Equality organisations call for urgent action to tackle gender imbalance in Welsh politics
Equality organisations in Wales have today (Wednesday 21 November) called for political parties to take urgent action to increase the diversity of politicians in Wales.
Wednesday 21 November marks the 100 year anniversary since the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 came into force, giving women over the age of 21 the right to stand for election as an MP. One hundred years later, Wales remains a country with a stark gender imbalance in positions of political power.
- 11 of Wales’s 40 MPs are women (28% compared to 32% of all MPs in the UK following the 2017 election)
- Wales has only ever had 19 women MPs
- the percentage of women AMs has fallen from a high of 52% in 2006 to 45% in 2018, with no ethnic minority women currently being AMs
- only 28% of councillors in Wales are women
Ruth Coombs, Head of Wales at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
'Wales remains a country of deep gender inequality. This is no more apparent than in the gender imbalance of our politicians. It is simply shocking that Wales has only ever had 19 women MPs. And there are no ethnic minority women in the National Assembly.
'This is bad for women and it is bad for Wales. Greater diversity in political representation would help ensure that everyone’s perspective is taken into consideration when decisions are being taken.
'The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) provides one valuable way to ensure women’s rights are promoted and protected. The Welsh Government has incorporated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into law – and utilising CEDAW presents another opportunity for Wales to lead the way.'
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Women’s Equality Network Wales and the Wales Assembly of Women raised the gender imbalance in Welsh politics at a meeting with the First Minister on November 7.
The meeting was arranged after Jane Hutt AM requested in plenary that the First Minister meet with the Welsh delegation that recently provided evidence to the UN as part of the UN’s review of if and how the UK is complying with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Following the meeting on November 7, the First Minister Carwyn Jones said:
‘I was pleased to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, WEN Wales and the Wales Assembly of Women recently to discuss the importance of taking forward women’s rights in Wales.
‘I have committed to Welsh Government becoming a feminist Government. We know that Government and political parties still have a long way to go towards gender equality, not least in the make-up of elected representatives. I would like to see our political institutions being 50:50 gender balanced.
‘My Government is currently taking forward a Review of our gender equality policies. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is a vital tool to securing women’s rights in Wales and across the UK. We are considering a range of options for incorporating the Convention (and potentially other international treaties) into Welsh law, policy and implementation.’
Catherine Fookes, Director, Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, said:
‘Today just 28% of our councillors in Wales are women. To be a real feminist government, the Welsh Government, working with the Assembly Commission and political parties, needs to commit to achieving 50:50 representation at every level – such as in the Assembly and at local council level – and then help us make that happen.
'CEDAW allows states to take ‘special measures’ and we’d like to see Welsh Government and political parties implementing such measures, for example by using quotas for 50:50 representation. We were delighted to meet with the First Minister to talk about this and welcome his commitment to 50:50.'
Professor Jackie Jones, Chair of the Wales Assembly of Women, said:
‘We have called for the Welsh Government to incorporate the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into Welsh law.
'The Convention provides a mechanism to ensure that gender equality is central to Government decision-making and promoted and protected across all areas of life.’
A step towards enacting the socio-economic duty in Wales.
Last night the Welsh Government agreed to take a step further towards enacting the socio-economic duty in Wales.
In a plenary debate on the key findings and recommendations from our Is Wales Fairer? report Assembly Members raised the importance of having specific solutions in Wales to tackling poverty, including the socio-economic duty.
We welcome the commitment from the Welsh Government to now conduct a research project to explore how the socio-economic duty can shape policy and practice in Wales to tackle poverty.
‘Is Wales Fairer?’ the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s state of the nation report on equality and human rights found that there is deepening poverty in Wales.
A quarter of adults and a third of children in Wales continue to live in poverty and this drives widening inequalities of outcomes in many areas of life, particularly affecting people’s health, education and living standards.
The Socio-Economic Duty was written into the Equality Act 2010 and would require public bodies to have ‘due regard’ to the reducing inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions. But this duty contained in the Act was not enacted by the UK Government and has largely sat dormant for the last eight years.
