Labour will put equality centre stage by creating a standalone Department for Women and Equalities
The Conservatives have made women and equalities a part-time role – we will not allow Boris Johnson to drive us back further, writes Dawn Butler MP
It is a sad fact that this country has gone backwards when it comes to women and equalities under successive Conservative governments. At Labour Conference we will send a clear message to Boris Johnson that we will not allow him to set us back even further.
Women have shouldered the burden of 87% of the Conservative government’s cuts. And there are serious equality issues that need tackling urgently. Yet I have no faith things will get better under prime minister Boris Johnson, who is frequently accused of being a casual racist and sexist, especially with his reckless pursuit of a no deal Brexit which risks our hard-fought rights and protections.
Women’s refuges are in crisis due to lack of funding; 54,000 women a year lose their jobs due to maternity discrimination; LGBT+ people are facing increasing levels of hate crime, and the representation of women as well as black, Asian and minority ethnic people at the highest levels is inadequate. Meanwhile the Gender Recognition Act still has not been delivered.
And it has certainly hindered women that the Conservatives have failed to take women and equalities matters seriously. There have been eight different minsters since 2010 and the Government Equalities Office has moved departments on four occasions.
The former minister for women and equalities, Amber Rudd, also jointly held the huge role of work and pensions secretary. The Conservatives have made women and equalities a part-time role, without the vision, importance or resources to protect the rights of all. The next Labour government will do things differently and deliver the radical change people need.
Labour will require employers to provide up to 10 days’ paid leave for victims of domestic violence. This crucial interval will give victims time to leave abusive partners safely and seek the support they need, knowing their livelihood is secure. On average, two women a week are murdered by a current or former abusive partner, so 10 days could help save the lives of these victims.
Labour will also make it a priority to close the gender and race pay gaps, and tackle the structural barriers facing women in society. We will require all large employers to not only report their pay gaps, as now, but to prove how they intend to tackle their pay gaps – with action plans.
I have also announced Labour’s plans to introduce rights to flexible working from day one of employment, which will help to ensure that no woman will be shut out of the workplace because, for example, they’re a mum or they care for a parent or a disabled loved one, or both.
Labour recognises that identity isn’t one-dimensional, yet our outdated legislation means people can only bring discrimination claims on the grounds of one aspect of identity. Labour will enact Section 14 of the Equality Act so that people can bring forward cases on multiple grounds of discrimination, for example for being both a woman and black, or other intersectionalities.
Labour will also establish an Emancipation Educational Trust to address the historic injustice of the slave trade. It will educate future generations about the strength and resilience of those enslaved and the resistance against it, as well as the wealth and beauty of Africa and the Caribbean. It will consult with banks and businesses with historic links to the slave trade, to establish bursaries for education and training for black, Asian and minority ethnic people.
And importantly, Labour will put equality centre stage by creating a standalone Department for Women & Equalities. For the very first time this will be led by a full-time secretary of state and will equality-proof all legislation before, during and after implementation.
I am proud of our bold and ambitious policies, and I am continuing to work with stakeholders to develop our progressive agenda to advance equality at all levels and protect the rights of all.
Labour is ready for government and ready to put equality at the very heart of government.
Dawn Butler is Labour MP for Brent Central and shadow women and equalities secretary