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Whitehall ‘lacks ambition’ to fix gender imbalance as six proposals rejected

The government has today been slammed for “lacking ambition” in driving gender equality in Whitehall, as Downing Street rejected six proposals to improve women’s representation in the Commons and local government.

The Women and Equalities Committee suggested the proposals in January, which included setting a domestic target of 45% representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030 – but the government’s response, released this week, failed to support any of the committee’s points.

Though Downing Street said it “strongly supports the aim to increase the diversity of the House of Commons”, the response went on to suggest that political parties must retain full responsibility for candidate selection.

It also said that the government did not believe that setting minimum quotas for the proportion of female candidates put forward for elections was the right approach to solving the diversity issue.

In that same vein, yet another suggestion – to force parties to publish their candidate diversity data for general elections – was also turned down by the government.

Unsurprisingly, the Women and Equality Committee’s chair Maria Miller launched a scathing attack on the government’s position, arguing that the UK was failing to step up and become a world leader on women’s representation.

“While political parties bear a great deal of responsibility for increasing women’s representation, the government can make a real difference,” she said. “The government should be actively promoting transparency and equality of opportunity for women as Parliamentary candidates.

“The government’s failure to commit to this - or to accept any of the committee’s other recommendations – shows a complete lack of action and ambition to bring about real change.”

A number of recent reports have laid bare the sad state of gender equality in both central and local government in the UK. Just last month, a study from the IPPR explained that more than 3,000 female candidates were needed to achieve gender parity in local government.

And the Fawcett Society showed that in counties, gender inclusion was found to actually be going backwards, as representation was likely to not be equal until 2065.

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