Since 2010, the advance of equality in Britain has been halted by austerity economics which have made life harder for millions of people. Women have been hit hardest by cuts to public services and our welfare state. Nearly two-thirds of workers in public services are women.
When the Government continually freezes and caps public sector pay, it is the living standards of women in particular, which suffer.
When councils try to cut costs savings by squeezing the contracts of providers of services like social care, it is mainly women who pay the price, through lower wages, worsening conditions and zero hours contracts.
Public service cuts affect the working lives of millions of women – those who are workers and women whose lives are made much harder by cuts to services like public transport, early years childcare and elderly care.
Government research has found that 54,000 women lose their jobs each year because of pregnancy discrimination. Another 100,000 experience harassment or negative comments, and 53,000 are discouraged from attending antenatal appointments.
Hand in hand with Labour Governments and our socialist colleagues in Europe, important rights have been won for women at work. But those rights are now under threat.
The Brexit bunch whitter on about cutting so-called ‘red tape’. What they really mean is cutting people’s rights at work. I fear that bad employers will now seek to avoid their obligations under European law. That’s why we must be continually on our guard with the Tory right-wing, who now hold sway.
Labour must fight to protect those rights in Parliament and with our trade union colleagues in the workplace.
Brexit must not mean a bonfire of employment rights and equalities protection at work.
I am proud that earlier this year my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, fought and won against George Osborne’s deeply unfair cuts to benefits for disabled people.
That unity of purpose in protecting the most vulnerable from the rabid right must be regained – and quickly! We cannot fail them now.
Too many people in our society are now living in fear that our country is becoming more divided, less inclusive and less tolerant. Reports of hate crime have increased by 57 per cent since the Brexit vote. Hate cannot win. But we have to fight against it with all the resources of the Labour movement, in Parliament, in the trade unions, in local councils and in our communities.
We must demonstrate our solidarity with every group that feels threatened by this tidal wave of hate and fear perpetuated by right-wing populist rhetoric.
We must also demonstrate that Britain will remain a safe and welcoming home for people who come here to live and work.
Labour must give a strong, uncompromising lead on equality. I am relishing the challenge.
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