The gender pay gap

Women and men should be paid the same if they do the same job. It sounds obvious, but in reality it doesn’t happen. In 1997, when records began, the difference was a very alarming 17.4%.

Since entering government my Lib Dem colleagues and I have worked hard to reduce the gender pay gap to the lowest ever level (9.4%). This is welcome, but there is much more to do.

The Lib Dems want to close the gap completely, just as we have eliminated other inequalities between men and women.

Our introduction of Shared Parental Leave has made it easier for parents to care for their children. Older men and women will receive the same basic state pension from 2016. There are now many more women on company boards. All Lib Dem commitments, all delivered.

We want to go further – our manifesto for next year includes a roadmap to ending pay inequality completely.

We will make it a legal requirement for companies employing more than 250 people to publish their average pay for male and female workers.

With this simple change, staff will be able to see whether they are treated the same as their colleagues. Shoppers will know whether a company has a pay bias against women.

The pressure from both sides will force employers to account for, and abolish, any gender pay gap. Equal work should mean equal pay.

Lynne Featherstone MP wins ‘Politician of the Year’ award

Lynne Featherstone MP on the pride marchHornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone has won Stonewall’s ‘Politician of the Year’ award.

The award, which was won jointly with Lord Cashman, recognised Lynne Featherstone’s work on LGBT rights both at home and abroad.

During her first spell in the Home Office, the Liberal Democrat MP was the architect of the Equal Marriage legislation, which has since become law. In the Department for International Development, Lynne worked to improve the rights of LGBT+ communities in the developing world.

In the last two weeks, Lynne Featherstone MP has also won the Pink News award for ‘Ally of the Year’; been nominated for the Patchwork Award for ‘MP of the Year’; and been promoted to Minister of State in the Home Office.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“I am so very moved to win Stonewall’s award for politician of the year.

“Bringing about positive social change is one of the best parts of being a politician. I’m so glad to have had that opportunity – and introducing same sex marriage is certainly one of the best things I’ll ever do!

“I will of course continue to champion the rights of the LGBT+ community, along with fantastic activists and organisations, such as Stonewall.”

Lynne Featherstone MP wins top Pink News Award

Lynne Featherstone MP accepts her award from Ben Cohen, Chief Executive and Founder of Pink News. Lynne Featherstone MP was last night presented with an award by Pink News, the most read gay news service in Britain.

The top award, called ‘Ally of the Year,’ was given to the Lib Dem MP in honour of her tireless work to promote LGBT rights both at home and abroad.

The MP for Hornsey and Wood Green was the architect of Equal Marriage law during her time as minister for equalities in the Home Office, and now works in the Department for International Development to push the agenda on the global stage.

Lynne Featherstone MP is also nominated for Stonewell’s ‘Politician of the Year’ award, which due to be announced next week.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“I’d like to thank Pink News for giving me this award, and everyone who was at the event for the reception they gave me – it’s so heart-warming.

“Bringing about this positive social change is one of the greatest achievements of our generation, and I’m so thankful to all the organisations, politicians, civil servants and people who supported the successful campaign for Equal Marriage law from start to finish.”

One local resident tweeted:

“So pleased to be there to see my MP @lfeatherstone receive a @pinknews Award tonight for her work to bring in same-sex marriage.”


Lynne Featherstone MP nominated for Politician of the Year award

Lynne Featherstone MP on this year’s pride march – celebrating equal marriageLynne Featherstone MP has been nominated for Stonewall’s ‘Politician of the Year’ award.

The 25th Anniversary Awards, which will take place in the Raphael Gallery of the Victoria & Albert Museum, celebrate the outstanding contribution of individuals and groups towards equality over the past year.

In her former role as Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone MP was the architect of the Equal Marriage consultation and Bill – which has now become law.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“It’s a huge honour to be nominated for this award – thank you very much to Stonewall! I look forward to attending the awards.

“In the UK, we have made incredible progress with equal marriage. Words can’t really describe the overwhelming joy I felt attending two beautiful wedding ceremonies on that historic day in March, when finally love became equal before the law.

“I still get very emotional when people thank me for my work on same-sex marriage. Often when I speak at an event someone, usually a young man, will approach me and say ‘thank you’ – it’s incredibly heart-warming.”

