Yvette Cooper's speech to Labour's National Women's Conference 2012

29 September 2012


Yvette Cooper MP, Labour's Shadow Women & Equalities Minister and Shadow Home Secretary, said today at Labour's National Women's Conference 2012:

Conference. It’s good to be back in Manchester. The city we held our first September women’s conference at Harriet’s suggestion two years ago.

The city, where in 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney asked Winston Churchill if he supported votes for women, and became amongst the first suffragettes to be arrested as a result.

And the city where in six weeks’ time, we will make sure the first ever woman MP for Manchester Central will be elected, Lucy Powell.

2012 is the year we got our first ever female General Secretary of the TUC, the fantastic Frances O’Grady.

It’s also a special thirtieth anniversary – for the woman who has done so much for equality and who was elected to Parliament in December 1982 - we pay tribute to our Deputy Leader Harriet Harman.

And we’ll never forget the summer of 2012 – our summer – an amazing spectacular of international sport that united our nation – without a Labour woman it would never have happened and we thank Tessa Jowell.

And how amazing were those women role models. From Katharine Grainger to Ellie Simmonds, Sarah Story to Laura Trot, Hannah Cockcroft to Nicola Adams, Jade Jones to Jessica Ennis.

Perhaps most amazing of all to finally see them on the telly. A summer in which women’s sport finally got equal status.

But lest we ever assume battles are won, I checked out today’s TV schedule.

There’s around 13 hours of sport on terrestrial telly today. Men’s football. Men’s golf. More men’s football. Men’s motorcycling. More men’s golf. Some racing – where the majority of the jockeys are men. And more men’s football. Over 90 per cent of the sports coverage men-only.

A lesson to us:

Never to take our eye off the ball.

Never to assume the clock won’t be turned back.

All the warm words from the TV executives and editors are not enough. They need to act. We want women’s sport back on TV where it belongs.


And campaigning is what Labour women have been doing this year. Keeping up the pressure to support women across the country:

- a new law to criminalise stalking as we called for last year, pushed through by Labour’s Jan Royall in the Lords

- Clare’s law and Jane’s law – more protection and information for women at risk – backed by Hazel Blears and Helen Goodman now on the statute book

- and Kate Green, as our fantastic Shadow Equalities Minister, with Glenys Thornton, Seema Malhotra and Yvonne Fovarge who are working in Parliament to keep the pressure on the Government.

Because sadly under this Tory-Liberal Government there has been much to fight against.

Time and again, women are being heavily hit.

Women’s unemployment has gone up much faster than men’s since the election.

Long term unemployment has increased by over 100,000 since the election – but a shocking 80 per cent of that increase is among women.

Cuts to child care and social care leave women taking more of the strain.

Refuges under threat of closure.

Half-a-million street lights switched off leaving women worried about walking home from the bus stop through the estate after dark.

Women paying twice as much to bring the deficit down, even though they still earn less and own less than men.

That means Kath, a working mum and USDAW member here in the North West.

She works 22 hours in a local shop. Can’t get any regular overtime. Her husband had lost his job and struggled to get a new one because he had had a stroke.

In April, the Government took away her working tax credit. They now struggle to pay their mortgage. They would be better off if she gave up work. David Cameron's priority is to give £40,000 to millionaires in the Cabinet and to take £3,000 from families like Kath's, who struggle to make ends meet.

So much for David Cameron’s attempt to be women-friendly.

Remember 12 months ago that Number 10 memo? The one that admitted the Government had a problem with women and promised a new communications campaign to turn things around?

It hasn’t worked.

And it’s not hard to see why.

Take one of the key recommendations. To "focus on more visible women leaders."

Since then David Cameron has cut the number of women in cabinet posts.

Five Government Departments with not a woman minister in sight.

Sacked junior male ministers getting gongs.

Sacked senior female ministers have been ignored.

And David Cameron even told Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary that she was too old to do the job, aged 54.

Who was the replacement? 56-year-old Owen Paterson.

To top it all he stood up in the House of Commons and called for politicians to be more "butch".

And let’s not let Nick Clegg off the hook. Only six out of 25 Lib Dem Ministers are women and as research by Girlguiding UK, out next week, shows women are more likely than men to be put off by high tuition fees too.

So perhaps next time they say sorry, they should sing a duet.

Last year, David Cameron's response to women was "calm down dear".

But women won't. It's not just working mums who are getting cross and angry about what the Tories are doing, women of all ages and backgrounds are getting angry and active, determined to do more for women's equality.

