2018 is a very significant year in the gender equality calendar. It marks 100 years since Parliament passed a law, which allowed the first women, and all men, to vote for the first time; 100 years since women aged over 21 had the right to stand for election as an MP; and 90 years since all women were given electoral equality with men.
We have come a long way in terms of gender equality in the last 100 years, and Lewisham too has played it’s part in history. In the 1970s, Lewisham was the first Council in the country to set up a committee for women’s rights. This group was called the ‘Lewisham Women's Rights Working Group’ and worked to look at the disparity in women’s pay and roles in the council and constructed policy to address these issues. It is credit to this group that to this day Lewisham Council has a negative gender pay gap and a senior management team that is majority female. In addition to this, I feel immensely privileged to be one of the three female MPs who represent our Borough.
For me, all of these advances were beautifully symbolized at the end of April by the unveiling of the Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square. I was lucky enough to be in the audience witnessing the first female to be represented on the square, joining the other 11 male statues. Millicent was the suffragist who dedicated 62 years of her life campaigning for women’s right to vote. She began in 1866 aged 19 collecting signatures for a petition. In 1867 she helped set up the first suffrage society and undertook her first speaking tour aged just 22, at a time when women rarely spoke in public.
By 1897 suffrage societies across the UK came together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, which she became President of in 1907. In 1917 she led a delegation to Parliament and negotiated the amendment to the Representation of the People Act, which led to some women getting the right to vote and she continued campaigning until full equal voting rights were finally won in 1928.
Millicent’s story is one of absolute courage. To do what she did in the face of a society where everything belonged to men, including women, is remarkable. It is therefore fitting that adorned on her statue is the phrase “Courage calls to courage everywhere”, a line from her speech attesting to the bravery of Emily Davison, who died in the fight to get women the vote.
We have achieved so much since women first won the right to vote but gender inequality still persists, particularly in the workplace. The gender pay gap scandal is evidence of this. It is absurd that to this day a woman doing the same job as a man can be paid less. There are measures that the Government could take to help change this, such as proper paid paternity leave, making flexible working the norm rather than the exception and better funded childcare. However, culture takes a long time to change, and without the courage to challenge it, culture will remain as it is.
Therefore, as we celebrate this centenary we should remember Millicent’s words “courage calls to courage everywhere” and let them remind us of Millicent’s bravery and use them to inspire the next generation to stand up and challenge embedded gender inequality so that one day we can achieve equal representation and equal power for women in all their diversity.
In this weeks PMQ's I challenged the Prime Minister over Government cuts to the Metropolitan Police (Met) and the recent rise of violent crime in London.
Violent crime has recently surged across the capital. Statistics from the Met show that between July 2016 – July 2017 knife crime increased by 34% and gun crime by 37% compared to the previous year.
This has occurred whilst the Government has made significant cuts to the Met. Since 2010 the Met’s budget has been reduced by £600 million and even after a rise in the council tax precept, a further £325 million worth of savings have to be found by 2021.
These cuts have already led to the loss of 30 per cent of police staff, 65 per cent of police community support officers, 120 police buildings and most of the capital’s police station front counters.
The Home Secretary has stated there is no evidence to suggest a lack of resources is influencing violent crime. However, recent leaked Home Office documents claim the cuts have “likely contributed” to the rise in violent crime.
This all comes amidst the news at the beginning of the month that six people had been stabbed in four separate attacks across the capitol within a 90-minute window. The total number of suspected murders in London this year is 60.
Addressing this, I warned that cuts so far have reduced the Met’s operational capability and that further cuts will only make tackling violent crime more difficult. Sentiments which have further been expressed by Cressida Dick the Met commissioner.
I pay tribute to all those within the Met who work so hard to keep our streets safe. But cuts so far have made it harder for the Met to operate effectively and as such we have seen a surge in violent crime. Further cuts will only make an already difficult operating environment that much harder.
As part of Labour's front bench International Development team, I am proud that this week, our shadow Secretary of State, Kate Osamor launched Labour’s new vision for International Development.
In our policy paper, ‘A World For The Many, Not The Few’, we set out Labour's plan for tackling the root causes of global poverty, inequality and climate change. Our paper also commits to setting a second twin goal for all international development spending: not only reducing poverty, but also, for the first time, fighting inequality.
