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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Capital Women

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Meg spoke at a meeting of the Capital Women’s Forum in London - her remarks are below.


Good evening and thank you for inviting me.


Since being appointed Minister for Women and Equality I have been on a learning curve. Women today are involved in a dizzying variety of activities, more than ever before. Today’s woman shares some of the same concerns as her mother and grandmother, but also new ones hardly imagined just a few years ago. I, along with Tessa Jowell, am eager to get behind the headlines about Today’s Women - to find out what are her concerns, what issues matter to her, how does she spend her time and what we can do as Ministers to help her. 


We have statistics, most of which won’t be a surprise:


  • Women make up 46% of the workforce but only 11% are senior managers compared to 18% of men.

?        The full time gender pay gap is at an all time low - 13%.  However this means that Today’s woman earns 87p for every pound earned by her male colleague. Working part-time she earns a measly 59p to the pound.

?        On average 2 women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: in 2003/2004 nearly 40% of all female homicide victims were killed by their current or ex-partner compared with about 5% of male homicide victims.

?        Shockingly the British Crime Survey 2004 shows that 50% of all adult women have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

  • Women are still the poorest pensioners - for every £1 received by a married woman a married man will get £3.
  • Currently just 30% of women reaching age 60 are entitled to a full basic state pension compared to 85% of men.


And women represent:

  • 7% of High Court Judges
  • 8.4% of University Vice Chancellors
  • 10% of FTSE 100 board members
  • 15% of University Professors
  • 19.8% of MPs


But statistics can only tell part of the story, which is why we are going around the country talking to women to find out directly about the issues that concern them.


Our first event was at the end of November in Birmingham - a fascinating day. It gave us a real sense of women’s lives. Next month I will be in Sheffield, with Eastbourne, Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle and London in the spring.  This is an opportunity for women, young and old, in paid work or at home, married, single, mothers - to discuss with us their ideas to help make a better Britain.  I hope you will visit the website, or send in one of these postcards, to let your views be known. 


Women who work in the city of London swim against a system that is stacked against allowing women succeed. However, things are changing for the better - albeit slowly.


The Female FTSE 100 Index published in November with the support of my department, showed that 78 FTSE 100 companies now have women directors. Women now make up 10.5% of all directorships in the FTSE 100.  But, there is only one female CEO and one female chairman and 22 boards still have no women on them. 


The government has been active in pursuing policies that help women.  The introduction of the National Minimum Wage, the 10 year Childcare strategy, Working Family Tax Credits and new Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault legislations are but a few. 


There is more to come, and there are three key initiatives I’d like to mention tonight.


The first is the Women and Work Commission - many of the women in paid work are segregated into the lowest paying jobs - commonly know as the 5 C’s - clerical, catering, cashiering, cleaning and caring.


The Prime Minister last year set up the Commission to examine just why there is still such a huge gap between the pay of men and women and other issues surrounding women’s opportunities in work. Their recommendations will be published in the next few weeks - I have no doubt that they will be practical and innovative in order to reduce the gender pay gap and improve the options for women in work.


The second is the Equality Bill - which will set up the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.  Contained within it is the public sector duty on gender equality - know better as the Gender Duty.  Very much in the same vein as the race and disability duties this will put a statutory duty on all public authorities to promote and ensure equality of opportunity between men and women. 


Thirdly, the Work and Families Bill - this delivers many of the measures set out in response to the Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility consultation.  Our ambition is to deliver greater choice to parents in how they balance their work and family life.


The Bill will 

  • Extend the maximum period for payment of Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance and Statutory Adoption Pay to 52 weeks.
  • Provide employed fathers with an entitlement to up to a further 26 weeks leave. Some of which could be paid, if the mother returns to work.
  • Extend the right to request flexible working to carers of adults from April 2007.
  • Ease the administration of Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay.

The extension to maternity pay is estimated to benefit 400,000 mothers per year, and the additional statuary paternity pay is estimated to benefit a minimum of 240,000 fathers. By extending the right to request flexible working for carers of adults we estimate up to 1.8 million carers may be able to make such requests. This agenda is helping children get the best start in life, enabling families to have genuine choices about how they balance work and family caring responsibilities.