Ben Summerskill couldn't be more wrong

Ex CEO of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, is in the news for calling Liberal Democrats ‘cynical’ in our initiation and championing of same sex marriage. He says it was all because this was to put clear water between ourselves and the Conservatives.

As the instigator and architect of same sex marriage  – I can say that Summerskill could not be more wrong.

In fact – the opposite is true. One of the key factors in making me think I could get same sex marriage on the statute books was the very fact that the Conservatives were desperate to leave their poor track record on matters homosexual behind. I thought they would be keen to prove this. I was right – both Theresa May and David Cameron were staunch in their support. What I had not predicted (and I suspect David Cameron had not predicted) was the huge rift within the Conservative ranks which ensued.

Mr Summerskill’s comments almost certainly have more to do with his misery at this most recent step coming from the Liberal Democrats than anything else. It has now been well-documented by Peter Tatchell and many others – that Stonewall under Ben’s stewardship was against same sex marriage.

However, when I had Ben in to see me when I started on my mission, to ask for his support. He did in the end change Stonewall’s position . I am extremely glad he did change his position – but reading all the recent comments it would seem that was because he had no alternative.

I met with all the key stakeholders, campaigners and activists in the early days to ask for support. Everyone put their egos aside and we all worked together to deliver what now is the law.

Stonewall does a huge amount of excellent work – and it is a great pity that Summerskill has damaged the brand by his comments. The acting CEO Ruth Hunt is great – and I have no doubt will take Stonewall forward in a much better way than before.

In terms of same sex marriage I lay the credit at the doors of those who suffered and those who fought this battle over the years. Moreover, without civil partnerships and all the campaigners who have fought over the years for equality and came together in the same sex marriage campaign  – this most recent and significant step forward could not have taken place.

But equality is part of the Liberal Democrat DNA – and we have our rightful place among these campaigners. And for me it is probably one of the best things I will ever do as a politician.

Currently I am a Minister in DFID with Africa in my patch. As you can imagine – in terms of LGBT issues – there is so much work to be done. See my recent blog on this here. And there is still much to do on our own streets and in our own schools. Same sex marriage is certainly a great step forward – but quite frankly – this is no time to let up.



Everyday sexism

Here’s my third blog from New York – where I am representing the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Also available here.

There is immense power in the act of naming. Naming something so widespread that is passes almost without comment, like breathing or gravity, or the colour of the sky. And yet, for women everywhere, it has a huge impact on our lives.

Such is everyday sexism, the topic of a UK-Denmark panel event I just participated in at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

I pay tribute to the work of the Everyday Sexism Project, which has collected thousands of testimonies from across the world. Some of them are really chilling, others more banal. But of course the crux of the issue is the banality of the evil: that any one catcall can be shrugged off. But the cumulative impact of the drip drip drip of unwelcome sexual advances and unrelenting critiques of women’s bodies and abilities have a corrosive effect upon all of us – men and women – and on the societies in which we live.

From a very young age, most girls learn to mentally brace themselves before they walk out the door each day. Women and girls develop coping strategies – smile nicely, find a cheeky riposte, get angry, pretend not to hear, put our heads down and quickly hurry past. Frankly, we’re expected to be big girls about it and lighten up. Well, I’m not lightening up.

And don’t think women politicians are immune from this treatment. We experience everyday sexism and then some. The online trolling some of my colleagues have suffered is disgusting. And in the House of Commons itself, if ever a female MP makes a pertinent point, it’s not uncommon for her to be told “calm down, dear”.

Everyday sexism is not inevitable, it is not harmless, it does matter, and it can and must stop.

It matters because it drives girls and women into a crippling self-consciousness and self-objectification. When the world tells you how you look and what you wear are all that matters, it’s no wonder so many girls’ psychological development is damaged.

In the UK, our primary focus has been on creating a supportive framework of equality legislation, and we are world leaders in doing so. There has to be a bottom line that women are entitled to equal treatment and the state will step in to enforce that.

We also have an inspiring campaign to prevent sexual violence among young people, called ‘This Is Abuse’. This year we are particularly focused on reaching boys, encouraging teenagers to re-think their views of violence, abuse, controlling behaviour and what consent means. Men and boys are crucial to this change: we’ll get nowhere if women and girls are just talking amongst ourselves and everyday sexism.

We have also taken action to tackle stalking and harassment, which includes harassment and abuse via social media.

