We welcome the opportunity to contribute to Scottish Labour’s policy forum consultation.
Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) is a grassroots feminist campaign which was formed by a group of women in the labour and trade union movement to uphold women’s sex-based rights and protections in the UK. Since September 2017, we have held 23 public meetings across the UK which have been attended by over 3,500 people.
Initially, our aim was to enable a diverse range of women’s voices to be heard on the UK and Scottish Government’s proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. However, we are increasingly concerned with upholding and advancing women’s sex-based rights. We have recently published a manifesto for women.
As architects of landmark UK legislation on sex discrimination, previous Labour governments can lay claim to a strong track record on tackling the structural inequalities faced by women. We would like to see Labour acting as a catalyst to reinvigorate debate and discussion about how to uphold and advance women’s sex-based rights.
We particularly welcomed the commitment in Scottish Labour’s 2016 manifesto to introduce legislation that would require gender mainstreaming and a statutory requirement for gender budgeting across all policy areas.
A decade of Tory-led austerity has hollowed out our public services and women, in particular working-class women, have borne the brunt of this. Women are over-represented in public sector employment, which has been subject to year-on-year budget cuts. More women are engaged in precarious forms of employment. Funding for services that they rely upon – such as Sure Start and domestic violence refuges – has been subjected to annual local authority budget cuts. And it is women who so often plug the care gap when these services are diminished or disappear altogether.
We are concerned about the absence of any class-based analysis in the public debate about persistent discrimination faced by women on the ground of their sex. It is impossible to assess and tackle the structural inequalities suffered by women if we cannot recognise women as the oppressed sex. It is against this backdrop that we wish to raise a number of concerns about the challenges facing women in our communities.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act (EA) 2010 is the legal cornerstone of women’s existing rights to fair treatment, and to privacy and dignity in services provided to them. Passed by a Labour government, the foremother of the EA was the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) 1975. The Act defined a woman as a female of any age, a definition carried forward to the Equality Act 2010. The fundamental belief underlying the SDA was that the physical and social consequences of being born and living with a female body are so significant that women deserve specific protections in law, including the right in certain circumstances to single-sex services and spaces. The SDA stated clearly that it was concerned with discrimination against a woman “on the ground of her sex”.
However, in recent years, the exemptions provided for under the EA 2010 – and indeed the very definition of what it means to be a woman – have come under pressure. Governments and public authorities are increasingly shifting their focus to capturing data and planning services on the basis of ‘gender identity’ rather than sex. We believe that this shift, left unchecked, will have grave consequences for women’s sex-based rights as enshrined, primarily, in the Equality Act. Below we consider the implications of this conceptual shift on women in our communities.
Gender pay gap
WPUK’s manifesto seeks concrete steps from Government to achieve equal pay, such as compulsory equal pay audits, the collection of sex disaggregated data and better enforcement under the Equality Act 2010.
In February 2019, the UK Government Equalities Office (GEO) and Acas issued joint guidance to employers on how to report on their gender pay gap (GPG). The guidance instructs employers to gather data based on their employees’ ‘self-identified gender’ not their sex. WPUK wrote to Women and Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt MP in April 2019, asking her to review this guidance.
It has since emerged that neither the GEO nor Acas made any assessment of the impact of this guidance on the quality of the data and how it might impact on our ability to measure the scale of discrimination against women. For instance, as highlighted in Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women, the tech industry is heavily dominated by men. In industries where such stark disproportionalities exist, the GPG data could be easily skewed by just a small number of transwomen who are recorded as ‘female’.
WPUK manifesto demands on the economy:
- Take action to achieve equal pay, such as compulsory equal pay audits, the collection of sex disaggregated data and better enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.
- Introduce, as a right, a Citizens’ Pension based on the Dutch tax-funded model, payable at state pension age to each long-term resident and set at the Minimum Income Standard.
- Reinstate universal child benefit for all children.
- Value the caring work done by women. Invest in social infrastructure, including access to free universal childcare and adult social care.
- Improve access to the labour market for women and an end to occupational segregation.
- Prohibit redundancy in pregnancy and maternity; increased rates of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance, the right to breastfeed at work, and reinstatement of Sure Start grants.
- Introduce a day one right to flexible working.
- Increase levels of asylum support and protection.
- Overhaul of the Universal Credit system to:
- End the family cap that leaves children without welfare support;
- Scrap the rape clause that forces mothers to disclose rape or coercive control;
- Reduce the wait for payments;
- Allow for separate payments by default;
- Improve work incentives for second earners;
- Restore the disregard for Maternity Allowance.
- Restore the link between Local Housing Allowance and average rents.
Woman’s Place UK
We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.