The gender gap: launch of gender equality indicators for Wales

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The Assembly’s annual International Women’s Day debate is on 7 March 2017.

The World Economic Forum recently predicted that the global gender gap will not close for another 170 years at the current rate of progress. It ranked the UK 20th out of 144 countries for gender equality, based on a variety of indicators. Germany, Norway, France, Ireland and Rwanda all ranked higher than the UK.

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Is the Violence against Women (Wales) Act 2015 working?

10 February 2017

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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On 15 February, the Assembly will debate the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report on its post-legislative scrutiny of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.

The Act aims to:

  • improve the public sector response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence;
  • give public authorities (such as councils and health boards) a strategic focus on the issue, and
  • ensure the consistent provision of preventative, protective and supportive services.

The main provisions of the legislation, alongside the Committee’s findings and the Welsh Government’s response, are highlighted below.

Pace of implementation

The Committee was concerned that the pace of implementation of the Act has, in some areas, been slow. It is more than 18 months since the Act was passed, and some key parts of the Act are yet to be delivered.

The Committee was particularly concerned that the commissioning of services was taking place without statutory guidance from the Welsh Government, which could lead to inconsistencies that would be at odds with the core aims of the Act. It also highlighted concerns that the rise in demand for services as a result of the Act was not being matched with sufficient and sustainable resources.

The Committee made recommendations including:

  • The Welsh Government should set out anticipated delivery dates for the outstanding delivery plan, guidance and regulations, with the priority on commissioning guidance; and
  • The Welsh Government should have urgent discussions with the UK Government about the future funding arrangements for independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs).

The Welsh Government response states that:

  • the multi-agency guidance “will be considered in light of the local government White Paper”;
  • “the plan for rollout of Ask and Act will be developed from July 2017”;
  • statutory commissioning guidance “will be consulted on by July 2017”;
  • “guidance will be published in relation to local strategies in July 2017”, and
  • national indicators will be published “not before” October 2017.

It also notes that discussions with the UK government have taken place, and the “national rollout of a regional funding approach for the Domestic Abuse Services Grant (DASG) from 01 April 2018. [..]2017-2018 will be a transitional year and [it will be moving] to a regional funding and commissioning model [in the future].”

National and local strategies

Sections 3-4 of the Act require the Welsh Government to prepare and publish a National Strategy to ’contribute to the aims of  the Act’ no later than 6 months after the Welsh election (i.e. By 6 November 2016). Sections 5-8 of the Act require local authorities and local health boards to prepare and publish local strategies by May 2018.

The Committee was “disappointed” that while the Act was passed more than 18 months before the Welsh Government was required to publish the National Strategy, it did not begin consulting on a draft strategy until August, leaving only one month before the deadline for amendments and improvements to be made. Many witnesses told the Committee that they were not satisfied with the draft, and in particular that the views of survivors of abuse had not been taken into account.

As a result, the Cabinet Secretary made the decision to publish a high-level strategy in November 2016, which will be followed by a ‘delivery plan’ detailing how the strategy will be achieved. The Committee was concerned that the delivery plan would not be legally enforceable (unlike the National Strategy), and that no timescales for its publication had been provided.

In addition, the Committee heard that local strategies are beginning to be developed before the delivery plan is published, which could lead to inconsistencies in strategic approaches.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • clarify the legal status of the forthcoming delivery plan, which should preferably be issued as statutory guidance to ensure that it can be enforced;
  • outline when the delivery plan will be published, and how it will be consulted upon, and
  • ensure that the ten survivor recommendations contained in the report, Are you listening, am I being heard?, are fully considered during the development of the national survivor engagement framework.

The Welsh Government response states that “the legal status of the Delivery Framework will be considered with a Task & Finish Group, set up by the Advisory Group to develop the plan, with input from the Cross-Governmental officials Group. The Advisory Group will scrutinise the framework before being published” and “the timescale for the publication of the Framework will be determined by the Task & Finish group”.

Education

Section 9 of the Act places a duty on local authorities to report on how they are addressing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence within their education institutions. Section 10 gives Welsh Ministers and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) the power to issue guidance to further and higher education institutions.

Education was a contentious issue during the passage of the Act. The initial White Paper on the legislation from 2012 proposed that the Bill would ensure that education on ‘healthy relationships’ was mandatorily delivered in all schools.

This proposal was not included in the draft Bill. According to the then Minister in charge of the Bill, healthy relationships education was instead being considered as part of the curriculum review led by Professor Graham Donaldson, which would include a review of the basic curriculum including Personal and Social Education (PSE).

