Nicky Morgan leaves 10 Downing Street after being appointed as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and minister for women. Photograph: Getty Images.
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What should the new minister for women do?

Nicky Morgan won’t have a magic wand, but a fresh minister could make a real difference on equal pay, vulnerable women and gender segregation in the workplace.  

Four years after the 2010 election and the government’s track record on equality is patchy at best. For women’s equality, in particular, years of slow but steady progress has begun to unravel. A staggering 80 per cent of the money saved through changes to the welfare system is coming from women’s pockets, while what money is going back into the system is disproportionately benefitting men. (1)

Our standing in the labour market has also come under threat, with public sector jobs cuts hitting women hardest. Most damningly of all, the pay gap has widened for the first time in five years: more than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women now earn an average 16 per cent less than men. (2)

At the same time, some of the most vulnerable women in the UK have nowhere to turn as councils around the country slash funding for vital programmes, such as violence against women support services. (3) Some positives – notably the introduction of equal marriage, increased support for childcare costs and the extending of the right to request flexible working – are being undermined by an economic programme that is forcing women to act as shock absorbers for the cuts.

The appointment of a new minister for women is an opportunity to re-focus, and push women’s equality to the front of the government’s agenda.

While Nicky Morgan won’t have a magic wand, a fresh minister could make a real difference. Her position as Financial Secretary to the Treasury should also prove useful when it comes to mitigating some of the worse effects of austerity.

Fawcett’s to-do list includes:

  • Thinking again about paying down the deficit primarily through public spending cuts. The current 80:20 ratio straightaway hits women hardest as we rely more heavily on the state for financial support due to being poorer and having greater caring responsibilities – benefits typically make up a fifth of women’s incomes as opposed to a tenth of men’s. (4)

 

  • Widening government investment to beyond those industries where men dominate the workforce (such as infrastructure) – and doing more to challenge gender segregation in the workplace.  

 

  • Taking urgent action to protect the most vulnerable women by protecting violence against women services from local authority cuts.

 

  • Ensuring that all spending decisions are consider in light of what they will mean for equality between different groups, including men and women  so conducting thorough "impact assessments".

 

  • Effectively tackling the shame that is a widening pay gap by enacting the Equality Act requirement that big business monitor and publicise their own gaps and by taking action to improve low pay

 

These are just a top five to be going on with, and Nicky Morgan’s in-tray will no doubt be bulging, but capitalising on the energy a new appointment brings could deliver real progress.

  1. House of Commons research quoted in the Independent 8 March 2014 found tax and benefit changes brought in under the coalition government  have raised a net £3.047bn (21 per cent) from men and £11.628bn (79 per cent) from women.
  2. Pay gap: ONS figures published in November 2013 found that:  Men’s mean gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) were £16.91 in April 2013, up 2.3 per cent from £16.52 in 2012. Women’s mean hourly earnings increased by 1.3 per cent to £14.25 compared with £14.07 in 2012. This means that the gender pay difference for full-time employees widened to 15.7 per cent from 14.8 per cent in 2012.
  3. Thirty-one percent of the funding to the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector from local authorities was cut between 2010/11 to 2011/12, ‘Measuring the impact of cuts in public expenditure on the provision of services to prevent violence against women and girls’,  Professor Sylvia Walby,  January 2012
  4.  The Fawcett Society, Who Benefits?: A gender analysis of the UK benefits and tax credits system, April 2006.

Daisy Sands is head of policy and campaigns at the Fawcett Society  

Daisy Sands is head of policy and campaigns at the Fawcett Society 

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
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For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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