Sunday, 23 April 2017

Women's Equality Party Policies that Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens should take note of this General Election 2017

The Women's Equality Party (WE) may be one of the newest political parties on the UK block but it's one that's creating policies that give much room for thought, especially in terms of advancing gender equality. You can read the policy document here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/womensequality/pages/279/attachments/original/1487934933/WEP_policy_document_2017.pdf?1487934933 but I thought I'd give my thoughts on a few of the key policies that Labour, Lib Dem and Green voters could be interested in considering to help advance gender equality further.

Equal Pay:
  • WE want to adopt a "comprehensive approach" to gender reporting, including mandating companies that have more than 250 employees to publish an annual report that examines the numbers of employees by gender and by ethnicity and disability. The report would include every employee at every level of the organisation and with information on pay, hours worked and employment status. WE also wants to see data published on retention figures of employees during and after parental leave. WE would extend this regulation to companies with more than 50 employees and any company that procures or wishes to procure government contracts. This policy is great in terms of furthering corporate transparency and can help to identify organisations, especially those who supply products or services to government departments who are not doing enough to help tackle the issue of equal pay. 
  • WE recognise that employees who have faced workplace discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, gender/sex, disability, race etc also currently face barriers to justice in the form of increased tribunal fees. It's vital to help these employees by proposing to lower the employment tribunal issuing fee from £250 to £50 and to scrap the hearing fee of £950. This sounds very practical and fair and it's good to see that WE would keep current fee remissions in place for those earning the National Living Wage or slightly above. 
  • Employment tribunal judges should also be able to advise employers directly on how to improve their HR policies when found guilty of discrimination.
  • It's right to allow new parents a longer period to bring a maternity discrimination or parental leave discrimination case against employers as they face the challenge of adapting to life with a baby whilst sorting out legal issues. I think that the proposal to increase the "grace period from 3 to 9 months" is a sound one and easy to implement. 
  • WE are aligned with Labour policy which is to reintroduce the concept of "dual discrimination" so that a disabled BAME woman can bring one case to the employment tribunal if the discrimination occurred on the basis of her disability and race (or race and gender). 
  • The issue of childcare matters greatly to parents who are wishing to go out to work but may not be able to afford the cost of putting their child in a creche or nursery place, especially in the first few years of their child's life. The Tory Government has committed to providing 30 hours of  free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds but haven't provided enough funding for nurseries so they can hire the staff they need to provide cover for those 30 hours a week. Also, parents have to do or are expected to do 16 hours of work paid at the National Living Wage over the next 3 months (whether employed or self-employed) and not earn more than £100,000 a year. WE are more ambitious, claiming that childcare should be available to all parents from the end of paid parental leave...i.e. at 9 months. They would provide the first 15 hours free but then ask for a £1 per hour contribution from parents (which has been deemed affordable by the Resolution Foundation's Commission on Living Standards). WE's proposal does at least encourage parents to contribute towards half of the 30 hours a week childcare but it remains to be seen whether nurseries would have enough funds to facilitate the increase in demand. 
  • The idea to incentivise companies to establish on-site childcare facilities for their employees is an interesting one, with WE arguing that exempting facilities from business rates is the best way forward. The incentive would be paid for by raising business rates on large buildings such as department stores and supermarkets. 
  • It'd be good to see pre- and after-school clubs established in all schools between 8am and 6pm but there needs to be funds available to hire teaching assistants or volunteers who are brought in to facilitate this. Teachers may have the time to establish a breakfast club pre-school but may not always have the time to run a debating society after-school.
  • The next government should definitely look into reviewing how workplaces can better support employees going through the menopause and help to reduce stigma by challenging stereotypes. HR professionals can be at the forefront of the consultation process and help come up with policies that can make a real difference in the workplace.
Equal Parenting and Caregiving: 
  • WE wants to review Shared Parental Leave to ensure that it is balanced. Fathers at the moment are only statutorily guaranteed two weeks of leave and are paid £140.98 a week (the statutory level) whereas most mothers in the UK are guaranteed six weeks and paid 90% of their salary. WE wants to ensure that all parents, including those in same-sex relationships, pansexual relationships and adoptive parents can access six weeks of leave with 90% of their pay. WE want to go further in the future and legislate for an additional 10 months of leave which is paid at the statutory level which can be shared between parents.
  • WE wants to protect women who are on zero-hours contracts, in low-paid temporary work and women who are struggling to find work whilst pregnant by making state funded Statutory Maternity Pay and the 6 week entitlement available to all mothers including those who have only been in the same job for a few days (due to temping).
  • Employers need to take measures to make their companies and organisations more parental friendly. That means looking at ways of improving flexible working schemes. WE have suggested that job adverts, including those on the DWP's own Universal Jobmatch website and adverts created by companies with more than 250 employees should state what types of flexible working schemes are available via a checklist. This includes job sharing, teleworking and flexible hours schemes. I think it's right that a business should have to justify why they opt out of offering flexible working schemes rather than asking businesses to opt in.
  • Employees should definitely be able to ask for flexible working changes to their job, especially if they end up becoming long-term disabled and requiring time off for hospital appointments and therapy or if they need to change their hours to act as a carer for their partner. HR must get back to employees within a reasonable time frame and if they don't, employees should be given the power to "submit a claim for unreasonable refusal of a request" or "unreasonable refusal to offer a trial period" to employment tribunals . Employers should look after their employees and listen to their concerns and facilitate changing needs wherever it's possible to do so.
  • Internship programmes or returner programmes for women who want to work part-time after having a baby are a fantastic idea. DWP should fund these programmes directly and the schemes must be delivered in a high quality manner by qualified personnel. 
  • Making baby changing spaces gender-neutral in public spaces so that all parents can participate in looking after their child does make sense as we now have more single Dads and gay couples in the UK.
  • The idea of ensuring both parents (and their partners if applicable) are present at the registering of the birth with them having separate interviews in case any concerns need to be raised by the birth-mother is a sound one. 
