Around three quarters of local councils still do not have maternity or paternity policies in place for their councillors, a gender equality campaigning charity has found.
The Fawcett Society said that data it obtained through freedom of information requests showed there had been an increase in the number of councils that have maternity or paternity policies in place.
However, only 24% of councils have a maternity or paternity policy in place for their ‘ordinary’ councillors. In 2019 just 7% had these policies in place.
The research also found that only 25% of councils have a maternity or paternity policy in place for their senior cabinet-level councillors. In 2019 just 8% had these policies in place.
The Fawcett Society added that its research showed that just 34% of the 4,980 councillors elected in May 2021 in England were women. This was less than a 1% increase since the 2019 elections.
The ten councils with the lowest women’s representation following the May 2021 elections were: Craven (10%), West Berkshire (14%), Swale (15%), Ashfield (17%), Hambleton (18%), Cherwell (19%), Castle Point (20%), Huntingdonshire (20%), Essex County Council (20%), and Wycombe (20%). In these councils, less than one in five councillors is a woman, the charity said.
Forty-one councils achieved, or were very close to achieving, equality, with women’s representation at 45% and over. Nottingham (55%), Cambridge (55%), Islington (55%), and Brighton and Hove (56%) had the greatest representation of women.
The Fawcett Society said: “Local government has a powerful impact on all our lives and it is essential that it works for women as well as men. We know that having women involved in policy conversations, and in decision-making positions, makes a difference to whether issues which have a disproportionate impact on women are discussed.”
Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society Interim Chief Executive, said: “This was a bumper year for new councillors – but the data shows that sadly we have more of the same. Almost all councils are dominated by men. The pace of change in local government is far too slow.
“During the pandemic we saw how significantly councils matter for women, whether that’s the care packages for disabled women that were disrupted or the children’s centres for new mothers that suffered closures.
“In light of this stagnation, political parties which are failing to make progress need to urgently set out their action plans for a change of course. Councils are making some headway with policies – now we need to see action from the parties.”
The charity said it was calling on 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 LGBTQIA+ people are represented, by implementing section 106 of the Equality Act.
It also urged the Government to make remote meetings legal for all councils in order to support women with caring responsibilities, as they were during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other recommendations are that local councils implement maternity and paternity policies by using the Local Government Association’s toolkit, to make being a councillor more accessible to women, and parties set out targets for increasing women’s representation, and a clear action plan to achieve them