Birmingham MP announces mayoral bid manifesto

Liam Byrne launches radical women’s manifesto to tackle “pervasive inequality”.

Labour mayoral hopeful Liam Byrne MP has this week launched a bold women’s manifesto to tackle the pervasive inequalities facing women across the West Midlands.

This radical blueprint draws on over one hundred meetings across the region and the advice of organisations like the Fawcett Society and the Women’s Budget Group.

The draft manifesto argues that, following years of Tory austerity, women are now faced with a triple whammy as a result of seismic cuts that hit women harder than men because:

– Women use more public services than anyone else

– Women make up the majority of public sector workers, suffering job losses or stagnant pay

– Women pick up the slack where public services fall short, looking after children and elderly relatives

In workplaces across our region, women are paid less than men and far fewer women are in work.

– The gender pay gap in the West Midlands Metro Area is currently 18% – around the same as the UK average.

– But the West Midlands has a widening gap of 12.4% in the number of men and women in employment – with an even greater gap among BAME women – even as that gap is closing nationally.

The proposals Byrne is tabling following discussions with members include:

– SureStart Plus – Introduce a network of facilities that not only provide high-quality childcare but also English language, skills and jobs training, to help councils coordinate childcare services with the region’s devolved power over the Adult Skills Budget to create proper support for new mothers – plus a new campaign for decent social care.

– A Mayor’s Charter of Good Employment – Provide accreditation to encourage the public sector and businesses to offer flexible working, deliver a voice for employees backed by formally recognised unions and develop clear policies on sexual harassment. The Mayor will encourage the public sector to only place contracts with firms that sign up.

– Council housing for domestic abuse survivors – As part of a region wide housing strategy, radically expand supply for women escaping domestic violence, as well as campaign relentlessly to change the ‘exempt accommodation’ rules for Housing Benefit to end the scandal of lodging offenders next to women and children escaping violence in Homes of Multiple Occupation.

– A Real Living Wage – Make the West Midlands the first Living Wage Region in the UK, delivering a pay rise to hundreds of women on poverty pay.

– Transforming female representation – Only three of the fifteen constituent members of the West Midlands Combined Authority board are women. As well as appointing a female second-in-command and ensuring all WMCA bodies are gender balanced, a mentoring scheme within the WMCA will help women across the organisation lift each other up and a cross-region forum for women in local government will develop the future female leaders of the West Midlands.

On his ambitious agenda, the MP for Hodge Hill said: “Women across our region are faced with pervasive inequalities at home and at work. The Tories’ brutal austerity has only made it worse while our Tory metro-mayor has done next to nothing to improve things. So we need radical solutions. From our work with women across the region, we’ve identified four key battlegrounds in the fight for equality: discrimination at work, the pressure of caring responsibilities, a failure to prioritise women’s safety, and a lack of representation.

“This radical blueprint will see the West Midlands become a leader in the fight for gender equality by relaunching SureStart and incentivising employers to deliver flexible working and no-tolerance policies on sexual harassment. And, by making structural changes to how our region is run, we will leave a lasting legacy – amplifying the voices of women across the region and providing opportunities for future female leaders.”

Responding to the manifesto, Sandwell Councillor, Syeda Khatun said: “Austerity has hit and continues to hit women particularly hard. More women work in the public sector than men so public sector pay freezes have hurt them more; their pay levels are lower anyway – 18% lower on average. The West Midlands also has a widening gap of 12.4% in the proportion of women and men who are employed. This gap is even greater for BAME women.

“The advancement of women’s rights, particularly in the arena of pay, needs to be a top priority and this women’s manifesto is an important step in the right direction.”

Birmingham Councillor, Nicky Brennan who is staying neutral in the current Mayoral selection commented: “The shortage of refuge space for women fleeing domestic violence has led to hundreds living in bed and breakfasts or inappropriate temporary accommodation, often in close proximity to their abusers. This is totally unacceptable and we need every mayoral candidate to pledge to end this injustice through building more council housing for women in crisis.

“Women have been hit harder than anyone with Tory austerity and cuts to public services. It’s important that the West Midlands metro mayor puts gender equality at the heart of their policies as we will not progress as a region without this. I believe a women’s manifesto is a welcome step in the right direction and something I hope to see from every candidate.”