  • We need to do more to help our carers. They are far from being "economically inactive" and I agree with WE that this derogatory label should be removed from the Labor Force Survey. Labour's current proposal to increase the Carer's Allowance by £10 is OK but it doesn't go far enough. WE believes that carers deserve to be paid National Insurance credits and want to try to reform the system to see whether they can be awarded by default to those who register as carers.
Equality in Education:
  • Challenging gendered assumptions in the education system is a vital part of the WE platform. WE believes that the National Curriculum and curricula delivered in Academies and Free Schools need to be reformed so that role models are promoted who did help to challenge stereotypes in a positive way. This includes studying Marie Curie in Chemistry, Grace Hopper and trans woman Lynn Conway in IT and the first woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Lile Elbe in History. Role models should be promoted at every opportunity, including through wall displays, assemblies and even school plays. WE would ensure every school carries out a gender audit as a way of improving representation.
  • WE wants to see the introduction of gender neutral uniforms so non-binary, trans and other students do not feel discriminated against on the basis of clothing preferences. Independent single-sex schools should be encouraged not to discriminate students on the basis of them wanting to wear a skirt or trousers. 
  • WE will also be working with the Let Toys be Toys and Let Clothes Be Clothes campaigns to find ways of encouraging companies and marketing agencies to abandon unnecessary gender-biased advertising. 
  • I like the idea of the next government promoting schemes that allow fathers to become more directly involved in their child's education. One of the most important schemes is the Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED) scheme that has already been successfully introduced by the Fatherhood Institute in nurseries and primary schools across the UK. 
  • The Tories have failed to reform the Careers Advice system in schools, meaning that thousands of young people are leaving school without having talked through their future options. WE believes that independent careers advice should be made compulsory in all secondary schools across the UK with the advice monitored and delivered by external experts who avoid gender biased advice. 
  • WE also wants to see compulsory work experience introduced back into secondary schools. I must say that I benefited enormously from undertaking my work experience in Year 10 as a teacher and archivist and it helped fill me with the confidence I needed to choose academic A-Levels to then go on and study English and Philosophy at York. High quality work experience can help improve confidence levels in disabled, LGBTQIA+, working class students and expand their horizons far beyond previous expectations. 
  • I believe the suggestion of getting students to "study English or a STEM (Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering) subject up to the age of 18"is excellent. Those who may have failed GCSE Science can retake the subject alongside their A-Levels choices and those who are studying Arts subject A-Levels may be more tempted to try a STEM subject like AS Accounting or AS Economics.
  • Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) has been made compulsory in all schools under Theresa May's Tory Government but I'm worried that it won't include lessons to increase awareness of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships. Whilst it is important to talk about consent, domestic violence and abuse and Coercive Control (CC), there should be an awareness of the differing dynamics in same-sex relationships and when a person decides to transition and are with a partner that could lead to domestic abuse, violence and CC. WE haven't mentioned this in their manifesto but as a trans non-binary person it does matter to me. Students at Key Stage 3 and 4 should be aware of intersex and asexuality in addition to trans and non-binary gender identity so that they understand that although their peers' gender identity and sexual preferences may differ from their own, they should still be respected. 
  • WE want to make sure universities and colleges challenge sexual harassment head on and I contend that they are correct to call for compulsory classes on "respect, equality and consent" and to get university managers to design formal sexual harassment policies which have mechanisms in place to support victims, provided that support is given free from gendered bias.
Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (and anyone):
  • I do believe that the Married Couples Tax Allowance is unfair and the money saved from scrapping the Allowance could be used in a better way. WE posits that the money should be used to create a fund which allows women who have faced domestic violence and abuse to access legal aid and have access to counselling (although this should be accessible to all DVA survivors) and to extend the Respect-accredited perpetrator programmes for survivors who want to stay with their partner. DVA shelters should be expanded and exempted from the draconian Housing Benefit Cap. 
  • Front-line staff do need to be trained appropriately on how to support all survivors of DVA, regardless of their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, disability or religious belief. Police officers also to be trained to understand cultural differences to be able to do more to help survivors of honour based abuse and violence, including gay men who are forced by their relatives into marriage. 
  • I agree that "Claire's Law" (the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme) does need to be improved but the awareness programme must include making potential male and non-binary victims aware of "Claire's Law" and making their loved ones aware of accessing "Claire's Law" too. 
  • Improving awareness of DVA for jurors via an online programme to help them overcome bias before participating in a jury is a good WE suggestion and would be relatively easy to implement. 
  • WE continue to support the anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) movement and want to see a system established that would monitor instances of forced marriage, FGM and honour-based violence. Teachers should be given advice and guidance as to how to potential signs of abuse relating to FGM in areas where the risk of young girls being taken abroad for FGM is high. 
  • I'd like to see the end to detention centres as a whole but I welcome WE's suggestion that pregnant asylum seekers should not be held in detention centres. Access to domestic violence and abuse counselling should be freely available to all asylum seeker survivors regardless of their gender or immigration status.
  • Women and girls should be empowered to report instances of Everyday Sexism, including acts of street harassment to the police. SRE lessons should include segments on hate crime so that students understand that street harassment and Everyday Sexism is unacceptable.
  • The UK Government has adopted the Istanbul Convention but we need to look at ways of helping women and girls  who have been trafficked into the sex industry. WE believes that women should never be prosecuted for selling sex and would change the law "with immediate effect" and work towards getting trafficked survivors an automatic right to remain in the UK. 
  • WE think that purchasing sex should be criminalised. WE would first provide sex workers with help and support services funded by the government to get out of the sex industry and then criminalise the purchase of sex within 2 years to "remove the demand". I think there needs to be a national debate on the nature of the sex industry and decide whether its better to criminalise the purchase of sex as has been suggested by WE or regulate the sex industry with sex workers having to register to be able to participate. Every voice should be heard and then decisive action taken. Perhaps the next government can facilitate that discussion.

