Category Archives: women

Vote for (Suffolk) Women!

Caroline Page seconding the #WASPI motion, asking for fair transitional state pension arrangements for 50’s born women

February 6th 1918 saw  (some) modern British women get the vote.  100 years on,  I’m one of 22 women out of 75 councillors elected to Suffolk County Council.  22 -that’s 29% – significantly below the appalling  33% average women in UK councils – itself a flatline, increasing only 5% since 1997. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk.

We’re behind so many countries: Italy, Germany, Norway.  The Rwandan parliament is 64% female – in Suffolk,  there are 2 women out of 7 MPs, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors.  And this is Suffolk! – Birthplace of women’s higher education, home of Women’s Suffrage.

Clearly something’s adrift.

In 1860 3 young women in a house in Aldeburgh planned to change women’s futures: Elizabeth Garrett became first woman to qualify in Britain (both physician and surgeon), co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, first woman dean  of a British medical school, first female doctor of medicine in France, first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board, and (as Mayor of Aldeburgh), first female British mayor and magistrate – a lot of firsts in a lot of fields. Her friend Emily Davies opened university education to women: she founded Girton College, Cambridge.  Elizabeth’s 13-year-old sister Millicent became Millicent Fawcett, pioneer of women’s suffrage.

It is fair to say, the rest is – half-remembered – history.

On the way back from Ipswich Hospital Garret Anderson centre the other day, a taxi driver asked  “who the chap was” that it was named after? And who in Suffolk links women’s suffrage and Fawcett Society with that 13yo  in Aldeburgh?

A crying shame when you consider that half of our county’s  population are women – about 370,000 of us all occupying Suffolk’s 3800 square kilometres. If we were spread across the county we might all be within shouting distance of each other – if we shouted very loud. And we’ve a lot of reasons to shout. The gender pay gap in Suffolk is 22.2% – above the national average. We have a higher than average level of violence against women. Last year, I established that Suffolk was not a good place to be a girl.

Women need all the help we can get – in Suffolk, as elsewhere.  So why so few women representing us?

First and foremost I’d say a lot of women simply don’t think of themselves as elected representatives. A shame, because so many women’s lives have required them to develop the skills sets, the energy, the drive, the determination, the ability to multitask and the fire in our bellies to be very good representatives indeed. A lot of women just don’t realise they have the skills, or that they have value.

Then, people in general have a very low awareness of government in general. They are often unclear as to which services are delivered by central government, and which by local. In Suffolk, people are often unclear as to which council of three they may mean when talking about ‘the council’. Who’d be elected to something you don’t understand?

What people do know about councils, they know in terms of dissatisfaction – transport, potholes, social care – all gone wrong. They know that some officers are paid large salaries. They often conflate these with councillors who are paid (small) ‘allowances’. Generally this means that ‘the council’ has an undeserved bad reputation: people see it as ‘them’ instead of ‘us’ and profligate with ‘our money.’

Most curious of all, when it comes to ‘our money’ people seem to make very little connection between local politics, voting and outcome. They  will see local elections as unimportant and ‘not bother’ to vote – though the effects of the county council budget will affect their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

They will vote for a party that fails to raise council tax year after year – and then be astonished at the effect this has on their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

Within this mindset very few women might want to be councillors – seeing it as a male environment and a negative one at that. And yet of course, it a council is a place where we the people can put many things right – and gender equality in  councillors can make this happen.

No, this isn’t pie in the sky – its common sense! Councils have budgets and allocate huge amounts of local funding – and they decide where it goes. If most councillors are middle-aged middle-class white men who have never had “the worry of how to put shoes on the children’s feet because you are paid so little as a carer”, or “worry if you can manage to hang on to your job while getting two children to schools in different directions”, they will not understand the issues of paying carers too little, or splitting siblings between schools, or failing to provide rural families with sufficient transport options. They may well have different funding priorities to women when it come to refuges, or rape crisis lines or supporting family carers. Not because they mean harm – but because it has never had to enter their head as personal priorities.

My own background as a councillor is, maybe, unusual – but I would suggest that the background of many women councillors IS unusual. Many experiences played a part, but I’d say, most importantly, was that I was a lone parent and full-time carer fighting for the needs for my disabled child – and very angry indeed about various things in society that I wanted to try and change. In the end my friends told me to put up or shut up  so I joined the party that was closest to my beliefs and put my name forward to stand as county councillor.