Inequality is the challenge of our generation and it is getting worse, over 75% of people in the global South are living in societies in which income is more unequally distributed today than it was in the 1990s. In virtually every city and country around the world, extreme wealth and poverty now co-exist side by side.
This growing inequality and widespread poverty combined with climate change is already subjecting millions of people to unacceptable living conditions bereft of opportunity. We can’t stand by and let this happen. The UK must play its part in helping tackle the root causes of these global crises and not just addressing their symptoms, which is the Governments current approach.
Our specific policies to help do this include:
You can read the full paper here.
I am very proud to be part of this plan led by our Shadow Secretary of State, Kate Osamor. However, if we truly want to tackle these global crises, we need to take drastic action. At present, this is not happening, only a Labour Government is offering a vision to do this.
In this week’s Prime Ministers Questions I questioned Theresa May over cuts to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
I raised the issue of long waiting times and the referral process children have to go through in order to receive treatment and questioned the Prime Minister on Government cuts, including a 5% reduction to Lewisham CAHMS, which will only make matters worse.
Theresa May responded saying “we're clear that we want to see parity of esteem between mental health and physical health in the National Health Service”.
Despite the Government signalling their wish to emphasise the importance of mental health, their current approach and proposals do not amount to meaningful long-term action.
40% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health budgets in 2015/16 and NHS underfunding has lead to money intended for mental health being used to plug funding gaps in the wider NHS. Furthermore, since 2010, there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses in the NHS.
All of this has meant CAMHS are struggling to meet demand. Almost one in four children and young people referred for treatment are turned away and the referrals that are accepted can be subject to a postcode lottery of waiting times, which can be up to six months for a first appointment and up to eighteen months for the start of treatment.
If we want to truly tackle this issue we need to stay true to our words and fund it properly. See my question to the Prime Minister in the video below:
This is not the first-time I have raised cuts to CAMHS in Parliament. In February, I questioned the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, on referral & treatment times:
I also questioned the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, over the possibility of reversing the Government cuts:
At the beginning of March, I also questioned the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, Steve Brine, over inadequacies in the Government’s Green Paper on ‘Transforming Children and Young People's Mental Health Provision’:
Last Thursday marked International Women’s Day and this year was particularly significant as we are also celebrating the centenary of some women getting the right to vote. We have come a long way in terms of gender equality since then, the Borough of Lewisham being entirely represented by female MP’s demonstrating this. However, despite this and other advances, gender inequality still persists and particularly so in the workplace.
Before being elected to Parliament I worked as an employment rights lawyer. During this period, I encountered countless examples of women being demoted or dismissed after returning from maternity leave, employers placing unnecessary barriers on staff for flexible working and women being paid less than men for doing work of equal value.
These issues are so pervasive in our working environments that I started my own legal business providing affordable legal advice to women facing maternity and sex discrimination at work. I wish that there was no demand for a business such as this, but there was and this is borne out by the statistics.
Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 54,000 women a year are being forced to leave their jobs simply for becoming a mum and that 77% of mothers surveyed said they had a negative or discriminatory experience before, during or after their maternity leave. As it stands today the gender pay gap in this country is 18.4% and at the current rate of progress, it will take another 100 years to close this gap. This is not acceptable.
To remedy this a cultural shift in the workplace is needed whereby stereotypes regarding women being a burden on business and the assumption that they alone will be responsible for childcare duties are ended. This can in part be achieved through policy such as the introduction of properly paid paternity leave paid at a rate closer to actual earnings and flexible working becoming the norm so that families can better juggle their work-life balances and ensure that having children doesn’t diminish prospects at work.
Additionally, it should be harder for women to be made redundant after their maternity leave. Although women have some protection against redundancy when they are pregnant and whilst on maternity leave, the protected period ends once the mother returns to work. However, it is very often exactly at this point, that women begin to feel pushed out. Therefore, the period of protection against redundancy should be extended to 12 months after a woman returns to work.
I am proud that the Labour Party recently announced its new plan to help tackle the gender pay gap. The policy requires all organisations that employ over 250 staff to audit their gender pay gaps and further prove that they are taking action to close the gap or otherwise face a fine from the Government. I welcome this proposal as if employers risk losing money, they will be more likely to comply with their legal obligations.