Equality in the Media:
  • It is time to challenge gender stereotypes that we see on a daily basis in our media platforms. Actions to address this that can be taken at government level include:
    • Making it compulsory to teach students in all schools, including faith ones, how to surf the Internet responsibly, including talking about the dangers of Internet Chatrooms and becoming addicted to online pornography. 
    • Updating the Advertising Standards Authority guidelines on airbrushing so that disclaimers are given which explain why the person has been airbrushed by the publication in question. I believe that airbrushing of childrens' bodies is entirely unnecessary so I agree with WE that it should be made illegal.
    • Requiring media outlets to publish data on air time given to men and women (and non-binary people) in each programme across their schedule on a regular basis.
    • Encouraging media outlets to set out in their diversity guidelines how their organisation would help promote positive and diverse female role models, including BAME, trans women and disabled women. WE believes this should be made a requirement in the BBC's renewed Charter. 
    • Ofcom and the Independent Press Standards Organisation should monitor gender data published by media outlets and take action whenever they believe media outlets are falling short of their responsibility to improve gender representation. 
  • WE wants to hold social media providers accountable who allow users to post and then refuse to remove revenge porn. Revenge porn victims should be able to get prosecution against perpetrators, trolls and website providers and they should be granted immunity whilst going through the judicial process.
  • I do believe that police officers do need more guidance as to how to handle evidence of online abuse so getting the Crown Prosecution Service to produce guidelines that can be easily accessible is key to improving awareness within police forces.
  • Report buttons that are easily accessible are a good idea for social media providers and I agree with WE that the providers must publish data that shows how they are tackling the issue of online abuse. 
Equal Representation:
  • I am sympathetic to WE's suggestion that 66% of candidates replacing retiring MPs should be women but this may be difficult to implement in practice. The current suggestion by the Women and Equalities Committee seems to be that we should aim for a target of 45% of MPs in Parliament being women by 2030 and I believe this should include queer and trans women. It's frustrating to see that trans people have no representation at the moment. Maria Miller was right to suggest that fines should be levied against the Government if political parties do not take action to address the "democratic deficit". Encouraging more women to stand for Parliament in marginal constituencies would be one way of increasing representation at the next General Election and "all women shortlists" do serve a purpose in this respect. 
  • I like the suggestion that there should be "a balanced board in all listed companies by 2025" but I do wonder if the target will be reached at the current rate. We certainly have a lot of talent in the corporate world but it's a matter of businesses buying into the vision that a gender balanced board is the best kind of board to have in place. The WE pamphlet says that board performance would improve by 8.5% if they became more gender diverse. That's something to shout out about.
  • There needs to be a culture change in Local Enterprise Partnerships across the UK. It's shocking to hear that only 15% of board members are women. The next government should work towards encouraging LEPs to get to 50:50 representation by the end of the next parliamentary term and encourage local plans to be drawn up to help women who want to start up their own businesses. That includes trans women.
  • The suggestion that all-male board companies should not be made a government supplier at any level is a bold one and should hopefully shock those board members into instituting policies to help change their business gender-make up to avoid losing revenue.