The duty in section 9 was introduced as a Government amendment during the passage of the Act.

Both the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children and the Cabinet Secretary for Education told the Committee that the regulations under section 9 would be developed in early 2017. It is not clear when local authorities will be required to start reporting.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • commit to including teaching about healthy relationships in the new curriculum under the ‘Health and Well-being’ Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE);
  • expedite the preparation of regulations relating to the publication of information by local authorities on how they are exercising their functions to promote the purpose of the Act. It should also commit to requiring local authorities to begin reporting by the start of the 2017/18 academic year;
  • outline how healthy relationships and consent education will be addressed by further and higher education institutions.

The Welsh Government responded to these recommendations by saying “there may be opportunities to obtain information and data on what education settings within local authorities are currently undertaking with regards to Education provision stemming from the Act from external organisations currently enhancing the delivery of Healthy Relationships in schools”. It goes on to say:

Work on the development of the Health and Wellbeing AoLE will include consideration on approaches to the delivery of Healthy relationships and therefore there is potential that this can be considered as part of the overall work being undertaken.

The Welsh Government noted that in relation to the recommendation about further and higher education bodies, “this will be considered with Higher Education colleagues whilst drawing from projects already in place within Further & Higher Education.”

The National Adviser

Section 20 of the Act requires Welsh Ministers to appoint a National Adviser to provide advice, monitor implementation of the Act and undertake research.

The Committee found that the National Adviser’s role is part-time, meaning that her influence and capacity is limited. It also noted that the Adviser’s work plan was not aligned with the National Strategy, again potentially leading to inconsistencies.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • Review of the capacity of the National Adviser role, and consider allocating additional resources to it to support the development of local strategies and undertake research;
  • Clarify what sanctions are available to Welsh Ministers if a public authority does not fulfil the requirements of the Act, and
  • Make reference to the National Adviser, her responsibilities and work plan in the forthcoming delivery plan and any future strategies.

The Welsh Government hasdiscussed and considered these recommendations with the National Adviser”, and it has agreed to keep it under review. In terms of powers, the response states that the Welsh Ministers have the power to “direct” an authority to take appropriate action, but does not detail what sanctioning powers are available.

The state of human rights and equality

On Tuesday 31 January 2017, Assembly Members will be debating the Annual Report on Equality 2015-16. The following article (6 June 2016), which gives an overview of the state of human rights and equality in Wales, is being re-posted in advance of this.

06 June 2016

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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Is Wales a fair country? And what are the main human rights and equality issues needing to be addressed in the Fifth Assembly?

It is tempting to think that human rights are less significant in a developed country like Wales. But these universal rights are intrinsically linked to the life chances of every person, regardless of where they were born.

With significant inequalities to be addressed, and the backdrop of austerity still affecting public services, the Fifth Assembly will be pivotal in determining whether Wales becomes more or less equal.

Inequality in Wales

In many ways, Wales is still an unfair country. There are some substantial inequalities in education, health, employment and income levels that may influence policy and law-making in the next five years:

  • young people aged 16-24 are four times as likely to be unemployed as those aged 35-54;
  • some people are disproportionately likely to be paid less than the average wage. These include: young people (who earn £6.50 per hour compared with the average pay of £11.20 for 35-44 year olds), ethnic minorities (earning on average 50 pence less an hour than white people), and women (whose annual average earnings are £16,412 compared with men’s average of £22,921);
  • certain children are significantly more likely to have lower than average educational attainment. Only 13% of Gypsy / Roma children, and 17% of both looked-after children and those with special educational needs, achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C;
  • less than half of disabled people are employed;
  • just over three-quarters of reported hate crimes are racially motivated, with black people most likely to be victims;
  • around 38% of ethnic minority households and 31% of children live in poverty; and
  • there continues to be a lack of diversity in leadership roles, from politics to the private sector. In some areas representation is getting worse, with even less diversity in decision-making than there was a decade ago.

Creating a distinctive agenda for Welsh human rights

The Fifth Assembly will be critical in determining how human rights are prioritised and addressed in Wales. Decisions made by the new Welsh Government will have an impact on the dignity, respect, fairness, safety and protection of the population.

Under devolution law, Welsh law has to adhere to international treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In the past, Welsh Governments have taken a different approach to the UK Government on human rights. Will this continue in the future?

For example, the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 places a duty on the Welsh Government to take account of (or ‘pay due regard to’) the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Similarly, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 places a duty on public bodies to take account of the UNCRC and the UN Principles on Older People. There are no equivalent, specific provisions requiring public authorities to ‘pay due regard’ to the UNCRC in other UK law.