I could go on for sometime outlining all the Coalition Government is doing, but suffice it to say we are enforcing the law and encouraging conversations about gender roles and stereotypes generally. To be clear, it’s not for government to tell parents how to raise their children, or to tell men and women how they should feel about being men and women. But I believe it is entirely appropriate for us to question barriers to an individual’s control over her own life and do all we can to empower that individual – I am a liberal after all! And I’m grateful that countries like Denmark are helping us spread this work internationally.

GFEST – Gaywise FESTival in Haringey!

A few months ago, I met with Wise Thoughts, a Wood Green based Arts charity aimed at supporting the BAME and LGBT+ communities in Haringey and across the country. They hold a range of projects designed to raise awareness and promote social cohesion through the arts.

Between the 7th and 9th November, Wise Thoughts are holding their Gaywise FESTival at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham. Everyone is welcome, and there will be a range of activities including performance art, film screenings, and debates. The full programme can be found at

This is an excellent initiative, and I fully support Wise Thoughts in their extensive work promoting equality in all walks of life. This is a subject that is very close to my heart – I was very proud to be part of the team that introduced equal marriage in my former role as Equalities Minister. I will continue to promote BAME and LGBT+ rights in my DFID role, and I wish Wisethoughts every success in the future.

Find more details at or by following the GFEST twitter feed – @GFest

Uganda: Next Paralympic Champions?

I have travelled back to Kampala for the final leg of my trip with Ade Adepitan to investigate what life is like for disabled people in Uganda.

I was very excited about our main event – we were due to meet Uganda’s own wheelchair paralympic hopefuls. I was really interested to hear how their training compares to Ade’s and to see them in action on the court.

We caught up with the team mid-match in a small outdoor court in the city centre. Uganda’s own wheelchair basketball team may lack the latest equipment, high-tech chairs or training centres, but they certainly more than made up for it with their passion and dedication – not least because they’d been training in the sun for several hours before we arrived.

The teams limbered up for a match with Ade (with both sides proudly wearing ‘Team GB’ shirts in honour of their guest) and the rest of us gathered at the side to cheer. They clearly had an instant connection with Ade and everyone was speaking the same language of basketball.

Lynnf Featherstone in Uganda

The match itself was absolutely thrilling. Both sides gave it their all – and while Ade’s team seemed to have a natural advantage and edged the lead – it was heart-warming to see everyone’s differences melt away. The team and the crowd forgot politics and policies and just enjoyed watching the match.

Afterwards, we talked about the reality of trying to become a disabled athlete in Uganda. Their story was a familiar one. A lack of interest, investment and worry about whether they have the training or equipment they need to make the grade.

It was heartening to hear their hopes for the future. I hope they make the grade. After the UK’s own team, I certainly know who I am going to be rooting for.

Lynne Featherstone in Uganda

The match really summed up a lot of our trip. Disabled people across Africa are proving that they have the ability to take on huge challenges and face up to daily discrimination, prejudice and misunderstanding. It is abundantly clear that we will never create a level playing field unless we do more to recognise the tremendous hardship many disabled people are forced to live with – and take action to address it. Recognising disability in the new UN poverty goals will be an important step towards this.

Earlier in the day I gave a speech to an assembled group of charities, disabled lobby groups and Ugandan officials. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on how we can change people’s perception and put an end to the discrimination that prevents so many talented people from reaching their full potential.

Disability not inability

This was the clear cry from the many wonderful and inspiring young people we met at the St. Francis school for the blind in Soroti, Uganda.

Run with help from Britain through the International Inspiration programme, the school is dedicated to giving blind or partially sighted children the skills and opportunity they need to thrive. From cricket to braille reading, the wall in Sister Winifred the headmistress’s office is decorated with an array of academic and sporting trophies. The school embodies the simple mantra that every child is different – and that they should adapt to each individual.

Part of the UK’s Olympic and Paralympic legacy programme and backed by the British Government, International Inspiration is providing vital support to keep the school running. Alongside it’s sister primary school, it is one of the only dedicated schools for the blind in Uganda.

There is no doubt that they are making a tremendous difference to pupils lives. Children have the chance to learn a wide range of academic and life skills. alongside classrooms with braille machines, the children run a turkey farm and grow a range of vegetables. They even sell the turkey eggs for small profit. There is no doubt that their entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well – we were sold and bought the whole batch!