Equal Healthcare:

WE care strongly about improving access to healthcare for women and the quality of female healthcare in the UK. Evidence from the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women report "Women's Equality in the UK" suggested that women face poorer health, not just because of their "physiological differences" but also because of "social experiences that negatively impact on their physical and mental health". Examples of this include women facing more of a likelihood of abuse and violence from partners and women being more likely to be care workers (which is a physically demanding profession). WE believes that needs to be a cultural change to challenge gender healthcare inequalities including:
  • Challenging assumptions on pain; women are more likely to be given less help by GPs to deal with pain, with some being given sedatives rather than pain relief
  • Challenging the way biomedical research is conducted by moving away from "male as default" findings
  • Commissioning more research into the menopause so as to find effective ways to alleviate symptoms
  • Finding ways to help women who experience mental health issues (63% of women in the UK have experienced mental health issues in their lifetime).
Conclusion:

As you can see, WE offer a lot of bold policy ideas that aim to improve opportunities for women in the UK. I may not agree with every policy as laid out in the platform but it is one that can be built on, especially if there is collaboration between different political parties to change legislation so that negative impacts are reduced on women, including mandating corporate businesses to publish comprehensive gender pay plans and encouraging businesses to make their jobs more accessible to women who require flexible working. I doubt many parents would be upset at the idea of Careers Advice services being improved so students can make academic and vocational decisions in a fully informed manner and reforming Shared Parental Leave so that all parents are entitled to be paid 6 weeks at 90% of their salary regardless of their gender is a bold policy idea that even Labour should be wanting to include in their platform offering.

Reading the WE policy statement has been an education in itself and I suggest any voter who currently considers themselves "politically homeless" give it a read and raise your own questions from it. WE may not be a party you have considered before, but may be a party that you consider supporting in the future, either as a full member or as an affiliate. The youngest political party on the scene may not have received much attention before...is it time to change that?