Welsh experts agree that human rights should be seen as a tool for improving people’s lives, rather than a retrospective remedy. Some people see the ‘due regard’ duty as a meaningful way of improving policy and practice. For others, it reinforces human rights simply as a process, or a ‘tick box’ exercise.

It will be interesting to see if the requirement to pay ‘due regard’ to international human rights treaties is used in future Welsh law and policy.

Human rights and equality issues for the Fifth Assembly

Other key equality and human rights issues likely to arise in the Fifth Assembly include:

  • gender equality: including representation, pay gaps, economic participation and violence against women;
  • poverty: with high levels of poverty in Wales, and certain groups of people far more likely to be poor, low income and the lifelong disadvantages it brings is fast becoming a human rights issue;
  • physical punishment (smacking): the UN Committeee on the Rights of the Child will soon make recommendations as a result of its examination of progress on children’s rights in Wales. Smacking has been a recurring theme in its previous reports, and the debate is almost certain to arise again;
  • hate crime: particularly the rise of Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crime; and
  • the protection of people at risk of abuse: including asylum seekers, refugees, older people in care, disabled people and looked-after children.

Human rights are a key part of both the devolution settlement, and the UK constitution. The UK Government has promised to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a British Bill of Rights and ‘curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights’. The proposals have been controversial and much delayed. Although there are ‘no plans’ for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, a Bill of Rights would have huge implications for Wales.

If new legislation is brought forward, its impact on human rights protections and how the new Welsh Government responds will likely determine whether Wales becomes more or less equal.

Key sources

Work, welfare and poverty

25 May 2016

Article by Hannah Johnson and Gareth Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This article is taken from ‘Key issues for the Fifth Assembly, published on 12 May 2016.

With rising in-work poverty and further welfare reforms on the horizon, what will low income look like in the Fifth Assembly?

Nearly a quarter of the Welsh population live below the poverty line. This means that 700,000 people of all ages – 23% of the country – live in families with weekly incomes of £232 or less.

Wales has the highest poverty rate in the UK. Levels have been relatively static for ten years, but the profile of who is living in poverty has changed.

Pensioners are far less likely to be poor than they were ten years ago, with poverty rates dropping from 23% to 14%. Child poverty has stayed the same at 31%, but this is lower than in 2000 when it was 36%.

But working families and young people in Wales are at greater risk of poverty now than they were a decade ago.

What is poverty?

A person is considered to be in poverty if their household income falls below 60% of the UK median (which is the middle value in the list of numbers.)

The median weekly household income in the UK is around £386 after housing costs, and 60% of this is £232.

Percentage of people living in poverty in the UK

Why are working people living in poverty?

Is getting a job the best route out of poverty? We have record high employment levels, and a record low percentage of out-of-work households in Wales. At the same time, in-work poverty has risen. How will this affect the design of anti-poverty and job creation programmes in the future?

Working patterns have a huge impact on the risk of poverty. Increases in in-work poverty are almost entirely in ‘part-working’ families (which are households where people work part time, are self-employed or have one full time worker and one adult not working). Around 100,000 more people in part-working families are in poverty than a decade ago. In families where all the adults are in work, there was no increase during the same period.

The high proportion of low paid jobs in Wales (which are jobs that pay below two‑thirds of the UK median hourly wage) is key to these findings. A quarter of jobs in Wales are low paid – the same proportion as ten years ago. This rises to 45% of all part time jobs, which are mainly held by women.

The balance between part time and full time work has shifted in recent years, with just under 30,000 more people in Wales working part time now compared with the start of the 2008 recession. Zero hour contracts are seen by some as synonymous with insecure work, and almost 50,000 people in Wales were on such contracts at the end of 2015.

On top of this, 31% of working-age adults are not in employment at all. For women, this figure is slightly higher at 34%. For ethnic minority groups it is 45%, and for disabled people it is 55%.

Will welfare reforms increase poverty in Wales?

Wales is more reliant on welfare than other countries in the UK, so cuts made to in-work and out-of-work benefits have a greater impact. Average incomes are below the UK average, so benefit reductions are likely to represent a larger percentage of net income.

There are arguably three welfare reform measures that are having, or will have, the greatest impact on the income levels of families in Wales in the Fifth Assembly:

  • the housing benefit social housing under-occupation measure (also called the ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’), which currently affects around 30,000 people in Wales, with an average weekly reduction of £14 per person;
  • universal credit, which will replace certain benefits and tax credits. The rollout is in progress and is expected to be completed by 2021. In Wales, universal credit is forecast to increase the incomes of working households with children, and reduce the incomes of households with no one in paid work; and
  • the replacement of disability living allowance (DLA) with the personal independence payment (PIP). This includes a tightening of the assessment criteria, and a reduction in the number of eligible claimants. More than one in five working age people in Wales is disabled – one of the highest proportions in the UK.

