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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Achieving for Women

Monday, December 4, 2006

Meg was invited to speak at Bradford Labour Women’s Forum, her contribution is below.


Good afternoon. I’m pleased to be here and delighted to see so many women gathered together. I was last in Bradford in September with Tony McNulty MP, Home Office Minister and local MP and also Home Office Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe to talk about extremism and community cohesion. I had the opportunity to meet many local Muslim women and hear their perspective.


I’m going to talk about ‘The Labour Government achieving for Women’. It’s important to be with Labour women discussing the changing role of women, and what the Labour Government has done. It’s only by examining and discussing that we pick up ideas about different way of approaching what we all want to see - women taking their rightful place in society.


The Labour Government has made very significant advances helping women in the world of work, and women who have not yet entered the workforce or have since retired from it.  I think we can be proud of what we have done and I’d like to share some of our key achievements with you.


The Smith Family

Rather than give you a list of achievements, I’m going to introduced you to a family, the Smith Family. There are three generations of women in this family - a new baby called Ann, her mother Catherine, and Grandmother Mary. Although this family is a figment of my imagination, there are families like them from every ethnic group throughout the country, in every town and village.


Let’s start with the baby.


Ann Smith, born in 2006, faces a much brighter future than she would have done if she had been born just 20 years earlier. We can see this from the start of her life.


Catherine, the baby’s mother, gets 26 weeks paid maternity leave - which is up from 16 weeks. If she wishes she can then also take another 26 weeks maternity leave unpaid - and from 2007 the paid leave will increase to 9 months. Dads are not left out, they now have 2 weeks paid paternity leave - and from 2007 parents will be able to decide after the first 6 months whether it is the father or mother who takes leave to look after their baby until she is one year old. Over the term of this Parliament we will have legislated for paid maternity /paternity leave for the whole of the first year of a child’s life.


Once maternity and paternity leave is over, Ann’s mum and dad can request flexible working until the child is aged 6. Financially, parents have more help. Child Benefit has been increased by 50% since the start of the Labour Government in 1997. We have introduced childcare tax credits for 1.3m low income families, and Child and Working Families tax credit provides extra money to 9 out of 10 families.


It is easier for families to afford childcare for their children. Our National Childcare Strategy supports choice by expanding good quality and affordable childcare. We’ve more than doubled childcare funding, guaranteeing all three and four year olds a free 20 hours a week nursery place, and we’ve rolled out a major expansion of childcare schemes for low-income families like Sure Start.


Once Ann Smith goes to school her prospects will be better than ever. Literacy standards have risen, class sizes have fallen. In secondary school citizenship lessons ensure she will have a better understanding of the society in which she lives.


If Ann Smith is ill - perhaps she needs her tonsils out or other common childhood ailment - she will wait for less time for her operation than under the Conservative Government of previous times.


A Happy Household?

Of course in my imagination Ann would live in a happy household, but what if the family were not? Maybe her mum, Catherine, is the victim of domestic violence. We have introduced a huge overhaul in domestic violence legislation. There is better victim protection with a register of civil orders against alleged offenders. Rape victims can no longer be cross-examined by the alleged attacker in court cases. And if I can depart briefly from the family’s story at this point I want to congratulate Ann Cryer for her dogged and determined fight for all women suffering violence in their homes and for her fight to ensure that women are not subject to so called “honour” violence and forced marriage.


And if Ann Smith’s mum and dad split up? We have introduced measures to ensure this affects the children as little as possible. We have helped 150,000 lone parents find work through the New Deal for Lone Parents; this means that for the first time more than half of lone parents are in paid work. Unless you buy the winning lottery ticket, in a rollover week, getting and keeping good well-paid work is the route out of poverty for women and men.


If Ann Smith had been born under a Conservative Government she could have been one of the one in three children living in poverty. The Labour Government has taken a lot of action to tackle this situation - we have pledged to wipe out child poverty within a generation. We are well on the way and now we are working to ensure that those who continue to be less well off including many black and minority ethnic families get the right help and support to lift them out of poverty.