I stood against a respected, longstanding local politician – he was a past town, district, county councillor and past mayor too. And, against any  expectation I won. Was it because I wasn’t a “normal politician”?

I’ve been re-elected three times since. Because of that I have had the chance to raise more issues, fight for more causes, and gain more successes than I had ever thought possible as a private individual. And that is immensely satisfying.

But still as a woman you find you can speak to a silence and five minutes later a male councillor repeats what you say to rapturous applause – clearly you had a cloak of invisibility on.You speak with passion about an injustice and a political journalist tweets something dismissive about your manner of speech. Like Ginger Rogers you do everything Fred Astaire does but backwards and in high heels, and still get second billing. There are endless microaggressions. Why? It’s a numbers game.

But the winds of change are blowing here -as in the film industry, as everywhere. The atmosphere is suddenly getting markedly less aggressive

I love what I do because it has so much variety- and you can have so much direct effect. One day you are fighting to stop someone (it often seems to be a woman, low-hanging fruit) getting deported, the next, putting the spotlight on a controversial transport consultation, the next convincing the council about the injustice of WASPI pensions. There’s never a dull moment and it makes a real difference to real lives.

To my mind, politics isn’t a game of “them” and “us” – its about how ‘we’ want to get ‘our’ country, county, town to work   – and where women are concerned it’s a numbers game.

Our numbers and our expertise will ensure  that we can make it better for all of us in towns, in counties, in our country if we step up to the plate and have belief in our own capacities.

It is really as simple as that!

Women of Suffolk,  come and join in!


Whats been happening in Suffolk, December-January 2017-18

Happy New Year! My January 2018 report  to Woodbridge & Martlesham councils covered a range of things: school transport, tree preservation, plastic bottles, WASPI women’s pensions, as well as updates on the Thoroughfare  and the success of the Jetty Lane  proposals

School Travel Consultation launched Although Suffolk parents, governors and councillors have voiced serious concerns over a consultation on proposed changes to the Suffolk School Transport policy, it was agreed by Suffolk’s Cabinet in December after significant controversy toward the end of last year. As you may remember, I spoke against this for a number of different reasons: perhaps most pertinently that the paper offered Cabinet three options of which the third was an unviable “Do nothing”. I suggested that a viable third option was to lobby central government for more funding to cover the shortfall caused by central government funding decisions – such as the de facto raising of statutory school leaving age from 16 to 18 without additional funding.  However, despite our strongly-voiced concerns, nobody but Cabinet members has a vote at Cabinet and the consultation was therefore voted through unanimously.  This public consultation was launched on Tuesday 12 December and will run until 28 February 2018. The consultation survey, along with more information on the proposals, can be found at I would be grateful if this information was disseminated as widely as possible.

A number of workshops have been organised, where the proposals will be discussed and questions answered. The only close one to Martlesham/Woodbridge is:

Venue Room Date Time
Kesgrave Conference Centre

Twelve Acre Approach, Ipswich IP5 1JF

Orwell Room 16 Jan 2018 19:00-20:30

In addition to the workshops, there will also be a Have Your Say event. This is an opportunity for members of the public to present alternative options to a panel.

Venue Date Time
West Suffolk House

Western Way, Bury St Edmunds IP33 3SP

30 Jan 2018 19:00-22:00

To book a place at the above events and for full details, visit or call 0345 603 1842 (Mon-Fri 08:30 – 18:00). For my concerns,

I would strongly urge you to respond to the consultation survey and encourage all parents to do the same – and attend one of the events if possible. If you would like any further information or clarification on the potential impacts of changing the policy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Suffolk County Council signs the Woodland Trust’s Tree CharterThe Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group proposed a motion to Suffolk County Council on 7 December, asking them to sign the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees, Woods and People. I am pleased to report that this received unanimous support.

The Charter was launched on 6 November to mark the 800 year anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest. The Woodland Trust is leading a call with more than 70 organisations from across multiple sectors, and hopes the Charter will bring the discussion of the importance of forests and trees back into public consciousness. There are ten principles which underpin the charter:

  1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
  2. Planting for the future
  3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
  4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
  5. Better protection for important trees and woods
  6. Enhancing new developments with trees
  7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
  8. Access to trees for everyone
  9. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
  10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

Unanimous support for LDGI Group’s motion on plastic recycling   Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, announced in October that he would be examining the possibility of introducing a plastic bottle Deposit Return Scheme in the UK to improve recycling rates.