We have achieved so much since women first won the right to vote but if we truly want to achieve gender equality at work then we must end the gender pay gap, make flexible working the norm and promote shared caring responsibilities. I raised these points in last week’s Parliamentary debate for International Women’s Day (see video below). However, as the suffragettes said 100 years ago, we need “deeds not words”. Current policies are providing slow, incremental progress at best; we need to implement transformative policy, otherwise true gender equality will be another century away.
As I said before the election, I respect the fact that Britain voted to leave the EU – despite having been desperately disappointed at the result of the 2016 referendum. However, I am immensely concerned about the potential for a chaotic Brexit to harm our economy and make lives harder for working people across the country.
The Bill, which has now completed all stages in the House of Commons, should be about Parliament's role in the withdrawal process and how we ensure that our legal system is maintained and that vital rights and protections are safeguarded as we leave the EU.
As it currently stands, I do not believe that this Bill is fully fit for purpose. It would still put huge and unaccountable power into the hands of Ministers, side-line Parliament and the devolved administrations, and put crucial rights and protections at risk. I have therefore supported several amendments designed to repair and remove its worst aspects.
These included amendments to restrict the use of "Henry VIII" powers, to protect workers' rights, safeguard environmental and animal welfare standards, ensure devolved governments are not side-lined, legislate for strong transitional arrangements, and to bring the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law.
I tabled my own amendment, NC79, which was debated in the House. The New Clause sought to ensure that both women’s rights and the rights of workers and employees with caring responsibilities would be no worse after Brexit than had Britain remained a member of the EU. I also voted in favour of Chris Leslie’s NC13, which would have kept open the option for the United Kingdom to stay in the customs union.
Disappointingly, the Government rejected these amendments. However, I voted in favour of Amendment 7 which aimed to give Parliament, not the Government, a final say on the Brexit deal and I was very pleased that we managed to defeat them in this vote on December 13th and the Amendment has been added to the Bill.
The Bill will now undergo scrutiny in the House of Lords and I am hopeful that it may return to the Commons with further amendments. I can assure you that I, as pledged during the General Election, will continue to fight for a Brexit deal that protects jobs, the economy and rights for all.
My amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was debated last week in the House of Commons. The amendment (NC79) sought to ensure that both women’s rights and the rights of workers and employees with caring responsibilities are no worse after Brexit than had Britain remained a member of the EU. The clause would enforce this by ensuring that Parliament is informed, after Brexit, if the EU provides any new rights that would have applied to Britons if the UK was still an EU member, and commits the Government to consider their implementation.
The EU has a strong history of developing employment and gender rights since the 1970s. There is a fear however, that Brexit could undermine four decades of progress. The Fawcett Society has previously said that while the Equality Act 2010 has achieved a great deal in terms of protecting women’s rights, it is essential that EU derived legislation and cooperation are safeguarded post-Brexit, given prevalence of gender inequality, discrimination and the gender pay gap.
New EU legislation is proposed on issues such as pay for parental & carers leave and measures to support women’s participation in labour markets leaving scope for the UK to fall behind. It is vital that we do not fall behind the EU in the years ahead. People voted to leave the EU for many varied reasons but they didn’t vote to be worse off. Our laws on this matter must be no less favourable than they would have been had the UK remained a member of the EU.
Unfortunately the Tories voted against my new clause and as such will not be included in the EU Withdrawal Bill. Nevertheless I am extremely grateful to the 295 MPs who voted for it, especially those that added their name to the clause & that helped me navigate the process.
Earlier this month I hosted a loneliness summit in the constituency as part of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. I brought together local parents and organisations to talk about parental loneliness and how we can tackle it. Experiencing isolation in the early months of parenthood, especially among new mothers, is an issue which has previously been often overlooked but has a huge impact on large numbers of people.
Research by Mush (a mobile app which helps connect mums) found that 50% of new parents leave their house only twice a week and 25% of parents leave only once a week and a recent survey by Action for Children found that 52% of parent’s experience loneliness. The survey of 2000 people found that the majority felt cut off from friends, colleagues and family after the birth of a child. In terms of the causes of loneliness, many cited lack of money and the inability to leave the house when caring for small children, leaving them feeling isolated.