When Ann gets to her teenage years and leaves school, she will do so in the knowledge that whichever path she chooses she will have help and support. Following the report of the Women and Work Commission on closing the gender pay gap, she will have been exposed to a full range of possible careers from an early age. Tackling occupational segregation is a significant part of their recommendations allowing both girls and boys to enter non-stereotypical areas of work. If she wants to stay on in post 16 education, and her family has a low income, she will receive financial help from the government. She now has the opportunity to benefit from modern apprenticeships and skills training. Or she may be one of the 50% of young people going to university, and then she will receive means tested financial help.


Let’s look at Catherine the mother.


She may return to work after her maternity leave.  Thanks to the minimum wage, introduced by us in 1999, one million women now have higher pay. We’re also ensuring all employees get 4 weeks paid holiday, plus bank holidays - benefiting 3 million, mostly women workers.


Involved with Public Life?

If Catherine feels that she would like to get more involved in public life, we encourage her. We promote more women onto the boards of national public bodies. We have given political parties the right to take measures to increase the numbers of women elected at all levels - but for Westminster only Labour has used these new powers.


Perhaps Catherine would like to retrain. We know that many women coming back into the labour market after looking after children want to develop their skills, so we’ve put in place an entitlement to basic skills training and extra support through the Women and Work Commission action plan to provide proper career paths. We are supporting the creation of equality reps in the trade unions to ensure greater equality at work.


If Catherine was in a higher paid job before she had her child there will be a much greater chance of her returning to her job part time. The quality part time initiative means that many more employers will ensure that women can work fewer hours but still at their former level, ensuring that they, the company and the country benefit from their skills. Over a hundred top employers are now signed up.

If Catherine decides to stay at home longer, under our new pension proposals her caring responsibilities will be recognised and the fewer qualifying years mean that she has a much better chance of retiring on a full state pension.


What about Mary, the grandmother? She is a pensioner, and while her daughter is benefiting from Labour’s workplace legislation, and her granddaughter from childcare and schooling, what about her?


With pensioners we have made huge progress. We have concentrated on helping the poorest and most vulnerable pensioners - who are mainly women.  There’s free TV licences for the over 75s, winter fuel payments and the pension credit for those on low incomes. We are following at all times the mantra ‘dignity in retirement’.


And if Grandmother Smith does need additional care there are more resources in care services and the health service, so elderly people can be supported if they want to stay at home. We’re introducing a new right for those at work who also care for an adult to request flexible working. So, if Catherine Smith needs to help her mum she can ask her employer if she can fit her caring responsibilities round her work.


As I hope I’ve shown, through the story of the three generations of Smiths, Labour has done much to be proud of for women. But I don’t want to give the impression that everything is lovely - that there are no problems left.


Gender Pay Gap

I’ve touched on one - the gender pay gap. I’m glad to say that the latest figures show this gap is decreasing, but not at a rapid enough rate. Government want the improvements to go faster and further until we can be sure that all workers are paid at the correct rate for the job, not the rate depending on which sex they are.


We provide £6.9 million pounds for the UK Resource Centre for Women (UKRC) in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET).  This centre, based here in Bradford, is working with employers and institutes to tackle the barriers that scare off women from working in these sectors.  The Centre provides practical help and support to girls and women, and works hard to raise the profile of women already in these sectors through a range of initiatives.


But we also have to deal with issues that have emerged in recent years, grown in terms of the damage they do - tackling the scourge of human trafficking for instance. This awful crime has grown enormously over the past few years - ruining many lives in many countries. We have to develop ways of working with our friends in Europe to ensure we eradicate it completely. And in October we opened the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield, the first of its kind anywhere, to co-ordinate intelligence, prosecution and support for victims.


To finish on a self-interested note. Like I’m sure many here, I can remember the years of opposition, being powerless to affect change. Women’s votes enabled Labour to win the General Elections of 1997 and 2001, in those elections women voted for us in comparable numbers to men. In the 2005 election more women voted Labour than men. The agenda set by Labour struck a cord with women, and they voted for us.


Listening to women, listening to each other, responding to the problems and difficulties of women’s every day lives. We can learn what is needed to help women’s lives get better - we can do the right thing - and continue as the party of government. Sounds a winning combination to me!

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