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Mother’s Day the Labour Party Way

A speech by Women’s Officer, Danielle Spencer at the General Committee Meeting held at BHASVIC on Saturday 25th March

(See after the speech for model motions for branches on the power pledge and child care)

Danielle Spencer

Sunday 26th of March was mother’s day in the UK and as Women’s Officer for Hove CLP I was very happy that our first General meeting, held the day before Mother’s Day, as a new Constituency Labour Party, was focused on women’s rights. We focused on women’s political participation in our own party and on the way in which women have been let down by over the past 7-years of Tory rule and neoliberalism more generally.

First, let me tell you about my own mother and my own grandmother.  My mum raised me on her own – no mean feat in 1980s Liverpool. I grew up in council flats, living day-to-day on what food the dole could support us with.  My first period was marked with a lack of money for sanitary towels. Food had poor nutrition and I remember weeks were we lived on very little.  Twenty years later, this situation is shamefully worse and more families are now living on the breadline.  I am very proud to be part of a Labour Party who donate food, and who donate sanitary items to ensure that women and girls can engage in their daily activities without being held back by their period.  It feels strange speaking these words.  In my day job the organisation I work for provides women and girls in developing and humanitarian countries with menstrual hygiene products for the same reason.  There is an assumption amongst campaigners that this is happening elsewhere – but austerity has meant that women and girls in Britain are experiencing this more and more.

Toxteth, post-riots, was not a great place to be and the education system reflected that. My Nan came to the rescue and offered her support to take me to and from school each day to a state school each day that was in a better area close to her house.  This was of course something that the school was not aware of and they believed that I lived with my Nan about ten minutes away from school.  Instead I was travelling, from the age of 8, 2-hours per day to be able to access my right to a decent education. My Nan sacrificed 4 hours of her time each day to support me to do this. That’s 20 hours per week.  No child, no family should have to do this.  It made me acutely aware, from a young age, that the class divide was alive and well and that the talk of the government about meritocracy was deeply, deeply flawed. I owe so much to my Nan.  Most of us owe a huge amount to our mothers and grandmothers. The care that they provide, freely, is what allows us to progress.  Globally, women work 6-years of their life more than men because of the unpaid care burden they carry – child care, cleaning, care of older family members. In the UK, alone according to the ONS, women work 60% more than men in unpaid care. As services are cut, this increases.

As a women’s rights advocate who has worked around the world, I find it deeply disturbing that the issues I have seen in the least developed countries of the world have been replicated here under austerity.  They came in slowly, in stages and their insidious nature meant that often people didn’t notice their rights being taken away.  Women have borne the brunt of this burden.

According to Sarah Champion, the shadow equalities minister, 86% of the burden of austerity has fallen on women since 2010 – a figure that remains entirely static from last year. Inequality is business as usual: by 2020, a decade on from when austerity first began, men will still have borne just 14% of the total burden of “welfare” cuts.

Analysis by independent thinktank the Women’s Budget Group, shows that tax and benefit changes since 2010 will have hit women’s incomes twice as hard as men by 2020. Women will be over £1,000 a year worse off by 2020 on average – almost double the amount that men will pay.

Of course, less affluent women will be affected more deeply: those with below-average incomes will find themselves £1,678 worse off. Many belong to the “just managing” families that Theresa May falsely promised to support.

Lone parents – 90% of whom are single mothers – will be particularly affected. Some working single parents will lose up to a month’s income as a result of cuts arising from the introduction of universal credit. And universal credit, a new benefit that merges several benefits and tax credits, will be paid by default into the account of the main earner in each household. This undermines women’s economic independence and plays into the hands of those partners who would seek to leverage financial power over their partners in an abusive and controlling way.

Let’s talk about my mum again as an example, she was a survivor of domestic violence and after years of abuse she found the courage to not only leave, but also to prosecute the perpetrator.  We stood in court and gave evidence against him and he was found guilty.  The law that Peter Kyle has campaigned for is extremely worth-while and commendable. But there have been a raft of new laws during the past 7-years. These laws are wholly inadequate however, when services are not in place.  My mum, inspired by her own experiences, started working in shelters for domestic violence survivors. Two years ago she had to leave the sector because the jobs where simply not there.  The government can claim that they are focused on women and girls, and put fancy legislation in place, but unless they put their money where their mouth is, it is simply smoke and mirrors.  With policies that leave women poorer and less economically empowered the Conservatives have failed women. They have left women in a weaker financial position, in a position where they have to deliver more unpaid care work (making it even more difficult to access education or better paying jobs) and have taken away services that respond to violence against women – violence that would be exacerbated by poverty and stress and weakened economic empowerment.

Here in Brighton and Hove, we need only to look at this week’s front pages to see the impact of austerity on women and girls.  Shana Grice may still be alive if police had had the training, time and resources to be able to respond appropriately to the reports of violence and intimidation that her killer put her through for months before he horrifically murdered her.

Loss of life can also be seen in the cuts to the NHS with people over the age of 75 most affected (and let’s not forget that women are disproportionately represented in that age group) and reductions in healthcare spending are associated with increased maternal mortality rates due to the changes in provision of skilled health professionals attending birth.  This is just the tip of the iceberg in how the cuts to the NHS have effected women and as the cuts get deeper so will the wounds they inflict on women.

Even keeping guards on trains has a gendered aspect to it – I know as a woman travelling late on my commute home from work, I would feel safer with a guard somewhere on the train.

The change starts with us.  The change starts now.

