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The PM is not on the side of women and our diverse communities

5 min read

The Prime Minister may act like she is on the side of women and our diverse communities, but her actions tell another story, writes Dawn Butler

"Burning Injustices”. Theresa May on the steps of Number 10 promised to tackle them but she has failed. It is these injustices that I am determined to confront in my new role.

I was truly honoured to be promoted to the position of Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities last month. This is a big job but it is one that I am already getting stuck into; asking uncomfortable questions and standing up for the most vulnerable and those who often feel voiceless. I am holding ministers to account every step of the way, challenging government policy which disproportionately impacts women negatively.

This issue is personal to me. It was after all in Parliament where I was told that the lift was ‘not for cleaners’. This old boy’s network, this idea of you not belonging is the type of discrimination that too many women face, and I want to tackle it head on.

I am particularly looking forward to raising the problem of intersectionality, where different layers of discrimination interact at the same time. A woman of colour may face double discrimination; being a woman and of colour is not theory but my reality.  In order to stop the various layers of discrimination, we each have to recognise our privilege and stick together as women. We must also recognise and appreciate progress wherever it comes from. I am an equal opportunity feminist and I don’t believe that men are the enemy, some are the problem but they are all definitely part of the solution.

Unfortunately, we have a government which has shown itself unwilling and incapable of solving inequality.  The Prime Minister may use warm words and act like she is on the side of women and our diverse communities, but her actions tell another story.

House of Commons library research showed that of the total tax and benefit changes between 2010 and 2020, 86% of the total cuts will fall on women. Far from being on the side of women, this Prime Minister is implementing pointless austerity measures which hurt women the most. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the situation for women of diverse backgrounds, from the LGBT community, and those with disabilities is even worse. I often wonder how anyone, let alone a female, can preside over a government that has inflicted so much pain on women and children.

Research by the Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede Trust last year found that by 2020 low income black and Asian women will lose around twice as much money as low income white men as a result of tax and benefit changes.

The Prime Minister’s policies have been destructive. ‘Where’s the proof?’ I hear you cry. Well, her government has delayed the findings of the audit of racial disparities in our public services, because it will reportedly contain embarrassing results. So, instead let’s focus on the inboxes of MPs, every week someone visiting my office cries, either because they are homeless, hungry, jobless, or picked on in some way. Theresa May’s government was criticised by a UN committee for failing to protect the rights of disabled people in this country. All of this evidence shows her government’s lack of commitment to tackling inequality.

Most improvements in the fight for equality have been achieved because of the Labour party – like introducing the minimum wage, creating tax credits, increased maternity and paternity pay and leave, pension credit and the Equality Act. Our most recent manifesto is a statement of intent, it shows what a Labour government’s priorities would be, what a Labour government would look like and feel like.

I also know the importance of having more women around the decision-making table. When you increase diversity in positions of power, the focus changes. Diversity of thought inevitably leads to success. We start talking more about issues affecting women and it benefits all of society. That is why I am committed to increasing the number of women on boards, and making Parliament more reflective of the people it represents.

There are some other pressing issues. Areas like the number of low income women and girls who are facing period poverty, unable to afford basic sanitary products. The 1950s-born women who have been penalised due to the devastating changes to the state pension age. And the issue of domestic violence continues to plague our society and we must take strong action to tackle violence against women and girls.

Then there is the gender pay gap which continues to be a huge obstacle for women. It is something which we should not accept. Women should receive the same recognition for their work as men. These injustices facing women of all ages can and must end.

I have always believed that equality is equality, you cannot pick and choose. This means that no matter what your colour, background, class, gender identity or disability, I will fight hard against any and all forms of discrimination with all my determination, to deliver real equality in our country.


Dawn Butler is Labour MP for Brent Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

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