Greening asks Manchester to remain

After the EU referendum we must come back together as a country says the secretary of state for international development

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Debate about the EU referendum must be conducted in a way that allows people on either side to work together again after the vote, the secretary of state for international development has said.

On a trip to Manchester yesterday (19 May) Justine Greening told Big Issue North that “outlandish” comments, such as Nigel Farage’s claim there will be violence in the streets if immigration is not controlled, do not help the country have a measured debate. She added that his comments are “exclusionist”, saying: “People need to be able to properly understand the issues, find out the facts, so that they can make a balanced decision and I don’t think that kind of argument particularly helps that happen.

“We’ll have a Britain, whatever the decision, that is there after and it’s really important for us as a country that the way we conduct ourselves in this debate is one that whatever side you’re on we can come back together as a country once we’ve taken such a momentous decision.”

Greening was in Manchester campaigning for the EU Remain campaign and to lead a debate, at Manchester University, as part of her role on the UN secretary-general’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.

“If we leave the EU it will be at a cost to our economy and will disproportionately hit women.”

Greening told Big Issue North that a leave vote in the EU referendum on 23 June would disproportionately affect women.

“If we leave the EU it will be at a cost to our economy – investment, jobs and opportunities – and the people who lose out on those tend to be the people who are in lower income jobs. In the UK, at the moment, women are still disproportionately represented in lower income jobs. That’s the reality of leaving the EU – that some of those economic impacts will really disproportionately hit women.”

Analysis by the House of Commons library found, following the 2016 Budget, that 86 per cent of savings made by the government between 2010 and 2020 will have come from women’s pockets. Analysis by the Women’s Budget Group (WBG) added that female-headed households will face the largest drop in living standards over the same period due to policy changes made by the coalition and the current Conservative government. The WBG said: “Crucially, our analysis shows that the policies of this Conservative government will have a greater regressive and gender-biased impact than those of the previous Coalition government.

“The Chancellor is making a political choice about who will gain, and who will lose out, from his government’s policies. These are not decisions driven by economic necessity.”

Asked how she plans to economically empower British women when the government is taking away their economic freedom through cuts to services and welfare, Greening said: “The best way we can help women is to make sure there’s a strong economy that gives them the chance to have a job in the first place, whilst sorting out some of the barriers on childcare and parental leave that have made it hard for women to take advantages of choices.

“We have more women in the workforce than we’ve ever had and a higher number of women starting their own business… what we’ve tried to do, while making sure our public finances are finances the public can afford, is getting our economy kick-started.”

Greening is a founding member of the first-ever High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, established by UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon in January to help close economic gender gaps that persist around the world. Following the panel discussion in Manchester, hosted by the university’s Global Development Institute, audience members – made up of students and academics as well as around 60 delegates from organisations such as Women Worldwide – presented Greening with their thoughts on the barriers facing women globally, such as their inability to own land, open bank accounts, work or control decisions made about their bodies, in countries across the globe. Greening plans to present her findings at a consultative meeting in Chile this summer before the panel presents its recommendations in a report in September.

During her speech Greening acknowledged the gender inequality in the Conservative cabinet, which has women making up only 30 per cent of its members, and referred to the 2015 World Economic Forum report, which estimated it will take a further 117 years to achieve gender equality. Greening hopes the UN panel will help accelerate this progress.

The high-level panel is focused on getting women into work – with Greening citing the McKinsey Global Institute’s 2015 report that found advancing women’s equality can add over £8 trillion to global growth. But she told Big Issue North that it isn’t purely motivated by economic strength but “because it’s the right thing to do.”

“What’s driven this agenda is a rights issue. It’s totally unacceptable that women around the world aren’t allowed to work, don’t have land rights, can’t inherit assets, can’t open a bank account. That’s unacceptable in itself but I think what has changed is there is a growing awareness that it’s not just wrong – actually everybody loses, not just women.”

UN Women calls for measuring economic contribution of unpaid and caring work, which women carry out an estimated 75 per cent of worldwide. Campaign groups such as the Global Women’s Strike and Mother’s at Home Matter point out that care work should be economically valued through income support or a living wage for mothers and other carers.

Greening told Big Issue North that in the UK “there are some people who have huge caring responsibilities and we should reflect that in how our benefit system works.

“Some of the changes we have made on pensions have helped women who have been out of work for some time bringing up children. But as a consequence of that they weren’t paying National Insurance. We’ve steadily tried to shift it.

“I think what’s important in all of this is choice. Everyone’s different, everyone’s circumstances are different and what we should be doing is making sure there aren’t barriers in the way, particularly for women that want to get back into work after having children.”

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