Public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities:
An authority to which this section applies must, when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.
(Equality Act 2010, Section 1)
The Wales Act 2017 devolved the power to the National Assembly for Wales to enact the Socio-Economic Duty. For the first time Welsh Government can use this powerful tool to help address poverty in Wales. Although the Welsh Government’s has now committed to a research project on the socio-economic duty, we are still waiting for the duty to be fully enacted.
Ruth Coombs, Equality and Human Rights Commission's Head of Wales said:
'We welcome the Welsh Government’s announcement that they will be conducting research on the socio-economic duty taking the first step in enacting the duty in Wales.
'Our report ‘Is Wales Fairer?’ found that poverty is higher in Wales than in the other nations of Britain and calls for the enactment of the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act 2010. It is a potentially powerful tool to tackle poverty and make Wales a fairer place to live for all.
'The Equality and Human Rights Commission is ready to work closely with Welsh Government to make this project a success.'
Disabled People in Wales Housing Crisis
Disabled people in Wales and across Britain have been left demoralised by a chronic shortage of suitable housing, as unnecessary bureaucracy and insufficient support leave them trapped in unsuitable homes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned.
The results of an eighteen month formal legal inquiry, published today, calls for the UK and Welsh Government to take urgent action to make all new houses adaptable and accessible, as 365,000 disabled people say their home is not suitable for their needs.
’Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis’ calls on the Welsh Government to produce a national strategy to ensure there is an adequate supply of houses built to inclusive design standards and for a review of the way that building standards are enforced.
The Commission’s report calls for the Welsh Government to improve the way that data is collected and shared, both on the requirements of disabled people and on the number of adaptable homes already built. Equally as important is ensuring provision of specialist support and information services to match homes to the people who need them and to ensure that they are suitably adapted.
Ruth Coombs, Head of Wales at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
‘Our report shows that thousands of disabled people across Wales are feeling trapped in homes that are not suitable. People are facing long waits to get a home to meet their needs. No one’s right to independent living should be limited by their home. And making necessary adaptations should not be a long and complex process.
‘The Welsh Government’s commitment to build 20,000 new homes by 2021 and its review of affordable housing are opportunities to improve the situation. We call on the Welsh Government to act now to address the housing crisis that is affecting the lives of disabled people in Wales.’
Appropriate housing can drastically improve disabled people’s ability to live independently. Those whose homes meet their accessibility requirements reported improved health and wellbeing, and enhanced prospects for employment and study. Timely installation of adaptations can create significant savings to the public purse, reducing social care costs for local authorities and health costs for the NHS.
The inquiry surveyed all local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales and found many have failed to collect data or meet current demands, let alone plan for the future. The failure to set targets for the future is of particular concern as the number of disabled people is increasing: Wales has a higher proportion of disabled people than any other country or region of the UK – 26 per cent. Welsh Government statistics show that the number of people over 65 with a mobility impairment is projected to rise by 58 per cent by 2035.
- Only 15 per cent of Welsh local authorities rated the data available to them on who needs accessible homes as ‘good’’.
- Only 5 per cent of Welsh local authority has a target in place for accessible housing
- Only 15 per cent say that disabled people’s housing needs are subject to specific discussion or scrutiny when conducting a Local Housing Market Assessment
Without a national planning policy that specifically considers accessible and adaptable housing for disabled people, local authorities have no obligation to make sure they’re delivering the right kind of housing in their Local Development Plans and find it challenging to require developers to build to a higher standard. Developers are reluctant to build adaptable houses because they think they are less profitable.
The findings raise alarming concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living is being heavily restricted by unsuitable and unsafe housing. The ability to move around, leave the house and take as full and active role in the community as possible is vital to disabled people, and essential in ensuring they have access to education and employment. During this inquiry, the EHRC heard from over 400 disabled people, which exposed stories of people eating, sleeping and bathing in one room, and of people having to be carried around their homes by family members. Inadequate housing has also led to many disabled people, carers and family members experiencing a serious deterioration in their mental wellbeing.
