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Discrimination is commonplace in local government with almost four in ten women councillors having experienced sexist comments from within their own party, according to a report released by The Fawcett Society today.  The survey of over 2,300 councillors also found that a third of women councillors have experienced sexist comments in the council chamber and 43% say they are held back by assumptions about their capabilities because they are women. And one in ten have, according to the report, experienced sexual harassment from other councillors.

The findings are part of the Local Government Commission – a year-long study led by the Fawcett Society in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit, which is asking ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’ The statistics released today are from the interim report, with a final report due in the summer. This will make recommendations on how to address the key issues faced by women councillors and the barriers to women’s representation in local government.

The Commission today, is also publishing new data on women’s representation in local government. The picture is one of very slow progress. Only 33% of elected local councillors in England are women, an increase of just five percentage points since 1997. Yet over the same period, the proportion of women in Parliament has increased by more than half, from 18% to 29%.

The Commission finds that slow progress is exacerbated by many councillors remaining in office for significant periods of time. In 2016 men were 1.6 times more likely to be long term incumbent than women. Of those who have been in office for 20 years or more, there were three men for every one woman. Although some seats change hands at every election this is a relatively small number and is never enough to create real change in the gender composition of local elected members.

The remit of Fawcett’s year-long Commission of experts has been to:

• Gather and publish evidence on female participation and representation across local government and identify the barriers to women’s representation.

• Make recommendations on how to advance women’s leadership in local government and establish a pipeline for power, including positive steps to support and inspire women to stand for elected office.

• Demonstrate the impact of decision-making at the local level for women’s lives.

• Reinvigorate the role of women in local government and encourage more women to stand and participate.

Read the full report.
Read the executive summary

Nida Broughton, Chief Economist at The Social Market Foundation, says devolution deals must include policies to tackle local poverty and make sure to capitalise on local expertise.  This blog was originally published on the SMF website and in New Start magazine.


English local areas are getting more powers from central government. Under the Government’s plans for a “devolution revolution”, local leaders are to be given “radical new powers to take responsibility for driving local growth”. Much of the rationale for devolution has been framed around control and local economic growth. In contrast, there has been little specific discussion about what increasing devolution means for policies to tackle poverty. The Social Market Foundation’s new paper, Devolution and Poverty, examines whether and how we can tackle poverty locally, building on two roundtables with local leaders and policymakers.


There are a number of reasons why giving local areas more control could help tackle poverty. Unlike central government, local government is likely to have much more detailed knowledge and understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty in their areas. That means that they are often better placed to know where money should be best spent, and how to co-ordinate local services – such as skills, employment and childcare support – to help those in need. Localising power provides huge opportunities to try out new ways of delivering services to people. And finally, there could well be a political advantage too, in that building a political narrative around the case for tackling poverty may be easier at local, rather than national level.


However, whilst there are advantages to taking a local approach to tackling poverty, this does not mean that it is always easier or more effective to do so at local rather than national level. Some local areas simply do not have the same capacity to generate prosperity as others – at least in the short to medium term. Some areas have an existing stock of high quality infrastructure, jobs and skills, whereas others will not. Often these trends are highly entrenched and take a long time to shift. That also means that some types of devolution – such as allowing local areas to keep more of the tax revenues they generate – can leave poorer areas worse off, unless measures are in place to limit those losses.


Further, much of the devolution of powers so far has been focused on encouraging local leaders to take measures to boost local economic growth. But even if they are capable of doing so, a focus on growth will not automatically result in policies that effectively tackle poverty. Previous studies have found that it is not uncommon for poverty rates to either increase or stay static even in cities that are seeing economic growth, with London a prime example. A key worry in our roundtables was that often local residents did not have the skills and experience to make the most of new jobs that were being created.


Finally, if local policy is to be driven by local needs, strong local democracy and accountability is vital. Local policymakers at our roundtables worried that there was insufficient awareness of and involvement in the negotiation of devolution deals among local people.


In our paper, we argue that Government should think carefully about the pros and cons of devolution, and whether localisation of powers is always the best way to achieve particular goals. Government needs to explicitly set out where responsibilities for tackling poverty lie when it devolves powers: we examined nine devolution deals and found no explicit references to tackling poverty in them. It should focus on devolving powers for types of policy where local knowledge can be especially helpful – in the commissioning of employment services, for example. But it should be careful in how it devolves powers over tax and welfare, where the dangers of some areas falling further behind are strongest.


