Nicky Morgan is Secretary of State for Education and MP for Loughborough.
Today, Labour is holding its very own “women’s conference”. This comes on top of having the party having its own pink bus, their own women’s manifesto and, if the new party leader gets his way, women sat in their very own train carriages. The only place it seems that the new Labour leader does not want to put women is in the top jobs in government.
Our approach is different. As Conservatives, we don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘women’s issues’. We know women have a stake in all issues – from the economy to the environment, from childcare to China.
I am proud to be part of a Conservative majority government that wants to see every member of society fulfil his or her potential, regardless of gender, race or background. As the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street hours after the election, we will be a One Nation government that puts social justice at its heart.
That is why ensuring more women reach their potential is an absolute priority. Because achieving gender equality isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for our economy. Equalising women’s productivity and employment to the same level as men’s could add almost £600 billion to our economy, clearing a third of our national debt. And if all the women who wanted to work more hours worked just one extra hour each week, it would contribute 80 million more hours a year in productivity.
We need to end this crippling waste of talent, encourage women to achieve their potential and, in doing so, maximise economic growth.
Few things irritate me more than the Labour Party’s attempt to portray itself as the party of gender equality. Because ultimately, actions speak louder than words. Because it is the Conservative Party which produced the first-ever female MP, the first lesbian leader in Ruth Davidson and the first female Prime Minister in Margaret Thatcher.
Compare this with Andy Burnham, who just a few short weeks ago said Labour should only have a female leader ‘when the time is right’. Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn all opposed our Summer Budget, including measures to create the new National Living Wage, taking more people out of income tax and increasing the tax free allowance – Conservative reforms that will disproportionately benefit women, making them financially better off.
I am proud to be part of the Cabinet, and not as window dressing, or as part of a quota, but because my contribution counts.
It is time for us to be prouder and shout about our achievements:
- Female employment has increased faster in the UK than in any other G7 country. There are 789,000 more women in work, and the highest number of women-led businesses in history. By contrast, under Labour the number of women unemployed rose by 25 per cent.
- We have more women on FTSE Boards than ever. We’ve hit the target set by businesses themselves, with women representing 25 per cent of FTSE 100 boards, and no all-male boards, compared with 25 in 2009.
- We’ve extended free childcare, extended flexible working and modernised parental leave so more women, and men, can balance family and working life where they choose to.
- Record numbers of girls are taking A Levels in Science and maths, and my department’s “Your Life” initiative is encouraging more girls to consider careers in STEM fields – skills our economy needs.
As Minister for Women and Equalities, but also as Education Secretary, I want us to go further, tackling inequality at its roots. I am delighted that the gender pay gap is at its lowest-ever level, and is virtually eliminated for women under 40 working full time. But I want this gap banished to the history books, just as we look upon the days when women couldn’t vote and question why it took us so long.
That’s why our manifesto made a commitment requiring employers with more than 250 employees to publish information about their gender pay gaps. The Prime Minister has pledged to eliminate the gap in a generation, because he doesn’t want his daughters growing up in a world where it’s normal for women to earn less than men. Labour had the chance to implement this legislation – but they didn’t.
And we’re also cracking down on violence in all its forms, because for some women even just feeling safe remains an aspiration. We have the highest-ever number of defendants convicted for domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences since recording began. And we’ve criminalised barbaric practices such as forced marriage and revenge pornography.
We are the only party with a vision – and the only party that will give families the security they deserve. I want to see more women in public appointments, more women in senior positions and an end to sexism and discrimination in all its forms.
This is not about saying people shouldn’t be appointed on merit: they absolutely should. This is about raising the aspirations of school girls and getting the most out of the talents women offer. From classrooms to boardrooms to living rooms across the nation, I want women and girls everywhere to be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
As Conservatives, we should be proud of what we have achieved and galvanise our efforts to go even further. But we must also hold Labour to account on what their policies would actually mean – fewer jobs, poorer services, and less security for women.