Respondents in Wales told us:
"I am unable to independently access the first floor or the kitchen appliances. The bathroom is too small so I can't use the toilet. I am currently sleeping in what should be the dining room so don't have much privacy. I can't care for my own young daughter if she is ill as I can't access her bedroom. I can't access the back door."
Another explained how the restrictions impacted their family life "I have to carry her (daughter) up the stairs if she needs the toilet. I also have to be upstairs while she bathes to get her in and out and to wash her when she is bad. This affects my physical ability and hurts my back a lot. My girl also wants to be independent but can't get in or out of the bath."
And one shared their struggle to get suitable adaptations, limiting their independence “I sleep downstairs and I'm unable to access upstairs bathroom often, only downstairs toilet. My landlord will not permit changes to the property so I'm unable to have grab rails which are needed and other aids, again, making me more dependent on carers and limiting my independence.”
The report highlights the drastic need to improve support systems as access to advice, support and advocacy has been patchy and difficult to navigate. This adds unnecessary stress and pressure to the process for disabled people. In particular, access to tenancy and advice was found to be essential but often inadequate for those with learning difficulties, sensory impairments and mental health conditions.
Focussing on improving processes, the recommendations call for local authorities to urgently address delays within the adaptation system, allowing for low cost and minor adaptations to be installed quickly and easily.
Building regulations in Wales have produced houses that are generally inaccessible, particularly for people who use wheelchairs. While the Welsh Government has taken action to ensure that the social housing that it directly funds is built to meet some accessibility and adaptability criteria, disabled people face particular difficulties and disadvantages in the private sector. Housing for private rent is generally built to a lower accessibility standard, creating a significant problem for houses to be economically adapted in the future. This is further complicated by most buy-to-let mortgages specifying a 12 month maximum tenancy, which prevents landlords from agreeing to the three to five year requirements to get the necessary grant for adaptations. This adds to the confusion and reluctance disabled people feel when asking private landlords for adaptations.
Matt Dicks, Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales said:
‘Today’s report paints a worrying picture of the availability of suitably accessible homes for disabled people. We know that we have an acute housing crisis in Wales – a problem personified by the unacceptable situation of people sleeping on our streets.
‘Whilst we have an ambitious 20,000 affordable homes target, this report shows that it is absolutely vital that the right homes are built to standards that increase the supply of accessible housing. Further to this it re-emphasises the need to think about how we build one cohesive housing system, where whether renting or buying access to a safe, suitable, affordable home is possible for every citizen.
‘With the recent announcement of the review into housing policy in Wales, we believe that this is a real opportunity to take forward the recommendations made by the commission to ensure that we make real tangible progress on this issue. We look forward to working closely with our members to ensure these challenges continue to be at the forefront of discussions.
Notes to editors
Specifically, in England, Scotland and Wales, the EHRC is calling for:
- The government to introduce a national strategy to ensure there is an adequate supply of new houses built to inclusive/universal design standards and built to wheelchair-accessible standards, across all tenures. This should include a review of the way that building standards are enforced, particularly in the private rented sector. The strategy should recognise that housing support, advice and advocacy is often necessary to enable people to maintain their housing and their right to independent living.
- National and local governments should take action to improve the way that data is collected and shared, both on the requirements of disabled people and on the accessibility of existing housing stock.
- Local Authorities to urgently address the bureaucratic hurdles and delays that exist within adaptations systems, to ensure that low-cost, minor adaptations in particular can be installed quickly and easily. This should be monitored and reviewed.
- Governments to provide additional funding to disabled people’s organisations and advice agencies, to increase the supply of independent advice and information regarding housing options, including adaptations, with a particular focus on the private- rented sector.
- Local Authorities and Registered Providers of Social Housing/Registered Social Landlords to embed independent living principles into assessment and allocations policies for social housing, to ensure real choice and control.
- Local authorities to significantly increase their knowledge of existing accessible social housing stock and develop specialist support and information services to facilitate suitable matching.
- Local Authorities to apply best practices on the use of accessible housing registers, with the longer term aim of the use of a standard methodology across all Local Authorities.
