Diverse Flexibility



I have been asked many times during the past few months if  I have plans to stand for election. Now the announcement has come from Frank Dobson M.P. that he intends to retire following a long career with the Labour Party, which means, of course, that there will be a selection process in my local area.


So I feel the time is right to declare I have no intention of standing for selection.


Many already know that I am very proud to be an active Labour Party member and look forward to supporting the Labour team in this General Election campaign. But I have made the decision not to stand for one vital reason.  The lack of flexible elected roles available. I have spoken publicly about living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disability which I have learnt to manage very successfully. Ongoing management of this condition requires time, which fits very easily around part-time work. At present flexible, part-time working is not an option for elected Members of Parliament.

I want to speak out on this issue, because it impacts significantly on diversity within government. I have been very pleased to follow the excellent work of Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Gloria de Piero, who commissioned a poll showing that one in four people would be interested in standing for election. I have often found that people start by telling me that being a politician is “not for the likes of us” but following a short conversation and some different thinking, they end up actively considering it. There is a significant level of interest across the spectrum of diversity within our society.


Why then, do we not see this reflected amongst our elected representatives?


The answer is of course multi-faceted, but there are practical measures that can make a difference. Removing barriers that disproportionately exclude sections of society is a good place to start. Who would benefit from more flexible part-time roles becoming available? Both managing your own disability and caring for another takes time. So, those with disabilities and caring responsibilities are likely to experience full-time only roles as a barrier:

Women


We know that unpaid caring is still predominantly a role carried out by women. Some research suggests that women have a 50:50 chance of providing care by the time they are 59. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) tells us that 89% of those who combine part-time work with caring are female.


Black and Minority Ethnic


EHRC report ‘How Fair is Britain’ also examines differences amongst ethnic minorities: We learn that Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are significantly more likely than average to provide informal paid care (more than twice as likely as White people). A disproportionate number of young carers are from certain ethnic minority backgrounds (including Bangladeshi, Black African and Black Caribbean and Pakistani).

Disabilities


When it comes to adults with disabilities, we are not only receivers of care, but care-givers also: In 2001, of the nearly 2 million people aged 16-74 who are permanently sick or disabled, over a quarter of a million provided some unpaid care for other people. Young disabled people are twice as likely as their non-disabled peers to be caring regularly for other children or adults.

Socio-Economic


The EHRC also found a strong socio-economic dimension to caring: “People from lower socio-economic groups are more likely both to need care and to provide it, at any age. Better-off people are more likely to use formal childcare, and people on low incomes, non-working parents and single parents are less likely to use formal childcare.”

So, the very groups who are under-represented in elected political roles are those who would benefit most from flexible part-time working.

Imagine how different our Parliament would be if it opened up positions to these carers, many of whom are already showing they have the capacity to work part-time. We would all benefit from including their voices and welcoming their life experience to enrich decision making processes.


The Future


So, where do we begin? The law surrounding the election of M.P.s would require significant change to incorporate flexibility (e.g. job-sharing with two names on the ballot paper for a single position). Is there another area in which flexibility could be introduced more easily to begin the process? Members of the London Assembly are elected using the Additional Member System of proportional representation. Once elected representatives of each political party act as a team dividing responsibilities between themselves. This system much more readily lends itself to flexible working arrangements. There are fourteen members elected by constituencies and a surther eleven who represent the capital as a whole.  In place of these eleven, could Londoners be represented by nine full-time members plus four part-time?

If flexible working is to be the norm in business and politics, newly created roles present an easy opportunity to build this in. For example; Labour’s Shadow Minister for London Sadiq Khan has recently urged Boris Johnson to appoint a dedicated Deputy Mayor for Equality. For any roles that do not yet exist, there is an opportunity to build in flexibility, making it part of the conversation from day one.

As a Labour and Co-operative Party member, I am very much looking forward to the selection process in Holborn and St.Pancras. A number of the candidates expected to declare their interest are known to me and I am delighted that as a party we have such a strong pool of potential to draw from. We are all set for an exciting ten months of campaigning ahead.

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