Women are not equally represented

In 2019, after the biggest local elections in England for four years, we found that just 35% of councillors across England are women, which is a 1% change from 2018 and towards gender equality.

We also know that BAME women, disabled women, and younger women are particularly under-represented, and experience significant discrimination. Just 6% of women councillors are BAME while 14% of the England and Wales population identifies as BAME.

Disabled women have a really tough time. Getting involved in politics is doubly difficult because of things like inaccessible meeting rooms...but it's more than that because being taken seriously as a woman can be difficult, being taken seriously as a disabled woman (on anything apart from welfare benefits) is extremely rare.

- Rebecca Knowles, Warrington Labour councillor

Furthermore, with new data obtained by freedom of information requests to councils we also found that, of those who responded:

  • Just 20 councils (8%) have a maternity policy in place for their senior cabinet-level councillors.
  • Only 7% of councils have a maternity policy in place for all councillors.

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Local government has a powerful impact on all our lives: it provides vital services such as housing, transport, adult and children’s social care and domestic abuse services. Councils spend over £94bn of tax payers money every year and remain at the centre of many of the biggest problems our nation faces, from the housing crisis to meeting the needs of the ageing population.

Councils have been designed by and for men. Yet evidence shows that women are more likely to depend on the services councils provide and 78% of council staff are women. Furthermore, we know that when women are engaged in political decision-making they bring agendas to the table that would otherwise be missed.

Many women are struggling with childcare and the meetings (often early evening) are difficult if you have young children. I have also found that most female colleagues do not claim the childcare allowance which is on offer for fear of it being used against them politically.

- White British Conservative woman county councillor, 35-44

What are we doing to get women's voices heard in local government?

Back in 2016, we set up a cross party expert commission to assess whether local government was working for women. The research showed that women face outdated cultures and structures within councils, as well as endemic sexism from fellow councillors.

Fawcett is also the only organisation to count how many women councillors there are in England. We use this data to track progress on, and put pressure on Westminster, local councils and the bodies that represent them to make equal representation a top priority. 

The data matters. Currently political parties aren't collecting data or monitoring the diversity of their candidates. This includes information about disabilities, ethnicity and gender. We're campaigning to get Section 106 of the Equality Act enacted, which would require parties to be held account for their attitudes toward diversity. 

Increased devolution (the transfer of power and funding from central to local government) in recent years also means that more decision-making is being done at a regional level –  none of the 9 newly directly elected metro mayors in England are women. We're working in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands to ensure diverse women's voices are heard as a part of policy makers' decisions. 

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