- Local Authorities to work with the NHS to ensure people living in institutional and residential care are supported to live independently.
- Governments to publish standards and monitor and review the effectiveness of Accessible Housing Registers.
- The UK Government must ensure that the new policy and funding model for supported housing upholds the rights of tenants, and that freedoms and choice are not restricted, in line with UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The new model needs to address the current uncertainty and deliver a stable market for both housing providers and those providing specialist support.
- Local Authorities to ensure that housing, care and health services are fully integrated and sufficient funds are available to support people to live independently, and that there is an increased focus on prevention.
- Local Authorities to provide increased specialist disability advice and advocacy services for housing options.
Wales Committee Member Dr Alison Parken receives her OBE
Congratulations to our Wales Committee Member Alison Parken, who was at Buckingham Palace today receiving her OBE for services to equality and diversity.
‘I’m delighted to receive this award. It’s in my name but entirely due to the inspirational and dedicated equalities champions from all walks of life that I’ve so enjoyed working with in Wales over many years. There’s still much more to do!’
‘This honour is richly deserved. Alison has been a tireless champion for equality and human rights for many years. Her research has helped shape the way we understand and tackle inequalities here in Wales.
‘I am very pleased to see Alison’s expertise and passion recognised – these are attributes that Alison brings to her role as an EHRC Wales Committee Member. I am sure Alison will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to create a fairer Wales.’
Human Rights in the 21st Century – annual human rights lecture
We are pleased to announce that David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, will be delivering our annual human rights lecture. The lecture, Human Rights in the 21st Century, will be held at 5.30pm on 20 February 2018 at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.
David will be discussing the possible impact of Brexit on our human rights and outlining some of the key projects being undertaken by the Commission now and in the future.
Tickets are limited. Secure your ticket via Eventbrite.
Ruth Coombs' essay for Anti-bullying week published in the Western Mail
The theme for this year’s anti-bullying week – All Different, All Equal – provides a real opportunity to highlight that far too many children and young people in Wales are bullied in school because of their race, faith, disability, sexuality or gender identity.
Identity-based bullying is any form of bullying that relates to the characteristics perceived to be part of a person’s identity or identity group. It can include stigmatising a disabled student, using homophobic language, trying to pull off a Muslim student’s hijab or pupils being subject to unwanted touching.
This week we have launched an animation to highlight the scale and impact of bullying in schools. Evidence from our Is Wales Fairer? report shows that up to fifty per cent of pupils will experience bullying in Wales, with certain groups of children and young people even more likely to be bullied. Identity-based bullying can have long term implications. It can harm children and young people’s wellbeing and impact on their educational attainment and potential. Given this evidence we have prioritised the need to reduce identity-based bulling.
The aims of this year’s anti-bullying week are to:
- empower children and young people to celebrate what makes them, and others, unique
- help children and young people feel valued and included in school, enabling them to be themselves without fear of bullying
- encourage parents and carers to work with their school and talk to their children about bullying, difference and equality
- enable teachers and professionals who work with children to celebrate what makes us ‘all different, all equal’ and to take individual and collective action to prevent bullying
Tackling identity-based bullying should be a priority for all schools in Wales. Estyn’s new inspection framework recognises this need.
I have very much welcomed the opportunity to work in partnership with the Children’s Commissioner to develop an anti-bullying resource for secondary schools in Wales. Sam’s story – it will get better includes five interactive teaching and learning sessions to be delivered in schools to raise awareness of identity-based bullying. The resource also includes top tips for head teachers to tackle identity-based bullying. I would encourage all schools in Wales to utilise these tips.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission regulates the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which requires schools to take action to improve outcomes for pupils with different protected characteristics. It means that schools must consciously consider the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations.
Schools should have a PSED objective to tackle identity-based bullying and set out the steps they will take to achieve this, including monitoring and recording identity-based bullying. By doing so, schools will be better able to identify whether actions they are taking to tackle identity-based bullying are successful.
We hope our resources will help schools carry out this duty.
