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Gloria de Piero MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, in a speech to Labour’s National Women’s Conference 2014 in Manchester, said:
You know, there’s no better showcase of the talented and passionate women we have in our Party than what we’ve just heard. It gives me hope in the future of our politics. We need many more voices of women in our politics because still today there are more male MPs sitting in Parliament than there have ever been women elected.
Often when I do an interview I’m asked – what’s it like being a woman in politics? I always think of the Ginger Rogers line ‘I do everything Fred Astaire did - but backwards and in high heels.’
We’ll know when we have enough women in politics because no one will ask that question - because what they are really asking is what is it like to be a woman in a man’s world. And our politics can’t be a man’s world.
I was chatting to Dawn Primarolo the other day. She was elected in 1987 - when there were 41 women MPs.
She was a Treasury Minister in the last Labour Government and she was telling me about the time she told her civil servants she wanted to reduce VAT on tampons.
Oh no, Minister they replied - we could only do that for essential items! But Dawn did it anyway.
Sisters, we know what a difference women in politics can make, but on too many streets across Britain that isn’t a view that’s shared.
You know the scenario, out knocking on doors for Labour, a woman in her twenties or thirties opens the door and your heart sinks a little bit as she tells you “I don’t do politics.”
I’ve been going around the country and asking as a politician –“Why do you hate me?”
In Ashfield I met Michelle. She’s thirty-four and a mum and told me she wasn’t interested. “I don’t really understand politics. But I know the rich get richer and the poor poorer.”
Then Michelle told me her husband works sixty hours a week and they still can’t afford to get by; how anti-social behaviour hurts her neighbourhood. Michelle talked to me about politics in a way that was passionate and direct. But in Michelle’s eyes this wasn’t politics.
I met Tracey listening to a group of supermarket workers to find out what women want. Tracey told me she hadn’t voted in years because she’d lost faith in politics. Tracey cares about her community and stands up for her colleagues as a member of her trade union USDAW. But for Tracey, politics isn’t this.
Politics is a bunch of men shouting across the Commons at each other. Or in the inspired words of one person I met ‘when I watch Prime Ministers Question Time I think it’s like Jeremy Kyle with posh people.’
Politics isn’t speaking to Michelle, or Tracey, and it’s not their fault - it’s politics’ fault.
You know politics would be richer with Michelle and Tracey in it so when you are in your community and you meet women like Michelle and Tracey, don’t walk down the path with your tail between your legs.
Ask them to join us and help us fix our broken politics. It’s not Michelle and Tracey who are wrong about politics. Its politics that’s wrong for Michelle and Tracey and millions of women like them.
They take one look at a Parliament still three-quarters male.
At a Cabinet with more members who went to Private school than there are women, a Prime Minister who tells our Angela to ‘calm down dear,’ at a Liberal Democrat Party with more Knights than women MPs. They take one look at this politics and they say no thank you.
Conference, our politics must be for the many not the few. As the Labour Party we have always led the way.
With more women MPs than all the other Parties combined and forty four per cent of our Shadow Cabinet and the fantastic women here today. Over half of our candidates in target seats are women. A leader, Ed Miliband, who is committed to 50 per cent of our Parliamentary Party being women. We know we can’t rely on the other Parties to do this; they’re standing still.
We need more women of all voices – working class women, single mums, women of different faiths and races. Because it’s fair. And because if politicians all come from the same narrow group of people, politics can’t hope to understand the lives and struggles of the whole of Britain. One look at this Government’s record confirms that.
David Cameron never hears the voices of the women we know. Like Sam who used to do my hair, who worked full-time at the salon but told me she’d started working evening shifts in a pub. Sam didn’t need two jobs to save for something nice like a wedding, or a holiday. She needed two jobs because she was saving for a cooker. And its for women like Sam that we need to increase the minimum wage.
I met Caroline working at Manchester Airport who earns £50.58 a day on the minimum wage, but can’t make work pay because all the nurseries charge £55.
That’s why Labour will deliver breakfast school and after school clubs and provide 25 hours free childcare a week for working parents with 3 and 4 year old children.
These are the women’s voices we hear on the doorstep - up and down the country that the Tories and Lib Dems have shut out.
And Conference, I want to tell you about one woman who I spoke to from Birmingham recently. I can’t tell you her name because she’s been told if she speaks out the compensation she’s been awarded will be taken away.
But I can tell you she used to work in childcare and through the support of her colleagues and her Union - the GMB - was awarded compensation after years of being paid less than her male colleagues who were less qualified.
She told me, “I got a fair amount of money through the pay-out, but all of those years I struggled to pay my bills and the debt I was in and I think what would my life have been like if I’d been paid a fair wage.”
“All those years I was in debt to credit card companies, even though I’d been to college”.
It’s 44 years since Labour’s Barbara Castle passed the Equal Pay Act. Yet today women are still earning just 80p for every pound a man earns.
Women working as carers face up to £100,000 in lost earnings over the course of their lifetime. A woman teacher will lose £166,000 and if you’re a woman working in law or finance, you’ll lose well over £200,000.
Equal pay isn’t just an issue for women. It’s an issue for families, for fathers and husbands too. We’re all poorer because women don’t have equal pay. And it’s a scandal that under the Tories and Lib Dems the pay gap’s back on the rise again.
Why? Because the minimum wage hasn’t kept up. Because too often jobs are low-paid, insecure, zero-hours.
The Labour Government closed the pay gap by a third. We passed the Equality Act but the Tories and Liberals ditched the bit which would have helped us make progress on equal pay. And now, under the Tories and Lib Dems, we’ve gone into reverse
Once again women are being told to wait their turn
Sisters we’ve waited long enough!
The time for equality is now.
Under a Labour Government for the first time, companies with more than 250 staff will have to publish pay figures so women can see if all the jobs at the top of the organisation are being done by men or if they are doing the same jobs as their male colleague for less pay.
It took a Labour Government to pass the Equal Pay Act and it will take a Labour Government to deliver Equal Pay.
Because we are the Party of Equality and only a Labour Government – with women’s voices at its heart - will deliver a better future for women and their families.
When a quarter of working women earn less than the living wage we need a Labour Government led by Ed Miliband to end the scandal of low pay.
We need a Labour Government to end exploitative zero-hour contracts for the thousands of women who don’t know what they’ll be paid one week to the next.
A Labour Government to give the thousands of women trapped by long-term unemployment the chance of a real, paid job, to scrap the bedroom tax hitting hundreds of thousands of women, to deliver affordable childcare, freezing family energy bills, a decent minimum wage.
It’s power for a purpose, it’s a passion to change our politics and our country and it’s up to every single one of us to make that happen.