02 JULY 2019

  • Women’s representation in local government “at a standstill”
  • Just 35% of councillors are women
  • Fawcett calls for all councils to introduce maternity leave policies for councillors

New data from the Fawcett Society following the 2019 local government elections finds that shockingly women make up just 35% of councillors across England. After 8,410 councillors were elected in the biggest local elections for four years, the women’s rights campaign charity found –

  • there was a single percentage-point move toward gender equality
  • women remain outnumbered three-to-one on 12% of councils
  • 96% of councils remain male-dominated.

The slow pace of change was revealed as new data obtained by Fawcett through Freedom of Information requests to councils 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 that covered ordinary councillor roles.

Fawcett urged council leaders to use the Local Government Association’s toolkit, released on International Women’s Day this year, to make being a councillor more accessible to women.  Councils must introduce maternity policies for councillors and council cabinet members.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

“Women’s representation in local government is at a standstill at just 35%. This is fundamentally unacceptable and all parties must take action to change it. Local government has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives so it particularly needs to have women’s voices heard.

“It is shocking that in 2019 just twenty councils reported having maternity policies in place for councillors.  There is no excuse for this inaction. The Local Government Association has introduced a toolkit for councils which includes the guidance and policies they need to make the change necessary.  It is time for them to use it.”

Of the council seats that came up for election this year, women took a slightly higher proportion, at 35% of councillors newly elected, up from 32% the last time most of them were contested in 2015. The party which won the most seats, the Conservatives, had just 30% women councillors. The Liberal Democrats, who saw a surge in their representation, had 34%, while Labour had 45% women councillors. Representation by independent councillors rose at this election, but only 29% of those councillors are women.

The data also found that:

  • The ten worst councils for women’s representation in order in 2019 are: Craven; West Berkshire; Swale; East Sussex; Huntingdonshire; Isle of Wight; Hambleton; Gloucestershire; Castle Point, and Ashfield. In these councils, less than one in five councillors is a woman.
  • 35 councils were at or very close to equality with over 45% women. Nottingham (55%) and East Cambridgeshire (54%) had the highest women’s representation of those electing this year.
  • Two of the councils with the biggest increase in women’s representation were Horsham (35% women) and Rutland (37%). Each was in the bottom 10 last year, showing that change can be made quickly.

Fawcett is calling for:

  • The Government to require parties to collect comprehensive, accurate election candidate diversity data, to enable a better understanding of how women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and LGBT people are represented by implementing section 106 of the Equality Act.
  • Councils to provide comprehensive support for childcare and adult care costs – currently, help with costs is patchy and some councils provide no support at all.
  • Councils to use technology for councillors to attend meetings remotely.
  • Codes of conduct against sexism to be introduced, and an effective Standards Committee to enforce it. Fawcett research found a third of female councillors had experienced sexist comments from their colleagues.
  • Councils to set out reasonable adjustments policies to support disabled women and men to be councillors
  • Parties to set out targets for increasing women’s representation, and a clear action plan to achieve them – and commit to legislating for quotas if progress is not made
  • Councils to commit to gender balanced leadership in their cabinet or committee chair posts, and eradicate ‘girl jobs and boy jobs’ in those roles.

Download the full press release here

See the data tables here

For more information or interviews contact: 

Abby Richardson – [email protected] / 07876 378 733  

Nathalie Golden – [email protected] / 07769 66 66 27