So I was pleased to catch up with contemporary artist Pippa Hale and members of Leeds Arts University to talk about the latest progress on the fantastic project to celebrate local women with a new sculpture.
Pippa’s sculpture will be inscribed with the names of 200 women chosen through public nominations. The artwork will mark a small but important step towards redressing the terrible lack of statues of women in Leeds and across the North.
However, the failure to recognise, support and value everything that women do in our communities obviously goes far wider and deeper than public art and memorials.
There is the issue of the contemptible abuse aimed at women, particularly those with public profiles, and which reached a new low during the Batley and Spen by-election.
I was appalled at the disgraceful behaviour of those who targeted my friend Kim Leadbeater and verbally abused and physically attacked Labour campaigners. Such actions have no place in a democratic society. So, I am delighted Kim won and I know she will be a fantastic MP.
When it comes to the impact of cuts to public services, we know women disproportionately endured the brunt of the austerity cuts of successive Conservative governments.
We have also seen the negative impact on women during the pandemic – even though women are overwhelmingly the ones on the front line.
In the North, around 849,000 women work in health and social care – an estimated 79 per cent of the workforce in the sector. Yet Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are planning to cut the pay of NHS workers in real terms – despite the immense sacrifices they have made.
One key area women have found tough during the pandemic has been the challenge of juggling work with bringing up a family, usually as the primary carer for children.
As a mum, I know what it is to be doing a Zoom call with two primary-school-age kids wanting you to check their adding up with pasta shells.
I know how hard this year has been for children, as well as parents, teachers and school staff. Some 46 per cent of mothers made redundant during the pandemic cite lack of adequate childcare as the cause.
In my Leeds West constituency, I have had a string of local businesses and individuals contact me as they struggled to make ends meet due to the pandemic.
One woman was unable to pay her mortgage after losing her job and risked losing her home. Hospitality and events businesses were among those felt let down by the Government and could not get the support they needed.
Even before Covid-19, women felt the strain on household budgets the most. Women accounted for almost two-thirds of those going into debt to pay for everyday essentials like food.
Distressingly, there was also a significant rise in domestic violence through the lockdowns, with many women trapped in their homes with their abusers.
As patron of Leeds Women’s Aid, I have seen the rising demand for support from women over the past year met by the Government’s failure to deliver the help they desperately need.
The pandemic has shown us there is so much in the country that needs fixing, from NHS pay to the chronic underfunding of our schools.
Yet the Prime Minister has been more focused on enriching his mates and cronies and being too gutless to sack the “hopeless” Matt Hancock.
When he and the Chancellor finally get around to thinking about the Comprehensive Spending Review, they must ensure women are not again left behind by the Conservatives, who closed hundreds of Sure Start centres that were vital to so many women.
One crucial area that needs addressing is the woeful lack of funding to help schoolchildren catch up on lost learning due to the pandemic. You cannot have a coherent economic strategy without a strategy for education and equipping our future workforce with the skills they will need.
That’s why, as Shadow Chancellor, the first spending I signed off was our Children’s Recovery Plan.
Our plan includes a host of new initiatives such as breakfast clubs and new activities for every child, quality mental-health support in every school, an Education Recovery Premium and an extension of free school meals over school holidays.
There also needs to be more help for women, particularly those trying to balance caring for children with a job. A Labour government would introduce changes to allow more workers to benefit from the advantages of flexible working.
I have a simple test for the Chancellor in his upcoming spending review. After years of cuts that have hit women hardest, can he show that the Government are not treating them as an after-thought?
We need a recovery that works for everyone – not just those friends of the Tory party who received lucrative Covid contracts that have turned some into overnight millionaires.
Rachel Reeves is Shadow Chancellor and Labour MP for Leeds West.
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