Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Last week was of course International Women’s day, the theme was equal pay. I spent a lot of time covering the subject and also the issue of introducing mandatory quotas for women on boards.

The day was not restricted to this debate only, so the Guardian asked some influential women what they considered to be their priorities for women and what they were going to fight for on the day. Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray said affordable child care was paramount while author Katy Lette questioned marriage and suggested that, at times, it can resemble slave labour.
You can read their reasoning’s here.

It’s a pity we still consider there is much to fight for in 2012, but there is and we must not lose sight of this and continue to improve opportunities for the generations of women to follow us.

I came across a powerful blog last week, in which I learnt a total of 1000 women die each day somewhere in the world due to preventable complication in pregnancy or childbirth.

The World Bank boasts it’s a ‘global leader’ in reproductive health but fails to mentions that it has committed little more than 0.2% of its $43bn for the financial year (2011).

The Guardian blog reports that almost half of its reproductive health projects in Sub-Saharan Africa are funded by loans. The loans will obviously have an adverse effect on countries already suffering all sorts of problems, many of which are already in debt and will likely discourage administrations from further investment. Those who will suffer the most? The answer is women, the poorest women to be precise.

Spending cuts like these are devastating to poor women who, as the report states, ‘suffer directly from reduced access to healthcare but are responsible for the health of their households.’

Writing a blog for the Guardian, Elizabeth Arend, programme coordinator at Gender Action, called on The World Bank to re-evaluate its strategies for reducing maternal mortality if it is ever going to live up to its claim of being a ‘global leader’ in improving reproductive health.

She also calls for The Bank to ‘increase the number of grants it provides to expand access to reproductive and maternal healthcare — including post-abortion care — and eliminate any fees attached to these vital services.’ Certainly if The Bank would like to hold onto its title of a world leader in this area then it really must show the world how well it’s leading us. You can read the full article here.

Having worked in and run charities for many years, I was concerned, but not surprised to learn more about the true impact of brutal Tory cuts revealed in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror. Vincent Moss’ excellent article found how charities lose billions, £5.5bn, this year alone, and it’s the poorest being hit the hardest.

The claim comes from a leaked report by charity bosses which says: “We estimate that cuts to the charity sector in the UK in 2011/12 will range from just under £1billion (£970 million) in the very best scenario, to just over £5.5billion in the very worst.”

The result is that much needed services provided by charities are being forced to close daily. I’m not entirely sure how Mr Cameron thinks the Big Society works, but relying on the good nature of people and charities to provide services without any budget is not practicable or sustainable in any way.

You can read Vincent Moss’ full analysis here.

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 Given a Poor Deal by the Banks

Labour Party

Evidence has come to light today that women are being discriminated against by banks.

The report, entitled ‘Women and Banks: Are Female Customers Facing Discrimination?’, by Noreena Hertz, looks at several cases where banks have discriminated against pregnant women and those on maternity leave. It also looks into the different treatment of male and female entrepreneurs when applying for venture financing loans. 

One bank manager told a mortgage applicant: women “get all indecisive about whether they’re going back to work” after child having children, according to Helen Rumbelow’s excellent article in The Times today.

In itself this comment in incredibly sexist, reminiscent of the 19th Century when women were frequently diagnosed with hysteria. Perhaps even more shocking is that the bank manager who made that comment is a woman.

I find it absolutely appalling that banks may be discriminating against women in this day and age. I am also surprised to find that the Financial Ombudsman supports the banks in this action, who said that was a “legitimate commercial judgement”.

Not only is denying an individual access to funds based on their gender ethically wrong, it is also completely illegal both in the UK and in Europe. These legal protections are the products of many years of progress through laws such as the Equality Act and pages of legal case work.

The sexist discrimination in the financial services industry does not stop here though. The report also highlights that women-owned firms are charged higher interest rates on their loans than comparative firms owned by men.

I struggle to see how women-owned businesses present a greater risk to financiers than their male counterparts. In fact several studies have shown that women owned businesses have a better credit rating overall.

It appears that the whole culture of this industry is geared against women succeeding in business. A study undertaken by the Labour Government in 2004 found women owned businesses were “more likely to face discouragement when applying for external finance”.

Such barriers to women becoming home owners, or their full participation as entrepreneurs are particularly disheartening at a time when they are being hit the hardest by Tory cuts and are looking for new ways to support themselves.  This is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with in the most robust way possible.  I only hope that this government, supposedly pro-business and home-ownership, will do everything it can to address this staggering inequality.