Ed Miliband speaks out on Occupy movement

The Labour leader says St Paul's protest reflects wider concerns over "irresponsible, predatory capi

In the New Statesman last month, our leader column called for Ed Miliband to engage with the protesters outside St Paul's Cathedral in London:

Haunted by the spectre of the 1980s -- when Labour was marginalised as a party of protest -- Ed Miliband has avoided engaging with the movement. But he should not miss the opportunity to channel its anger into a coherent political programme. As his deft response to the phone-hacking scandal demonstrated, there are gains to be made when the normal laws of politics are suspended . . . Mr Miliband was ridiculed for his division of businesses into "predators and producers" but his yearning for a better, more ethical capitalism is widely shared. (more here)

Today, the Labour leader has done exactly that. Unsurprisingly, he does not back the protesters directly, but instead outlines how he believes their concerns are reflected by wider society:

Certainly, few people struggling to makes ends meet and worried about what the future holds for their children will have either the time or the inclination to camp outside a cathedral. And many people will not agree with the demands or like the methods of the protesters. But they still present a challenge: to the church and to business -- and also to politics. The challenge is that they reflect a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run.

He goes on to identify high unemployment as the key challenge facing Britons, particularly young ones. There are some positive suggestions, as, after all, "the role of politicians is not to protest, but to find answers".

Miliband makes several concrete proposals of how he would talk to the "99 per cent". First, a tax on bank bonuses, then using the money saved by reversing Tory tax cuts for banks to reduce the maximum student tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000.

In a move that will play well with the Daily Mail -- and fits his "squeezed middle" rhetoric -- Miliband promises to reduce fuel bills by "break[ing] up the rigged market of the energy cartel so that new competitors can drive prices down". (David Cameron has also identified this as an important issue with voters: in October, he summoned representatives of the "big six" energy firms to a Whitehall meeting.)

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.