Young Women's Trust at the Labour Party Conference

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Young Women's Trust's Media Manager, Bex Bailey, reports on the 2019 Labour Party Conference.

BexLabour’s conference this year – likely the last before a general election – was dominated by internal Brexit divisions. Many delegates wanted the party’s policy to go further than promising a second referendum and commit to campaigning to remain in the EU in such a vote. This move was narrowly voted down on conference floor as it lacked enough trade union support but remained the hot topic of conversation among attendees.  

The party announced a number of policies that Young Women’s Trust has been campaigning for and welcomes, such as extending a £10 an hour living wage to young people and providing free childcare. Labour has also said it will look at introducing a new youth service to tackle deprivation and inequality.  

Labour party leader’s speech 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivered his speech to conference a day earlier than planned because MPs were called back to Westminster after the Supreme Court ruled that the Conservative Prime Minister had acted unlawfully in advising the Queen to shut down Parliament. 

The Labour leader, following a trend set by leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the Brexit Party and the Scottish National Party, began his speech calling for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign over the court’s findings, and demanded a general election once the “threat” of leaving the European Union without a deal was “taken off the table”. 

The speech, largely overshadowed by the wider political drama, focused on Brexit and a new announcement on forcing pharmaceutical companies to make medicines more affordable, but reiterated Labour’s promises to young people and those on low pay.   

Corbyn criticised what he called “the greatest slump in wages since the first steam trains were built.”  

He said: “We’ll scrap zero-hours contracts; introduce a £10 living wage – including for young people from the age of 16; give all workers equal rights from their first day in the job; take action on the gender, disability and ethnicity pay gaps; and introduce flexible working time for workers experiencing the menopause.”  

This was emphasised by shadow women and equalities secretary Dawn Butler, who said at a conference event on improving workplace culture that building workplaces that work for everyone means considering transparent pay, flexible working and employer menopause policies.   

The Labour leader also set out pledges to give workers more power in their workplaces. This includes making all large companies give employees 10 per cent of their shares, with each worker receiving a dividend of up to £500 a year.   

Wellbeing at work 

A number of events this year focused on mental health – including the need for more support in the workplace – something Young Women’s Trust is keen to focus more on in future.   

At a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) gathering to discuss workplace culture, key recommendations included enabling employees to talk to their bosses about mental health and stress management. The SRA’s representative also made the case for an inclusive and diverse workforce to help companies attract the best talent and avoid “groupthink”.  

At the Fabian Society’s rally for mental health, shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley said that a Labour government would ring-fence and protect mental health funding. She said that hundreds of thousands of people are currently unable to access the support they need.  

The event, which was run in conjunction with Lloyds Banking Group, also addressed links between financial difficulties and mental health, which Young Women’s Trust has picked up on in our research. Lloyds said it is working with the charity Mental Health UK to provide a service to support people in financial trouble with their mental health. One speaker claimed there were four million people in the UK who have a mental health condition because their financial problem is so severe. This echoes Young Women’s Trust findings that work and pay have a serious impact on young women’s mental health.  

A speaker from Rethink Mental Illness said there was a lack of coordinated action on mental health and that supporting people requires welfare, housing and social services to work together with health services to make improvements. 

Women in public life 

Women’s representation in politics – and how they are treated – was another topic of discussion in the conference’s fringe events. Young Women’s Trust has done research on this that found significant numbers of women candidates faced abuse and discrimination while standing for office.  

Fabian Women’s Network discussed ideas to get more women standing for councils, Labour Women’s Network addressed the abuse that women who do put themselves forward face online and the Fawcett Society asked how devolving powers to local and regional government could “turbo-charge gender equality”. 

Young women tell Young Women’s Trust they want politicians to listen to them. As Labour prepares to fight a general election, now would be the time.