Young women are fed up of being ignored

Friday 4 October 2019

Mark GaleYoung Women's Trust's Policy and Campaigns Manager, Mark Gale, reports on the 2019 Conservative Party Conference.

In his letter this week to European leaders, the Prime Minister set out what he believed was the “broad landing zone for a [Brexit] deal.” 

It was perhaps appropriate then that Conservative Party Conference felt very much like the planes were still in a holding pattern, circling the airport, awaiting permission to set down.

This ongoing sense of inaction will be frustrating for young women who, whatever their views on Brexit, want to see immediate action on the issues that matter to them.

Positive announcements on the National Living Wage must now be matched by commitments to tackling the everyday sexism and discrimination that holds young women back. Young women are more likely to be in insecure work which pays little and has little potential for development. They are routinely overlooked by Governments prioritising building new roads over investing in childcare. And they are experiencing daily sexual harassment that many dare not report.

There was too little attention paid to these issues at the Conservative's conference. 

So what were they talking about instead? 

National Living Wage

There was some great news from the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, who announced that the National Living Wage would be extended to those aged 21 and over by 2024. 23-year olds will also be eligible for the rate from next year. Young Women’s Trust have been working with young women and campaigning hard to make this happen so we are immensely proud that this has call has been heard. Yet, we remain concerned that the plans will take five years to be fully implemented, leaving thousands of young women behind in the meantime.  They are not worth less. We therefore welcome the announcement but urge the Chancellor to speed up the process and ensure that all young people receive a fair wage as soon as possible. 

Social Mobility 

A general election is round the corner, manifestos are being written and fringe events can offer at least some insight into what issues will be important as the parties try to sell their vision for the country. It was notable then that the Chancellor opted to speak at an event on social mobility. He spoke passionately of the “abundant talent” in the country but bemoaned the lack of “abundant opportunity.”

This was a theme picked up by Gillian Keegan, MP for Chichester in an event on apprenticeships. She said that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity isn't. She was talking about geographical imbalances but Young Women’s Trust research shows that all too often it is young women who are being denied the opportunity to make the most of their abilities, no matter where they are in the country. We must do more to support young women to break down the barriers that stop them making full use of their talents.

Unlocking young women’s talents 

Some discussion of how the Conservative party might appeal to young voters was found in the Telegraph Refresh event I attended on Tuesday morning. There seemed to be a consensus that appealing to young women on environmental issues, fairer taxation or easing the path to home ownership would be vote winning formula.

Certainly, young women tell us these issues are important. But what they tell us most is that they are worn down by being asked to work in poorly paid, insecure jobs with little hope of progression. They are fed up of expensive childcare and inflexible workplaces that holds them back from making the most of their incredible skills. And they are angry at the sexual harassment they face at work and on our streets.

In conclusion

It’s been a strange sort of conference season with so little certainty about what happens next. I’ve heard too little about what any of the parties will do to address the issues that matter most to young women. I hope that as we get more clarity, about the immediate future at least, politicians will begin addressing the concerns of young women with more urgency. Because valuing and investing in young women benefits everybody.