What next?

Welsh households are more dependent on benefits, compared with the UK average. They are likely to see further reductions in their income over the next five years as a swathe of new reforms is implemented.

Low paid, unstable and part time work are key causes of poverty in Wales, with ar

ound 100,000 more people in Wales experiencing in-work poverty than ten years ago. Will these families feel the benefit of the new UK National Living Wage or future Welsh Government anti-poverty measures, or will they be out-weighed by cuts?

The challenge for the new Welsh Government is how to reduce poverty when power over the primary levers of influence such as tax, employment law and benefits, do not lie in Wales.

Key sources

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International Women’s Day 2016

Article by Jonathan Baxter, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

InternationalWomensDay-portrait

Image from Internationalwomensday.com

March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD).

IWD was established in the early 20th Century. It followed an agreement at the 1910 International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. The United States had previously held its own national women’s day (it now devotes the entire month of March to celebrating women’s history), but it wasn’t until 1911that Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland celebrated IWD as a result of the Copenhagen initiative. Other countries then followed. IWD isn’t the responsibility of a single government or organisation, but an international movement.

The global theme for IWD 2016 is Pledge for Parity. The aim is for individuals to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly. This could be by pledging to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, challenging conscious and unconscious bias or calling for gender-balanced leadership.

Some organisations, including the United Nations, will adopt their own theme for IWD. This year, the UN has adopted “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” as its theme. The idea of this theme is to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Although it wasn’t until the 1970s that the UN started observing IWD, its founding charter, signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men.

IWD isn’t just about highlighting the acknowledged imbalances across social, economic, cultural and political arenas, but about celebrating the successes of women in all those spheres. On 9 March, Assembly Members will have an opportunity to make their pledges for parity, but also to celebrate the many achievements of women in Wales as they debate IWD 2016. There will be a number of events in Wales to mark the day, including those organised by the Women’s Equality Network Wales in Aberystwyth, Swansea and Cardiff.


Women in public life

IWD was established before any woman in Wales had the right to vote. Now, of the 60 Assembly Members in Wales, 25 are women – that’s 42%. In 2003, the Assembly was the first legislature in the world to achieve gender parity. Between 2006 and 2007 more women than men sat in the Assembly. Although current representation by women in the Assembly is lower than in the past, Wales would still rank as the 9th most gender-balanced legislature in the world if it were an independent country according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The United Kingdom currently ranks 40th on the IPUs index, with just under 30% of Members of Parliament being women.

Building on the Assembly’s reputation for equality, the Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM, has led her Women in Public Life campaign throughout the Fourth Assembly to encourage more women to get involved in public life. The work she has undertaken has been recognised internationally, resulting in invitations to visit the Icelandic parliament, the Canadian parliament, and to regional parliaments in South Africa and Lesotho to exchange ideas and best practice in relation to women’s representation.


The challenges facing women in Wales

There have been many programmes and schemes to tackle gender inequality in Wales. The Welsh Government’s Programme for Government (PfG) and Strategic Equality Plan (SEP) outline the actions that the current Welsh Government has taken to address this issue.

In terms of the representation of women in public life, the PfG included specific commitments to deliver a more representative pool of decision makers and to seek to introduce Norwegian-style gender quotas for appointments to public bodies. A recent call for evidence on appointments to public sector boards was issued by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, with a summary of the findings now available.

The Welsh Government’s Annual Equality Report 2014-15 details progress on the objectives set out in the SEP. It notes that in 2014-15:

  • 48.5% of new public appointments were women;
  • 41% of applicants for new public appointments were women.

Of course, it isn’t just in the public sector that we can see examples of gender inequality as campaigns like 50/50 by 2020 have highlighted; the private and third sectors also have issues to address.

Economically, we regularly see statistics that highlight the gender imbalance. Latest statistics from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings show a gender pay gap in Wales of 7.8% in 2015, meaning that median hourly earnings excluding overtime of men working full-time were 7.8% higher than those of women.  This is lower than most English regions and the UK average but higher than the gender pay gap in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There’s more information about women in the Welsh economy in this In Brief blog post from last year.

The Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) 2015, produced by the World Economic Forum, provides some stark statistics on the challenge faced by societies and governments across the globe.

With global average earnings by men almost double that of women, the report suggests that it will take the world another 118 years, or until 2133, to close the economic gender gap entirely.

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