions are carried out before 20 weeks, Prime Minister David Cameron’s view that the limit should be reduced to 20 weeks, also expressed by Home Secretary Theresa May and Minister for Women Maria Miller, does nothing to move the practical argument forward. Instead, what we see are the Tories attacking hard fought access to abortion which could ultimately harm the health of our nation.