It has been said that if there were more women in the Cabinet when the NHS was created, we’d have had a national childcare service as well. The government’s plan to extend childcare hours is potentially the only good idea they have, but it still doesn’t go far enough. Persistent issues like the gender pay gap or poverty pay, make being a working mother difficult.
It’s even more difficult in public life. I have many differences with the Labour Party – I’m standing against them – but that doesn’t stop me being sympathetic when Manchester MP Lucy Powell was branded ‘lazy’ for not turning up to some Commons votes whilst on maternity leave. I have had a similar experience this week – regrettably I have missed some hustings for the mayoral election. As I have now made clear publicly, this is because my daughter was taken to hospital. As a result, local bloggers have accused me of lying about my family circumstances. Meanwhile the adviser to a former Labour leader and the former Home Secretary has implied I would be unfit to be mayor due to these family circumstances.
Rather than using people’s different circumstances to cast doubt on their ability to do the job, I think politicians should do all they can to help people from diverse backgrounds into public life. Without such action, we will continue having a political class which does not represent the rich diversity of experience and skills this country possesses.
I do not see why having children or having a child with a serious illness should disqualify me or any other parent from politics or public life.
I’ve never hidden behind personal circumstances – I consistently do around or over a standard 35-hour week as a councillor and Cabinet Member, and that doesn’t account for a lot of the political work I do. I have delivered more new affordable homes than any other UK local authority as a Cabinet Member for Housing. A few weeks after the birth of my youngest child, I was back on the job – because getting a fairer deal on housing for the people of Tower Hamlets is my job, and it matters to me.
I received an email from a journalist the other day asking why my expenses were higher than my colleagues. I’d informed this man that I am the only working mother in the Cabinet, all my expenses claims relate to my childcare requirements for three children including one with mitochondrial disease whilst I carry out my job as Cabinet Member for Housing and that my claims had been fully checked, audited and validated. I have had no response to my explanation from the journalist. I value the free press and keeping politicians accountability over public money more but I remain concerned about the message negative stories on support for women will send to women thinking of a career in politics.
Rather than using people’s different circumstances to cast doubt on their ability to do the job, I think politicians should do all they can to support women into jobs and public life.
Nearly 50% of women in Tower Hamlets is jobless and we have one of Britain’s highest rates of child poverty. I have promised more childcare facilities and a specialised Women’s Employment Hub to ensure women are supported in getting their fair share of the thousands of sustainable jobs, training opportunities and Living Wage apprenticeships I have pledged to create if I am elected Mayor. However it it is not just about policy, it is about changing attitudes, supporting and encouraging women.
One of the reasons I am running for Mayor of Tower Hamlets is to smash the glass ceiling in East London politics. I want all women including working mothers to be part of political life and to ensure we are supported in bringing our voices to the table.