When talking about what I am up to as Minister for Women and Equality I know people wonder just how I arrived at this job - so I thought I’d finish my contribution with a potted case study about me.


Coincidently, over the weekend we were having a bit of a clear out at home when I came across a diary that I had written in 1974 the year I became 15. The contents included information on a forthcoming work experience in social work, which I had already decided I wanted to do as a job. It also included details of both the General Elections held in 1974, plus the fact that I had joined the Labour Party. 


So we probably have to go right back to my childhood to find the route that brought me to my present job. As you will see, I blame the parents!


I grew up in a family interested and active in politics. My father was a local councillor, my mother an active Labour Party member. I was encouraged to do well, going to university before finding a job as a Social Work Assistant. After three years I returned to university to obtain a social work qualification.


Shortly after I was encouraged by my local Labour Party to stand for the council and found myself at the age of 27 on Nottingham City Council. I enjoyed the experience enormously - representing local people within the council, trying to resolve their every day problems but also the wider political questions facing the administration running a city.


During that time I met and married - more accurately I should say I was 'match made' by a mutual Labour Party friend. My husband was also involved in politics and he understood the time pressure that being a councillor and working full time brings with it. Indeed when I came off the council 2 years later I worried that the additional time we would spend together might be difficult for us!! Over the next few years, while remaining active in politics, I pursued my career - moving up the management grades. I quickly learnt that if you move around every 2 - 3 years then you will have moved on before the changes you make have gone wrong!!


Having been brought up to value education, and seen my mother develop her career through further education and training after returning to work having had children, I was keen to gain management training.


Unfortunately at that time little credence was given to the need to have trained managers with the small amounts of money that were available being directed to front line staff. I decided to fund myself through the Open University, obtaining the certificate and diploma in management studies over three years.


By 1999 I was Assistant Director for Children's Services in York. It was around then that I had begun to think about whether to consider a more full time role in politics. I enjoyed my job but politics remained a draw. With a demanding full time job it would have been impossible to consider the local council. I decided to try to be selected for the European elections. The process involved going to many party meetings, giving a speech and answering questions on almost any issue - learning how to answer even the most bizarre and unexpected question with something like a sensible response.


It was during that time that the bug really got me - not only did I enjoy this strange and nerve racking process, but people I respected told me they thought I was good at it! Although I was not successful that time round - which wasn't a surprise, I was determined to pursue other options should they arise.


It was late in 1999 that I heard that the MP for the area in which I had grown up was retiring. I thought this might be a real opportunity for me. The process was without doubt the hardest thing I have ever done - endless knocking on doors and selling yourself. It's gruelling, and selling yourself, despite what you may have read about politicians, rarely comes easily.


However the hard work paid off, and in July 2000 I was selected to represent Sheffield Heeley constituency, and was elected to Parliament in June 2001.


In Parliament I focused on a variety of areas including education, small businesses and reforming adoption law. Women do need to speak up on matters that affect women to ensure they are on the political agenda. The reform of law on domestic violence legislation is one area that probably wouldn't have happened if women MPs had not pressed for it. The prominence of child care and issues affecting carers also owes much to the efforts of women MPs.


Having women in the House of Commons is important, people forget how few there have been and that achieving increased representation has only made significant strides through all women shortlists. In nearly 90 years of women standing for Parliament currently only 20% of MPs are women. There have only ever been 291 women MP’s; there are over 500 male MPs in parliament at this moment in time.


So what got me to where I am - role models of other women in public life were important but more than anything aspiration - instilled at home, ambition encouraged by my husband and other friends, and sheer hard work. So that’s a gallop through my history.


I understand this is the last formal meeting of the Capital Women’s Forum, I hope that’s not a reflection my being here! I hope that the network will continue in some form - be it cyberspace or face to face.  Forums and networks really are vital - many women find the support, guidance and networking opportunities invaluable.


So, again thank you for inviting me, and I look forward to some questions.

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