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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

More than 3000 female councillors needed to reach 50:50 gender balance in local government

New IPPR study shows that only 33% of councillors and 17% of council leaders are women

A new report from IPPR highlights the lack of women across local government, including new combined authorities. The analysis finds that just 33% of councillors are women, with this figure dropping to 17% amongst council leaders. In the new Mayoral Combined Authority Boards only 4% of constituent members are women and all six are led by men. 

The new report, Power to the people? Tackling the gender imbalance in combined authorities & local government, finds that women face a number of barriers particularly in entering local government and progression into leadership roles:

  • since 2007, the percentage of female candidates selected by political parties to stand in council ward elections[1] has flatlined at around a third, while parliament has seen much faster gains – the number of female MPs elected rose by 9% in the 2017 election compared to 2015;
  • to achieve equal numbers of male and female councillors, 3028 more women will need to be elected – an increase of over 50%;
  • to achieve parity in gender balance would require over 12,000 women coming forward and applying for council elected positions if over 3000 are to be successfully elected; and,
  • in the past 20 years the proportion of women councillors has grown by 5 percentage points. At this rate it will take another 68 years to reach 50/50 representation.

Despite a new generation of young women participating in politics, with voter turnout amongst women aged 18-24 reaching 53% at the last election compared to 44% in 2015, the report finds that political parties are failing to engage more young women into party politics. Men are currently more than twice as likely as women to be political party members, meaning women are also less likely to go on to become local councillors.

The analysis in the report shows that political parties and institutions have a key role in addressing this lack of representation. The report argues the UK should follow other countries like Germany, the USA and Canada in adopting more radical reforms to get more women into local politics. IPPR’s report calls on the leaders of political parties to:

  • commit to achieving 50:50 balance in male/female party membership so as to increase the number of potential female candidates for councillor positions;
  • back a national cross-party initiative similar to the Canadian Liberal Party’s successful ‘Ask Her to Stand’ scheme, which would aim to encourage 12,000 women to come forward and stand as a councillor to reach 50:50 by 2025;

It calls on local and combined authorities to:

  • voluntarily make a commitment that no gender is represented by less than 45% of representatives on combined authority boards;
  • appoint a deputy chair to combined authority boards (where this position does not already exist) and commit to the two top positions (chair and deputy chair) being filled by a man and a woman.

The report states that:

  • if significant progress towards greater gender balance in local government and combined authorities is not achieved through these changes, then legislation should be introduced requiring local government elected positions to be filled equally by genders with a split of 40:60 or better.

Clare McNeil, IPPR Associate Director, says:

It cannot be right in 2017 that there are barely any women represented in the leadership of our newest democratic institutions, the combined authorities. Efforts made to address this in Greater Manchester and elsewhere are to be welcomed, but radical change is needed if devolution is to be about bringing power to the people, rather than consolidating it among white middle-aged men.

Political institutions and parties must introduce more ambitious quotas to improve representation in the short term. And local government should do more to encourage women to stand and support them effectively once they have been selected. Without these measures representation will continue to be deeply unequal.

Leaders of political parties should back our call to recruit the 12,000 women needed to stand for election to achieve a better gender balance in local government by 2025. This would be a fitting way to mark next years anniversary of 100 years since the first women got the vote. 

END

Contact

Stefanie Preston, s.preston@ippr.org

Ella White, e.white@ippr.org / 07788 666 212

Editors notes

  1. Constituent members of Combined Authority boards are members who have full voting rights.
  2. An embargoed copy of the publication ‘Power to the people?: Increasing women’s representation in combined authorities and local government’ is available on request – please email s.preston@ippr.org
  3. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

    Our independent research is wide ranging and covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas. Find out more at www.ippr.org.
 

[1] or nominated as independent candidates