The Labour Party is the only party that will deliver for women and that needs to be reflected at all levels of the party – from the grassroots up – it is all of our responsibility.  That is why I am proud to share with you two draft motions that have been placed under your seat.  These are very much draft form and will need to be adapted to the needs and conditions of your particular branch.

The first motion is the powerpledge:

This is a suggested motion.  It is not meant to be prescriptive in any way, but it would be good if this motion could be shared with your branch and a proposer sought (if you do not wish to propose this motion yourself). Even the act of debating the pledge will allow for issues of power, privilege and gender to be debated in branches. 

Suggested motion for branches on the Powerpledge:

This branch acknowledges that there are many explicit and implicit forms of discrimination and that the structural barriers to women of all ages’ full and equal participation in politics is hindered by barriers which may not be immediately apparent, but that this branch acknowledges are there and must be addressed.

This branch therefore commits to:

–        Defend the principle and active implementation of all (self-identifying) women shortlists and other positive action measures in order to achieve gender parity.

–        Campaign to ensure that we #leadforwomen, including ensuring 50:50 representation at every level of the party.

–        Refuse to organise, or for branch members to appear on, all-male panels.

–        Ensure that invited speakers are alternately self-identifying male and self-identifying female at branch meetings.

–        Ensure 50:50 representation in plenary discussions.

–        Reject all forms of intimidation and harassment online or in person, and campaign for tough policies to tackle it.

–        Recognise and act on the specific barriers facing LGBTIQ, BAME, disabled and working class women and work to create a Labour Party with does even more to draw strength from diversity.

–        Ensure that women members (and other members with access issues) are provided with as much support as possible to engage in meetings.

When I was working at Labour’s International Women’s Day stall recently in the Pavilion, a number of single mothers came up to me and explained that they were formally politically active but that they could not do this anymore because of a lack of childcare.  Brighton and Hove have one of the highest rates of lone parents in the country, the majority of whom are women (I am not forgetting that there are single dads out there too!).  This second motion was inspired by women who are not able to access branch meetings (and therefore not able to engage in politics and become a delegate).

 

This is a suggested motion.  It is not meant to be prescriptive in any way, but it would be good if this motion could be shared with your branch and a proposer sought (if you do not wish to propose this motion yourself). Even the act of debating the pledge will allow for issues of power, privilege and gender to be debated in branches.

Suggested motion for branches on child care:

This branch:

–        Understands that to ensure that women and lone parents are able to enjoy their right to political participation to the full;

–        Acknowledges that women hold the primary responsibility for unpaid care work; and

–        Wishes to ensure that the 4500 single mothers in Brighton and Hove are encouraged to be politically active.

This branch therefore resolves to:

–        Ensure that crèche facilities are provided during meetings and during events;

–        Advertise crèche facilities to members each meeting in advance;

–        Ensure that the childminder is qualified and their background is officially and appropriately DBS checked;

–        Child-friendly meetings are to be encouraged whenever possible and parents are to be encouraged to bring children to meetings where appropriate;

–        Meetings are to be held at a time which would allow parents who are unable to afford child-care at home to attend the meeting.

Funding for the child minder will be paid for by the branch. Branches are to decide how this is to be paid for.  DBS-checked childminders should be paid the living wage per hour.[1]

 

The GC hopes to be able to put this up as a motion for our next session and will offer crèche facilities to those who might need them.  We will also continue to offer this as a service even if there is no take up, just in case. Ensuring access is not based on current need, it is there to break down barriers to access and encourage those who might not have taken part in activities to do so.

We are asking you to take these motions back to your branches. We are also asking you to promote the Hove Labour Women’s Forum – there is a contact sheet and a flyer under your seats as well.  We want people to write in to ask to join the forum – the first Hove meeting will be organised in the next month.

Finally, in honour of mother’s day, we are launching a maternity discrimination survey – to see what the situation is like in Brighton and Hove.  The information on how to access this is on your information sheet.  Whether you have directly faced maternity discrimination or not (whether you are a self-identifying woman or not), I would urge you to complete this survey and pass it on to your friends.  It is an easy way to show that the local Labour Party cares about women’s rights and that we will do something to address this issue in the near future.  We are facing a crisis in maternity discrimination in the UK with levels of maternity discrimination under this government are higher now than 10 years ago and according to the government’s own data, every year up to 54,000 women are forced out of their job through maternity discrimination.

Labour has a proud history of defending maternity and paternity rights. Labour will fight maternity discrimination by:

–        Scrapping employment tribunal fees that prevent women from challenging unfair employers

–        Banning exploitative zero hour contracts that so often deny women their rights at work

–        Introduce a real living wage, rising to £10 an hour by 2020

–        Promoting affordable, universal childcare

–        Defending our NHS from Tory cuts and chaos, ensuring that all mothers have the care and support they need

–        We’ll reverse cuts to Universal Credit that could see working mums worse off by thousands of pounds a year.

You can also join a Union. Click here to read the excellent UNISON Pregnancy Guide and make sure you join your appropriate trade union.

So let’s think about how we make Hove, and how we make the UK a more just and equal place for the women we celebrated yesterday. Out first priority is to ensure that the next government is a Labour government.

 

Information and Action:

–         Take our maternity discrimination survey: https://hovelabour.org.uk/2017/03/23/maternity-discrimination-take-our-survey/

–         Nominate one of your branch members to be a women’s officer to represent the 51% of the population.

–         Follow us on twitter: @HoveWomen

–         Get in touch to get on the Hove Labour Women’s Forum mailing list: women@hovelabour.org

Please share this information with your branches!

[1] https://www.childcare.co.uk/search/Childminder/Brighton/4-miles/DBS-Check

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