Nida Broughton is Chief Economist at the Social Market Foundation

A new commission on representation of women in local government has been launched today by The Fawcett Society.  The Commission will run for a year and is co-chaired by Margaret Hodge MP and local councillor Gillian Keegan, in partnership with local government think tank and membership organisation, LGiU.


The Fawcett Society has played a leading role in championing women’s representation and lobbying for women’s rights since Millicent Fawcett’s first petition for the women’s vote in 1866.  More recently it has campaigned to improve women’s representation in politics including for all women shortlists which was legislated for in the Sex Discrimination Act 2002.  Women’s political participation and representation remain a core feature of its work.


Currently women make up only 32% of local councillors in England, 27% in Wales, 13% of elected mayors and 12.3% of local authority leaders in England, compared to 16.6% in 2004.  2015 saw the number of women in the UK Parliament increase – particularly the number of women on the front bench, but at local level, women’s representation is stagnating.


The Commission’s launch paper is an analysis of women’s representation in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.   Launched by Chancellor George Osborne in 2014 the Northern Powerhouse is the centrepiece of the Government’s devolution agenda.  The Government’s devolution agenda and commitment to creating a Northern Powerhouse has seen significant powers and budgets passed from Whitehall to newly established combined authorities.


The key findings of the report are:


  • 40% of local councillors in the Northern Powerhouse region are women, but women make up just 21% of council leaders and directly elected mayors
  • Only 2 of the 7 chairs of the established and proposed combined authorities in the Northern Powerhouse region are women
  • Of 134 senior leadership roles in the Northern Powerhouse 96 (or 72%) of these are occupied by men
  • The City deals underpinning devolution come with a commitment to regional directly elected mayors – but so far only 4 of the 16 existing directly elected mayors in England and Wales are women.


The local government commission will also gather evidence over the next 12 months on:


  • women’s representation at a local level, and in particular focus on women in positions of power and leadership and where women make a positive difference
  • the barriers to women’s participation and representation and the practical solutions which would enable more women to participate
  • the diversity of women’s representation including BAME women, disabled women, those with caring responsibilities and different age groups.

Read the report.

Sapphire Mason-Brown, Communications and Programmes Intern at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, considers the potential implications of the Chancellor’s spending review for the voluntary sector.


Last week’s spending review brought little positive news for key departments and affected individuals; the prison budget was were reduced by £180m, a 6% cut to the transport resource budget has been proposed and civilian posts on the armed forces have been cut. Some specific components of the review have great implications for charities and those rely on in their services, notably cuts to the welfare budget, local government spending and the Charity Commission’s budget, meaning that times will only get tougher for the sector.


The review sees a 10% cut to local government spending making it particularly hard hit. This comes in addition to the previous 33% real terms cuts to council budgets directly affecting their service provisions. However, Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs) can bid for funding from a local growth fund of £2bn (lower than the £70bn recommended by Lord Heseltine in his review of economic policies), a move declared to be: “a welcome step in the right direction” by Alex Pratt, chairman of the Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP.


Changes to the welfare budget will likely have the greatest immediate impact on many beneficiaries of charities working with vulnerable communities. A new cap will be introduced to the welfare system affecting housing benefit, tax credits and disability benefits. Alongside the welfare cap comes a cut to the benefits of claimants who do not speak English unless they take language courses and a ‘temperature test’ for winter fuel allowance preventing pensioners living in warm countries from claiming it.


Dubbed the ‘Wonga Week’ by some, the waiting period before jobseekers are able to claim benefits will be extended to seven days from the previous three, which has been perceived as a change that could encourage greater take-up of payday loans. Payday loans have received heightened attention due to an increased reliance on their services, alongside and increase in the sheer amount of debt stemming from payday loan. On average, the average amount owed on payday loans has increased by £400 to £1657.


Particularly in light of a greater reliance on food banks and increased payday loan debt, the consequences of the welfare cap are potentially significant for both charities and their beneficiaries; as a result, analysis of this will soon be published by NCVO.


The Charity Commissions’ budget will be reduced from £21.4million to £20.4million and the department for Culture, Media and Sport will be cut by 7%.


The resource budgets for the Treasury and the Cabinet Office will be cut by 10%, whilst the Office for Civil Society will retain its funding of £56m and additional support will be provided for the National Citizenship Service.


Issues arising from cuts affecting the sector are twofold, as cuts to welfare and local government spending may lead to a further increased demand for their advice and support services, whilst the Charity Commission faces a direct cut to its funding, potentially reducing it’s ability to support and champion the sector. In the coming weeks NCVO will be working to build a fuller picture of the impact of these changes on voluntary and community organisations.