At the meeting of Suffolk County Council on 7 December, Cllr Penny Otton (Lib Dem) and Cllr Robert Lindsay (Green) proposed a motion calling on the Council to pledge support for the introduction of such a scheme, and to offer Suffolk as a pilot area should one be needed. This was met with unanimous support. Both the Cabinet Member for the Environment and the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group will be writing to the Secretary of State, urging him to implement this new recycling scheme in the UK.

Deposit Return Schemes work by adding a small deposit charge to the cost of plastic bottles, which is refunded to the consumer when the bottle is returned for recycling. These “reward and return schemes” are already in place across Europe, including in Germany and Denmark, and evidence suggests they are an effective recycling method. The recycling rate for countries with a Deposit Return Scheme stands at over 90%, whilst Britain currently recycles just 57% of plastic bottles.

SInce we passed this motion the Government seems  finallyto have taken the idea on board.

Suffolk County Council votes unanimously to support WASPI women           As the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group Spokesperson for Women (indeed the only spokesperson for Women at Suffolk County Council), I seconded a cross-party motion asking the Council to offer support to the 35,000 WASPI women in Suffolk who are suffering from changes in state pension age. Once again, this received unanimous support, and the Interim Chief Executive will be writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling on the government to reconsider transitional arrangements for these women.

Women Against State Pension Inequalities (WASPI) is a national campaign, which highlights the unfair impact that state pension age changes have had on women born in the 1950s. Many women expected to receive a state pension at 60 and were not properly informed by the government of the age increase, leaving them stranded without income or forced to delay retirement plans. WASPI agrees with the equalisation of state pension age, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice, faster than promised, and leaving no time to make alternative plans.

If you would like more information, please visit:  or my blog

Success for Jetty Lane CIC  Directors of the recently formed Jetty Lane CiC took its business plan and designs for a new youth centre to a panel of Suffolk County Council Corporate Property just before Christmas. It was accompanied by a letter telling them it

“is a project that is designed to address sustainably the currently unmet needs of many disparate groups in Woodbridge (and its environs), with particular emphasis on young people and the arts.

In order for Jetty Lane first to fund-raise and then to function most effectively, it will require the certainty of a long lease. We are therefore here today to ask you to give the CiC a lease of 125 years on the site at IP12 4BA.

We are also asking for the lease to be at a peppercorn rent: two youth charities will be permanently housed at the centre, while many of the other users are charities or community groups. The CiC itself is a not-for-profit organisation which is working purely for the benefit of the community.”

The  panel expressed themselves very satisfied with the design and plans, which they described as ‘inspiring and ambitious.’  We were very flatteringly told we had “made their day”
The directors had expected to have  to wait 2 weeks for a decision but Suffolk County Council offered us the 125 year lease at a peppercorn rent (subject to terms & conditions) on the spot!
What a wonderful Christmas present to the young people and community of Woodbridge!

Council requests extension of Adult Social Care Levy Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, Cabinet Member for Adult Care, called on the Council to lobby government to extend the National Adult Social Care Levy and explore other mechanisms to support social care because it is increasingly unaffordable.

Although my LibDem, Green and Independent Group supported this motion, and agree that social care requires an urgent funding review, we questioned why the Cabinet Member had not already been lobbying the government. The challenges facing social care are not new.

Suffolk chosen as pilot scheme for 100% Business Rates Retention  In the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, released on 19 December, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that Suffolk had been chosen as a pilot scheme for 100% business rates retention for the 2018-19 financial year.

Suffolk is one of only 10 pilot areas announced. Both the county council and the district/borough councils will be part of the scheme. However, until more information is released from the Department for communities and Local Government, it is not possible to say exactly how much additional income this could generate into the Suffolk system.

Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation -responses to results  The results of the initial consultation were presented for 3 weeks at the Library – (end of November to mid December) to ensure that plenty of visibility and transparency was given. It was also covered in the EADT and the resuts can be seen on my blog

Eight email responses were received as a result . Of those

  • 2            were supportive
  • 2            were simple questions of fact to which factual answers could be given.
  • 1            was a suggestion
  • 3            were strong objections. All 3 of these were from – or obo – elderly & infirm people who felt they could not get from carparks to the Thoroughfare. All 3 criticised the process and suggested we should have had more thought of disabled people. In each answer I pointed out the scope and extent of the consultation, the views of the Suffolk Coastal Disability Forum, and then mentioned the potential mitigation via the passes with the taxi firm, pointing out taxi access was something that was not possible currently, and that people too infirm/disabled to use a concessionary bus pass when entitled to one are able claim £150 taxi vouchers  annually from SCC in lieu.

