For the duration of the election campaign I am posting items in the news I find of interest/relevance to our understanding of what this election really means. Below, a press release from the Fawcett Society on what the main party manifestos promise – or fail to promise – in relation to women.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 15TH APRIL 2010
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Regressive, Stagnant and Contradictory: Fawcett’s damning verdict on parties’ Manifesto
After concerted efforts to woo women voters, the parties’ manifestos hardly mention those same women, and the policies they do propose range from disappointing to downright disturbing.
Women are dealt with in piecemeal fashion with no party providing coherent explanations of how their policies will impact on women lives or how they will address persistent gender inequality.
Ceri Goddard, Fawcett’s Chief Executive, said:
“After some progress in power Labour seems to have stagnated, some Conservatives policies could actually be a backward step for women’s equality, and the Liberal Democrats are contradictory. The manifestos are a depressing read for anyone concerned about women’s equality, particularly given the energy the Party campaigning machines have invested in targeting women voters on sofas, on the internet and from the pages of the glossies.”
“Perhaps the most backward of the Conservative policies is their proposal to recognise some marriages in the tax system. Their marriage tax allowance could well push lower paid women from low paid families back into the home – but are the Conservatives being honest about this? It’s well rehearsed that this policy discriminates against widows/widowers, single parents and people who leave abusive relationships. But this policy also discriminates against married couples where both partners choose to or need to work – the reality for most people. From the party that advocates the small state this is state-sponsored social engineering writ large.”
“This worrying theme is continued elsewhere. Despite the premise of the ‘Couple Penalty’ being debunked by our campaign partner Gingerbread , the Conservatives have said they will press ahead with benefit reform that will disproportionately reward couples. This will have the disastrous effect of leaving single parents, 90 per cent of whom are women, in far greater relative poverty.
Criticising Labour’s and the Liberal Democrats’ Manifestos Ceri Goddard continued:
“It’s a shame that Labour has failed to follow up on some of the progress of the last 13 years. There seems to be no vision to build on steps like the minimum wage, all women short-lists and flexible working to take the next step towards equality. Particularly disappointing is their commitment to freeze income tax. This will give them little financial wriggle room when it comes to cutting public spending which will disproportionately disadvantage women .
“The Liberal Democrats, who claim to be the party of democratic reform, have failed even to mention the woeful underrepresentation of women in our democratic institutions – much less actually suggest steps that might deal with getting a parliament that is more like the country that it represents. Until this happens, we’re unlikely to make further significant progress on other issues.”
Fawcett does support some measures that the parties are proposing. The Liberal Democrats’ move to expand equal pay audits to more companies are very welcome. Labour’s commitment to implement the Speaker’s recommendations to address underrepresentation are welcome and the Conservatives proposal to exclude the lowest paid workers from public sector pay freezes and better fund Rape Crisis centres for women are all positive steps.
But a crucial omission from the parties’ manifestos is a commitment to both assess and publish the impact that their deficit cutting proposals will have on women as opposed to men. This will leave women voters unclear how policies will affect what they own and what they earn.
Summing up, Ceri Goddard said:
“As painful as the economic crisis and expenses scandal have been for this country, they present a real opportunity to build new kind of economy and democracy that does not rest on women’s inequality. More than this, repeated polls show there is real voter appetite for change. The parties preach fairness and radical change, but these manifestos are anything but, for women at least.”