Sadiq Khan has urged the government to strengthen women’s rights in the workplace, including time off due to period pain and support for those experiencing domestic abuse.
In a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride, the London mayor said a range of measures is needed in public sector organisations across the country, to ensure they are “women-friendly” workplaces.
It comes as Mr Khan on Monday launched the first ever Women’s Policy Summit at City Hall, a conference which the Mayor said will help inform his policies on how to help women overcome the skills and employment gap, the soaring cost of living and the housing crisis.
The Mayor’s letter to Mr Stride calls for the government to order all taxpayer-funded public bodies to adopt a number of measures already in place at City Hall.
They include making severe gynaecological pain grounds for reasonable adjustment or leave from work, and offering robust provision for colleagues who are victims of domestic abuse. At City Hall, staff fleeing domestic abuse are able to access an interest-free loan of up to £10,000 to help rebuild their lives.
In his speech at the summit, Mr Khan warned: “For decades, it seemed like progress on women’s rights was inevitable. But developments in recent years have proved that faith to be misplaced.
“Now, not only is momentum stalling, but for the first time in a generation, it seems like we’re at risk of going backwards.”
Mr Khan pointed to the murder of Sarah Everard in London by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, and the US Supreme Court’s removal of abortion rights, as examples of the tide turning against women across the globe.
The Mayor later told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There’s now a danger of things going backwards with the rise of nativist, populist movements, those talking about the ‘snowflake generation’ and the ‘woke nonsense’.
“I think it’s really important to explain why it’s important in relation to women’s rights being human rights, but also, actually, it leads to greater productivity. I think an inclusive workplace is a more effective workplace.”
He added that it was particularly important to address the rising cost of childcare, saying it was an issue employees at City Hall were struggling with.
“It’s a big issue, we’ve experienced it with our staff,” said Mr Khan.
“If you’re somebody who believes that women of child-rearing age should be working, you’ve got to support them. Not just in relation to really good maternity rights – including if you have a premature baby, neonatal care, and so forth – but also support with childcare, giving your staff the ability to work part-time, share their job with others, flexible working, and so forth.
“What the government’s got to do is to reduce the cost of childcare.”
The Mayor confirmed he was “looking at” the recent suggestion from the London Assembly’s housing committee to offer reduced rents to women in some of the capital’s affordable homes.
Mr Khan said: “The point the Assembly makes is an important one. We know unfortunately women don’t earn the same as men – there is a big gender pay gap. That’s why we’re working incredibly hard to reduce the gender pay gap.”
Asked about the representation of women in senior political offices, Mr Khan said: “I think it’s really good we’ve had three female prime ministers, I’m disappointed none of them have been Labour.
“I would say this though, we’ve had female prime ministers who haven’t done a lot for women and male prime ministers who have done a lot for women.”
Asked whether the next Labour leader after Keir Starmer should be a woman, Mr Khan said: “I’m a firm believer that you can’t be it if you can’t see it, and it is important to have women in top positions.”
In an apparently tongue-in-cheek follow-up, Mr Khan added: “I’m looking forward to Keir being prime minister for at least 25 years, we’ll see what happens after that.”
A spokesman at the Department for Work and Pensions said the government has invested more than £20 billion over the last five years to help with the cost of childcare.
The spokesman pointed out that working parents on universal credit can claim 30 hours free childcare per week which is available for three and four-year-olds and 15 hours per week for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
He added that the government has this week appointed Helen Tomlinson as England’s first ever Menopause Employment Champion. In the role, Ms Tomlinson will drive awareness of issues surrounding menopause and work, while promoting the benefits for businesses and the economy when women are supported to stay in work and progress.