The next step has been to ask the relevant Highways officers to give me a quotation and then start work on the design


#WASPI success at Suffolk County Council

Caroline Page seconding the #WASPI motion, asking for fair transitional state pension arrangements for 50’s born women

As LibDem Green and Independent Spokesperson for Women, I was proud to second the important cross-party motion at Suffolk County Council last week which asked government to support fair transitional pension arrangements for 1950’s born women (the so-called #WASPI* women) See speech on YouTube here:

Women born in the 50s have lived throughout a period when the Equality Act didn’t result in equality of pay, opportunity, or expectation. They have been expected to make career breaks, and work part-time to bring up children and care for dependent relatives with all the subsequent difficulties of returning to equivalent work.

In 2017 a woman’s retirement income is on average 45% less than a man’s.

For years successive governments failed to warn women so they could better plan for their futures. But in the circumstances many women would have needed to have made a lifetime of different choices to make adequate preparation for this pension change.

The perfect storm is that WASPI women are now also 3 times more likely than their younger peers to be divorced and suffer financial pressure.

The motion, proposed by Labour stated: “This Council believes the Government should make fair and transitional state pension arrangements for the 34,000 Suffolk women born in the 1950’s, who have unfairly borne the burden of the increase to the State Pension Age with lack of appropriate notification. This Council requests the Interim Chief Executive write to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling on the government to reconsider transitional arrangements for women.”  It was passed unanimously by Suffolk County Council with no abstentions. 

  *WASPI = Women Against State Pension Inequality

My speech:         I’m proud to support the efforts of the WASPI campaign, and applaud them on their resilience and determination to make their case heard. As a State Pension Age affected woman  myself born in the 1950s, as LibDem Green and Independent Spokesperson for Women,  and as a full-time carer, I’m all too aware of the problems.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Retirement age changes take place in the name of equality – and everyone should want that!

But the devil’s in the detail. Women born in the 50s have lived throughout a period when the Equality Act didn’t result in equality of pay, opportunity, or expectation. Women have been expected to make career breaks, and work part-time to bring up children and care for dependent relatives with all subsequent difficulties of returning to equivalent work.

And lack of occupational pension, and breaks in state pension contributions has inevitable consequences. No surprise that  in 2017 a woman’s retirement income is on average 45% less than a man’s – the differential £1000 GREATER than it was a year before. Shocking.

For years successive governments failed to warn women  so they could better plan  for their futures.

But -lets be honest – many women would need to have made a lifetime of different choices to make adequate preparation for this

By the time women are my age, 50% are already unpaid family carers: odds men don’t achieve until they are 75. And with life expectancy rising, the numbers needing care have snowballed. You don’t start out in life expecting to be a family carer.  It comes up behind you and blackjacks you and conflicts with your capacity to earn..

So,  change in retirement age impacts particularly on a whole generation of women that state and family have relied on to give up careers and occupational pensions to care unpaid for others.

And you can see how families, women, everyone might decide it better for family finances that the woman gave up work to care because she’d get the earlier state pension.

The perfect storm is that WASPI women are now also more likely than their younger peers to be divorced and suffer financial pressure. One in 3 are divorced – three times as many as those born 25 years later.

Says a 62 year old constituent ,“Make preparations? Many of my lifechoices were out of my hands but I still have to face the consequences “.  Her husband didn’t want her to work after they married, but then left her – with minimal support and young children. She’d lost her place in the job market she trained in and the only work she could do was cleaning. Ill paid, laborious – but she could fit it around childcare. She’s been a cleaner for 17 years now,  and expected to retire 2 years ago.

But she now has another 4 years to go.

She says “I’m worn out. You can’t manage such physical work till you’re 66. I have no choice.”

There are many such women facing years without a fair level of support, purely because the government failed in its duty to keep them fully informed – and failed to consider the constraints which an entire generation’s practices imposed upon so-called “life choices”.

I call upon all councillors of all parties to stand behind these women and support this motion

I’m Speaking up for Women

Caroline Page, County Councillor, Woodbridge; LibDem Green & Independent Spokesperson for Women

When the Suffolk County Council LibDem Green and Independent Group was formed, I was appointed Group Spokesperson for Women. The first and only Group in this county to have one.