In Parliament two weeks ago I spoke about my own experience suffering from loneliness after I became a mum. For me, the shift from having a busy job and a good social life - to being at home every day with a lot of time to suddenly fill and little structure, was quite a shock. After my maternity leave finished I started working from home and I could sometimes go for days without having a proper conversation with another adult. It became a vicious circle where the more isolated I became, the harder I found it to go out. You can se my speech in the video below.
At my loneliness summit, hearing about all the work being done to combat isolation was encouraging. From the Red Cross ‘Connecting Communities’ service to Mush - a mobile app which helps connect local mums. We also heard about the work of local children’s centres, Bromley & Lewisham Minds ‘Mindful Mums’ sessions (free groups for mums to build mental resilience) & Mummy’s Gin Fund (an online parenting community).
However, what was most clear from our discussion was the impact reduced NHS funding is having on Health Visitor and midwifery services. Health visitors and midwives play a vital role in supporting families with the physical health of their new child as well as the mental health of the parents. The mums who attended the summit told me that families rarely receive a continuous dedicated visitor and while the service is great at identifying mental health issues such as loneliness & post-natal depression, they often lack the resources to follow through and treat these issues. Mums also told me about the limited support available for breastfeeding.
Worryingly, the Health Visiting services were recently cut from Beckenham Beacon, leaving limited support for new parents in that area. I met with Bromley Council recently to raise my concerns about this and to ask for a new service to be provided locally. I am pleased to say that a new Health Advice Clinic will start at the Neighbourhood church on Cromwell Road on 30th November. I hope that this means more parents will be able to access support, as well as reducing the strain on the Health Visiting services at nearby Community Vision in Penge.
However, what is clear is that more funding is needed for these vital services to ensure that new parents get the help and support that they need – a big factor in tackling parental loneliness.
I will continue to fight for good local services and confront the challenge and stigma of loneliness. It is fantastic that awareness of parental loneliness has grown, helping parents to know it is ok to say they feel lonely and to ask for help. However, it is vital that services are properly funded so that when parents do ask for help, the services and resources are there.
Over the last few months I have had an increasing number of emails from constituents in regards to moped crime. I find the recent rise in such crime very concerning and I want to reassure the community that I am working very hard with all stakeholders to try and mitigate this problem.
Moped crime, involves the theft of a moped as well as its use in criminal activity such as assault and robbery. The Metropolitan Police Service states that, in the 12 months to May 2017, over 15,000 scooters, motorcycles and mopeds were stolen in London, and were used in the commission of over 14,000 crimes. Overall incidence of this crime has increased by more than 10 times since 2012. This is in part due to the relative ease of stealing a moped and the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) policy to prevent drivers from pursuing criminals who do not wear a helmet.
I recently met with Lewisham Councils Executive Director for Community Services and spoke with the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime on these issues. They told me that this policy has been reviewed and that trained Police are now able to chase criminals if the driver is confident that the risk to the public is low, there are special techniques the Police can use when pursuing a moped. This will help curb the problem but it still remains that scooters are easily broken into. To this end I have sent a letter to the motorbike manufacturing industry to put pressure on them to implement the use of more sophisticated technology to make it a lot harder to steal mopeds in the first place.
The Government have stated "there is no single quick fix" to this and believe it is therefore "vital that we work together - industry, law enforcement, Government and civil groups - to understand the various drivers of this crime and how they can be met head-on." Home Office ministers have held a summit bringing together motor and insurance industry leaders, law enforcement agencies, local government agencies, youth charities and motorist groups, to confront the emerging threat of motorcycle-related crime.
However, I am worried that serious crimes such as these are rising in part due to the impact of Government policies, particularly stretched police resources and significant reductions in neighbourhood policing. I hope the Government will listen carefully to the concerns that have been raised on this issue and consider how best to move forward in tackling these reckless and dangerous crimes.
I have met the Police Borough Commander for Bromley and will be meeting the Borough Commander of Lewisham shortly to discuss these issues further. I have also spoken to the Deputy Mayor for Police and Crime. This is an ongoing issue and a concern for me which I will continue to track the progress of and call for change.
I was very pleased to support the 'End School Cuts' lobby of Parliament on the 24th of October. I held a drop in session with constituents where we talked about the effect of cuts locally. From this I wrote a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking for a commitment to end the underfunding of education in the Autumn Budget (see below).