The school provides hope and a head start in life, but it was clear the challenges that remain. They have a recently installed computer lab, but they lack the software that automatically read out text. If you are reading this blog with similar software, you’ll understand how vital it is.

The children also said they were worried about their future when they leave school. They are well aware that the fantastic support, encouragement and equipment – such as  braille machines which they have learnt to master so well – are not widely available outside school. Few businesses recognise the incentive or benefit to make changes and adaptations. They are missing a huge untapped resource.

The children were clear about huge social mountain they need to climb. It was heart-wrentching to hear a group of girls describe the daily suspicion and insults their mothers face – everything from being branded a witch, demon or outcast. It is truly saddening that such talented and remarkable children know how hard it is for them to be accepted by the rest of society.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. Education which is tailored to their needs will give them a chance in life. St. Francis school, with help from Britain, is giving them the skills they need to succeed. But social change takes time. The children we met today have the ability to become Uganda’s next politicians, entrepreneurs or entertainers. In one of the school’s bright classrooms, a boy stood up to address us from behind his Braille machine. He told us how worried he was for his future after school and how difficult it will be for him to get a job. Confident and clearly spoken, he told us how many villagers at home would prefer disabled people to stay at home rather than find employment. They simply cannot accept that disabled people have a valuable contribution to make. I asked him what he wants to do when he finishes school. The answer? A politician. I think that is just what Uganda – and the rest of the world – needs. I wish him the very best of luck.

In the meantime, we must do more to change attitudes and provide a lifeline to disabled people. Earlier in the day we’d seen how a successful safety net programme is giving disabled and vulnerable people in Kaberamaido the chance to escape destitution. Unable to work as much as other members of the community, they can claim a tiny monthly payment to keep their families fed and clothed. This safety and security allows them to create a better life for their families. One women –  unable to walk without her rudimentary walking stick – described how she had to support seven members of her family. The payments gave her the chance to invest in seeds to grow. She now has more food and the chance to sell some on for a profit. Her family now have enough to eat and her community can see how productive she can be. none of this would be possible without this support.

Change can happen. Disabled people can contribute to their community and their economy. Education can give them the chance to build a better life and fight social stigma. We must wake up this fact and help create more schools that allow every child to thrive. In the meantime, we must ensure we target our aid towards the poorest and most vulnerable. From what I have seen, I have no doubt that this can make a tremendous difference to the lives of countless disabled people in countries like Uganda.

Disability and development in Uganda

Today is the first day of my visit to meet disabled people in Uganda.

Disability is the great neglected issue in development. I am here to learn how we can make a greater difference on the ground.

I am extremely grateful to UK paralympic star Ade Adepitan for taking the time to join us on this trip. I wanted his unique perspective and understanding about the daily challenges faced by disabled people at home and abroad.

Our first stop was a state school at the side of a dusty, rural road. 901 children attend classes there everyday. With only 14 extremely dedicated teachers, class sizes are large and teachers’ time is very stretched.

There are five million disabled people in Uganda, so it came as no surprise that there are many children at this school who also live with a disability.

We heard some truly inspiring stories – like Dorothy, a blind girl whose father carries her two and a half kilometres to school and back everyday to make sure she has an education.

Half way through the visit, the skies began to pour. A handful of children quickly huddled in one of the school’s small, dark classrooms. The rain on tin roof made it almost impossible to hear what anyone was saying. This would be a challenging place to teach one child even without a disability. Here they were teaching scores of children in each classroom.

Water Aid, a charity supported by Britain’s own development budget, is helping to improve school facilities. We saw a ‘inclusive toilet’ which is especially designed to ensure disabled children have the facilities they need to go to school in the first place.

We then moved to Bobole village – a tiny settlement at the end of a rutted and muddy track. We met Margaret, a disabled women living in an improvised wheelchair. She makes a living from a specially adapted sewing machine which she turns with her hands.

With WaterAid’s support, she has her own accessible toilet and washing facilities. Despite its simple construction from local wood and leaves, it is giving Margaret the dignity and opportunity to thrive. They have also constructed a water butt to catch rain water to help water her crops. The only other option is a bore hole far from her village – a virtual impossibility in her wheelchair.

Despite these inspiring stories of determination and spirit, the challenge in my mind is clear.

Simple changes and alterations can make a tremendous difference and ensure every one has the chance to succeed. we need to do much more to identify these and ensure all our aid programmes prioritise them.

Tomorrow I will update you on the next trip.