What Did Labour Do For Women?
Yes, I do realise this is a rather outmoded way of putting things – the real question should be, ‘What did Labour do to make things fairer for everyone?’ – but the former question is asked more frequently than the latter.
But, however the enquiry is phrased, the answer is that Labour has done a great deal to change things equality-wise for the better, and sometimes it’s worth remembering where the equity stakes were pre-1997, not least so we can hold on to these improvements for the future.
I hope Laura Barton of the Guardian’s The view from a broad column will forgive me if I lift wholesale her list of changes supporting women at least as much as men which the Labour Government introduced between 1997 and 2010:
Gender and Equity legislation, 1997 – 2010
* The Forced Marriages Act;
* the minimum wage (which helps around a million people, around two-thirds of them women);
* more than 120 specialist domestic violence courts;
* 28 sexual assault referral centres;
* the right to request flexible working for those with caring responsibilities;
* the Pension Credit;
* free bus passes for over-60s;
* pension reforms that will allow a million more people to accumulate a state second pension;
* the Health in Pregnancy Grant (£190 for each woman);
* maternity leave increased from18 weeks to 12 months;
* paternity and adoption leave;
* greatly improved breast cancer treatment … and much more.
Plus, let us not forget the previous tranches of legislation which have enabled women to play their part in civic life and the formal economy, as well as in the home.
In 1974 maternity leave was just four weeks – a useless amount of time for most of us to establish that precious mother-baby relationship and recover to full strength – and women had to give notice of ‘retiring’ even before their babies had safely arrived… The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act was ground-breaking in its defence of women’s rights in the home and in the workplace.
And before that we had the benefits of the Welfare State and the National Health Service, in that reforming post-War period of 1945-8.
But still, after the 2010 elections, only 21% of MPs are female.
The Fawcett Society estimates that at current rates of progress it may take the Labour Party 20 years yet to establish an equal gender split amongst its MPs.
Scandalously, gender equality for the Liberal Democrats at current rates may take twice that long; and the Conservatives are so relaxed (?) on this issue that they could take some four centuries to achieve the same.
Can there be any excuse at all for this foot-dragging and delay? I truly and deeply think not.