Interesting, because there IS no Suffolk County Cabinet member for Women for me to shadow.

So why am I spokesperson? Because there is no Suffolk County Cabinet member for Women for me to shadow.

Suffolk is not only a county in which it isn’t good to be a girl or woman, Suffolk is a county that is not even aware of the fact.

When I checked charity Plan  International UK’s statistics last September and discovered Suffolk was a poor place to be a girl (in terms of important measures: Child Poverty, NEET, Teenage pregnancy, GCSEs and Life Expectancy) both Suffolk’s County Cabinet and officers were lost for words. It clearly was not the kind of info they collected. They have yet to get back to me as to what they will do about it.

Again, when I broke the news that 1 in 2 of 59 year old women were unpaid family carers (odds not shared by men until they were 75) this came as a complete surprise to those who represent the people of Suffolk. Despite the fact this will have a huge impact on working-aged women’s careers, incomes, life outcomes, and PENSIONS – and that too much of what is heard about  #WASPI debate has been along the lines of “Diddums. Why shouldn’t you women expect to be equal to us men?” (Men, I ask you, why isn’t 1 in 2 of you a family carer at 59? Is it because you want a decent pension pot? Yes? Well,  I have every sympathy. I want one too!).

Instead of addressing the inequity, the men who run Suffolk’s finances don’t notice it and underspend on the family carers’ budget to fund its social care programme…

When  a former Mayor of Woodbridge was asked why there were no blue plaques to women in Woodbridge, he replied: “Maybe women have never done anything.” Really and truly. This in Woodbridge which is represented by a woman MP, a woman County Councillor, and currently, a woman Mayor.

Seems that Suffolk – nursery of those indomitable seekers after equality, Elizabeth and Millicent Garrett – is in need of a reminder that equality is still a long way off.

So how do we create equality?

– Part of this is making an end of female objectification. A  good start would be universal application of my ‘Eric Pickles test ©“.  It goes: Would that headline/ad/statement make sense if it was about Eric Pickles? That photo of a “wardrobe malfunction”? that clickbait where someone “shows off their new, toned beach body”? that fitness ad about “getting a pert and peachy derriere”? Does it sound silly with Eric there? Yes? Well then, leave women out of it too, thank you very much. It encourages disrespect and disregard.

– Part of it is pointing out inequality in any arena. I have spent several years tweeting Radio4’s Today programme about their inability to distinguish between sport and men’s sport. With final success, but only after years when for weeks on end the only female name mentioned in their sports reports was the mare running in the 3.40 at Lingfield.

Unimportant? Only if you’re wanting to sustain a narrative of male importance and female inconsequence. I’m afraid it was constant nagging that did the trick with Radio 4. Sloppy journos who just want to talk to their chums shouldn’t be allowed to set the agenda. Because, the agenda set , suddenly the narrative is,  “nobody’s interested” (just like a playground bully saying “nobody likes you,”) – and blow me, fame and funding follow the narrative. The strongest woman in Britain lives in Melton. Did you even know that?

– Partly it is about defending the utter necessity for certain woman-specific provision. We can all dream of an equal society, but whilst 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence, whilst one British woman is killed by a man – generally one she knows – every 2.4 days, women and children desperately need refuges,  support, safe spaces for access, and the funding for all this. Any meninists protesting equality will not make these requirements less needful, less vital.

And all people – men and women – who believe in equality realise this as truth.

But without a woman to speak up for equality in the Suffolk administration – what happens to it?  It is ‘assumed’ as existing without existing. The funding gets lost because the issue has no direct relevance to the men in charge – and the whole county suffers.

Sad but true.

And I am going to be here to carry on pointing it out, until the Suffolk  administration realises this too.

The situation of carers in Suffolk

EADT’s coverage of the problems faced by Carers

Brilliant to see the EADT taking the issues faced by unpaid carers – particularly working-age women – so seriously.

Their coverage  today:

highlights many of  the problems and inequities faced by women carers  in Suffolk: longterm stress,  poverty, loss of career, pension, loneliness, the often infantile and wholly inadequate nature of the ‘support’ on offer.

And as the LibDem Green and Independent Group’s spokesperson for Women I suggest the problems experienced by carers would be less hidden if Suffolk County Council made themselves more aware of the challenges facing women in the county!