And yes that means it's time for us to use the f word again.

And for Andrew Mitchell's benefit we'd perhaps better point out – our f-word is feminism.

And it is going to get worse.

Tory Ministers backing reports that would stop women working for small companies getting maternity leave.

A new child care Minister who is happy to cut the quality of care.

A new minister for women and equalities who voted for restrictions on women's right to choose.

And the Universal Credit – designed around a traditional male breadwinner with no allowance for a second earner. So part time working mums lose out.

And even worse.

Child tax credits and family support will no longer be paid to the main carer. All the support will be bundled together into one payment, often to the man. Money will go from the purse to the wallet – hitting women's financial independence too.

But as Harriet said this morning, this is not just about how we campaign to stop the Tories turning the clock back.

We don't just want to protect the status quo. Our sights are set much higher.

We have a vision of equality that goes much further.

We won't just lie back and think of opposition.

We are debating key areas where, we in the Labour Party, want to go further and faster to improve women's lives.

Ed Miliband has said we need an economy that works for working people.

For working women and men.

And that means changing services and the economy so that both women and men can balance work and family life – for the sake of their families, but also for the sake of our prosperity too.

In Government we did much to expand child care. But we know it still isn't flexible enough, affordable enough or extensive enough. That's why Labour has set up a Child Care Commission to draw up plans for our next manifesto.

Child care needs to change. But let's be clear, work needs to change too. And this is about fathers, not just mothers, and the work and parenting responsibilities they share.

But family responsibilities no longer just mean children.

Many women – especially older women – have found themselves forced to give up work to care for elderly relatives, especially as social care has been cut.

Women worrying because their Dad's meals on wheels have been cut or they can't find support for their Mum who lives miles away.

That's why Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham's work on social care reform is so crucial to rebuilding our economy.

And thanks to work by Barbara Keeley, Salford Labour Council has now agreed to pilot a new Social Care Information Service, to provide immediate practical help for families who need to find support.

But there's a wider problem here for women in their fifties and sixties.

Losing most from Government pension changes.

A 30 per cent increase in unemployment since the election – compared to 5 per cent for everyone else.

Facing the toxic combination of ageism and sexism in the workplace.

Pulled in all directions – helping their children financially, minding grandchildren, or caring for elderly parents too. Not just the squeezed middle but the stretched middle generation.

As Fiona MacTaggart has argued so strongly in Parliament, Labour must become the voice for the women in the middle. That is why we are launching our new Older Women’s Commission, chaired by Harriet Harman. For the generation who fought for equal pay and child care, broke barriers, challenged prejudices now campaigning again, to whom younger generations owe so much, leading the way again now.

We also need new action on violence against women and girls.

In Government we did much – from specialist courts to independent advisors, from housing help, to changing the law.

But let's be honest, there's a complacency around.

Because we worked hard to tackle the problem, most people assume everything possible is being done. Yet the reality is that, every day of the week, women are failed by the system that is supposed to protect them.

Still less than 6 per cent of rape offences reported end in conviction.

And the level of violence tolerated and ignored against young women and girls is deeply disturbing.

In Rochdale vulnerable girls aged 12 to 18 were ignored and described as prostitutes by the authorities who were supposed to protect them.

And we had a girl as young as nine, Imogen, who came to give evidence to the Women’s Safety Commission to explain how uncomfortable she felt about the comments boys made about her body, and how she wanted a safe space in the playground.

It's not good enough.

That's why we will consult over the coming months on new plans for stronger action against domestic and sexual violence.

Next February – on Valentine's Day – people not just across Britain but across the world will join the campaign to stand up against violence against women. An international campaign for One Billion Rising.

Already the brilliant work done by Stella Creasy means hundreds of women have joined workshops and events to see how they can get involved. See how you can too.

We in the Labour Party believe in equality for women.

We believe in wider opportunities for women and girls, in challenging prejudices and discrimination, fighting against injustice.

And it's more important now than ever.

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats are failing women again.

Failing women because their leaders just don't get it.

Failing women because David Cameron just has a massive problem with women.

And failing women because their party ideologies hold them back.

Our challenge now is standing up for women across the country, but also raising our sights to the future.

Building Labour's feminism which is welcoming and inclusive not narrow or divisive.

A feminism which welcomes young and old, men and women, that listens to the varied voices and supports the different choices women make.

Across generations, across genders, across the country.

That's what Labour women do.