Tag 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!

 

#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:

http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/carers-don-t-want-cake-they-want-realistic-support-says-campaigning-councillor-1-5074532

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!

A Plea: We All Can Care for Carers!

This week is Carers Week – and it’s come in balmy weather. My daughter and I have picked elderflowers and made 2 gallons of cordial. In between the elections and my full-time work and the emergency appointments with London specialists.

She and I are very much together, poor soul, whether she likes it or not. She is nice to me about this – but it must be a dreadful burden to be in your 20s and have your mother so very much in your life.

It’s nearly 17 years since the day she dropped like a stone as I baked her birthday cake and in a blink of an eye we went from real  people in our own right with lives to lead and places to go, to  carer and cared for: symbols, stereotypes, political footballs -people who were somehow less important, less valued than others. We lost friends, we lost caste, we lost identity.

Like most family carers, I started out bewildered, unrecognising, waiting for things to return to ‘normal – a day that would never come. Indeed it was years before I realised I was a carer – and that as well as providing help I needed help myself.

For, make no mistake,  being a family carer is hard. Being ‘on duty’ – responsible for keeping someone alive – 168 hours a week, every week, is quite as dreadful as it sounds. After a while, you have difficulty with everything: working, sleeping, socialising, existing.

Worst of all, you become invisible. Your work as a carer takes place in isolation, and though invaluable, is not valued. In fact the government refuses to call it work (though the cost of replacing you if you fall ill suggests the reverse). A family carer has no workmates. If you manage to keep a job on top of caring – and it’s no joke as a full-time carer – your colleagues may disregard you, disrespect you – even (obscurely) think less of you. People forget about you, you lose your place in social plans, in activity groups, in parties. You may even get called a killjoy because you can’t leave the house!

So of course, you are lonely. (And no, you don’t get used to it.)

To make this worse, family carers are often not seen as people in our own right but are defined by the condition of the person we care for: carers for dementia, for ASD, for Parkinsons, epilepsy, stroke, etc. Strange, as our own problems are easily identifiable and universal: exhaustion, stress, worry, loneliness, despair. Family carers have twice the suicide rate of non carers. Go figure.

How to help? Carer charities set up initiatives to encourage carers to be ‘better carers’. Er.. why?  What is really needed is for society to be better TO Continue reading A Plea: We All Can Care for Carers!