Let’s celebrate difference and help more children and young people feel safe and realise their potential.
Ruth Coombs, Head of Wales, Equality and Human Rights Commission
Welsh Government pledge to Working Forward on pregnancy and maternity rights at work
The Welsh Government has committed to take action to attract, develop and retain women at work by signing up to the Equality and Human Rights Commission's coalition of Working Forward employers.
Shan Morgan, Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Government said:
“I’m very pleased Welsh Government is pledging to Working Forward on pregnancy and maternity rights. I think this is a really important initiative. We have already made a number of positive changes including enabling women to retain IT equipment such as mobile phones and laptops during their maternity leave to enable them to have a smooth transition on their return as well as improving our financial arrangements to ensure there is greater flexibility to fund maternity leave cover. Through our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan we are committed to supporting women through pregnancy, maternity leave and their return to work. This is part of our responsibility as a good employer and makes sure that women returning to work in the Welsh Government can prosper and maximise their contribution.”
June Milligan, EHRC Commissioner and Chair of the Commission's Wales Committee said:
“We are delighted the Welsh Government has committed to take action to attract, develop and retain women in the workplace as part of Working Forward. The Welsh Government becomes one of over 150 organisations making this commitment, including other significant public and private sector employers in Wales. This step responds to the Equality and Human Rights Commission's workplace research and the evidence of what action can be taken to ensure women’s talent is nurtured and valued.”
Working Forward, established by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, follows its landmark research which shows pregnancy and maternity discrimination and disadvantage at work affects around 390,000 pregnant women and new mothers across Britain each year.
It highlights that, while the majority of Welsh employers (87 per cent) say they are firm supporters of female staff during and after pregnancy and find it easy to comply with the law, 71 per cent of mothers say they have had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work.
Members, which include large and small employers from across the private and public sector, help to drive long-term cultural change by signing up to action in at least 2 areas such as:
Demonstrating leadership from the top down
Ensuring confident employees
Training and supporting line managers
Offering flexible working practices
Over 150 organisations throughout Britain are members of Working Forward. Welsh employers include: Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, BT, Cardiff University Business School, Carmarthenshire County Council, Coleg y Cymoedd, Deloitte, Dwr Cymru, Dyfed Powys Police, Ford, Legal & General, NPT Colleges, QLS, South Wales Police and Wales and West Utilities.
Working Forward offers members resources and materials to suit business needs and the chance to become part of a growing community of members, sharing tips, advice and knowledge to make experiences better for pregnant women and new mothers .
For more information and to pledge your support today, visit the Working Forward campaign page.
Kate Bennett, former National Director for Wales, awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list
EHRC Commissioner for Wales June Milligan has congratulated Kate Bennett, former National Director for Wales at the Commission, on being awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Kate has been awarded the honour for services to equality and human rights following nearly twenty years’ service in the public sector in Wales and a career dedicated to the creation of a fairer society.
Equality and Human Rights Exchange Conference 2017
We have set the date for our annual Equality and Human Rights Exchange Conference.
This year we will be holding the conference at Cardiff City Stadium, on 6 July 2017.
We will be sharing more details around the content of the conference in the coming weeks.
If you have an questions please contact us at email@example.com
New Head of the Commission in Wales
We’re delighted to announce that, following a competitive recruitment exercise, Ruth Coombs will be joining us on 3 April 2017 as the new Head of the Commission in Wales.
Ruth brings with her a wealth of experience of working at a strategic level within influential charity and public sector organisations, and of leading diverse teams through a range of challenges and towards achieving success.
Ruth is currently the Head of British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cymru where she is the face and presence for the BHF in Wales, working collaboratively to raise not only their profile but also the combined impact of services throughout Wales. She has an expert understanding of the Welsh context and a wealth of experience in the equality sector gained through her diverse career history including roles at Mind Cymru and a commendable sabbatical working for the Mitengo Women Association in Zambia, all after a very successful career as a teacher and head teacher.
We congratulate Ruth and look forward to welcoming her to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Last updated: 18 Feb 2019