10 September 2018

New Fawcett Society analysis of council elections in May 2018 reveals that 100 years after women first won the right to vote, 97% of councils are male dominated and there has been virtually no progress on women’s representation in local government. The proportion of women elected to local government in England increased by less than 1 percentage point, bringing the total proportion of female councillors to just 34%.

Key findings include:

  • Of the seats that were up for election in 2018, 38% went to women, up just 3 percentage points on 2014 when these seats were last contested.
  • There were just 112 more women councillors than four years ago out of 4,333 elected.
  • Labour has improved its representation since seats were last up for grabs, with 45% women compared with 40% in 2014, and Liberal Democrat representation rose from 34% to 36%. But the Conservative Party saw a fall from 31% to 29% in the share of its councillors who are female.
  • Out of the 151 councils that held elections in 2018, 82 (54%) saw the proportion of women increase. However, 23 (15%) remained unchanged in terms of gender equality and 46 councils (30%) returned fewer women than in 2017.
  • Councils with the biggest gains for women were Hastings, Kingston upon Thames and Islington which saw respective increases of 16, 17 and 18 percentage points.
  • Redditch, Eastleigh, and Richmond upon Thames saw the largest drop in the proportion of women elected, with respective falls of 10, 10 and 9 percentage points.

The static picture on women's representation comes after the Fawcett Society and Local Government Information Unit’s Local Government Commission concluded that local government is 'not fit for the future', owing to a range of outdated practices and attitudes upholding barriers to equality. The Fawcett Society is calling for action in the centenary year from Government, political parties, and councils to make local government work for women.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

"This is really disappointing. We are literally crawling along. As we mark the centenary of women's suffrage, women’s representation across local government is stuck in the past.”

“It is time for a strategic response. We call on Government, political parties, and local councils to act on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission, remove the barriers to women’s participation and make local government fit for the 21st century".

Key recommendations from the Fawcett/LGiU report include:

  • Introduce maternity policies for councillors and council cabinet members - Just 4% of local councils in England have a formal policy in place for elected representatives.
  • Ensure all councils have comprehensive support for childcare and adult care costs – research found that help with costs is patchy, with some councils not offering any support at all.
  • Enable councils to use technology for councillors to attend meetings remotely.
  • Introduce codes of conduct against sexism, and an effective Standards Committee to enforce it. Fawcett research found that sexism is commonplace in local government with a third of female councillors having experienced sexist comments from their council colleagues.
  • Councils must set out reasonable adjustments policies to support disabled women and men to be councillors
  • Parties must 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 should commit to gender balanced leadership in their cabinet or committee chair posts, and eradicate ‘girl jobs and boy jobs’ in those roles.

View the Local Government Association response here

Download the press release here

Download the data breakdown

For more information, infographics or interviews contact Fresh communication:

Abby Richardson – [email protected] / 07876 378 733

Nathalie Golden – [email protected] / 07769 66 66 2

Editors Notes:

Data in this release draws on Fawcett Society analysis of councillors elected in the 2018 local government elections. The gender of councillors was determined by a combination of name and image checks, which carries a risk of error. In addition, not all council websites are reliably updated.

Research and consultation for the year-long Local Government Commission report included an LGiU online survey sent out to all councillors in England and Wales and responded to by 2,304 councillors; research conducted by Nan Sloane at the Centre for Women and Democracy which ‘counts in’ women in local government between 2007 and 2016; consultation events in Birmingham, Cardiff, London, and Manchester attended by over 230 people; an open consultation which received almost 500 responses; in-depth interviews with women council leaders and deputy leaders, telephone interviews with women who have not yet run for office, and focus groups with members of the public; freedom of information requests regarding council maternity policies; and additional desk-based research to count council cabinets, combined authorities, chief executives, and to analyse carer allowance policies.

What is the Local Government Commission?

Funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, from 2016-2017 Fawcett in partnership with the LGiU established a year-long Commission of experts, co-chaired on a cross-party basis by Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Gillian Keegan MP which tasked itself to:

  • Gather and publish evidence on female participation and representation across local government and identify the barriers to women’s representation.
  • Make recommendations on how to advance women’s leadership in local government and establish a pipeline for power, including positive steps to support and inspire women to stand for elected office.
  • Demonstrate the impact of decision-making at the local level for women’s lives.
  • Reinvigorate the role of women in local government and encourage more women to stand and participate. The final report of the commission is available here.

About Us

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life. Our vision is of a society in which women and girls in all their diversity are equal and truly free to fulfil their potential. If you believe in our vision, become a Fawcett member today.