A gender approach to budgeting – interview with the Women’s Equality Party
The local elections in Brighton and Hove are just days away and, amid the battle between the Greens, the Conservatives and Labour for control of the council, the Women’s Equality Party are hoping to win their first seat in Brighton. The party, which formed in 2015, are fielding two candidates – a win for either of them would also be the first elected representative for the party anywhere in the country.
The party believe that, at a time when people are disgruntled by the main parties, they can offer Brighton and Hove a different and fresh approach.
Beverley Barstow, the Women’s Equality Party candidate in Hanover and Elm Grove, said: “We’ve had an amazing response on the doorstep. People are so tired of the old party politics, the infighting, the locking of antlers between the parties. We’re a fresh face, doing politics differently.
“We work across party lines, collaboratively, we do listen to people, so there’s a big place for us in Brighton. They want change as well, they’re just tired of the old politics.”
Jessie MacNeil-Brown, the Women’s Equality Party candidate in Central Hove and a founding member of the party, wants to give vulnerable people a voice and stand up to central government over austerity.
“So much of the problems our society is facing is because of austerity and the fact that we have lost significant amounts of funding for our social services.
“We had the UN rapporteur come to the UK last year and said that our growing inequality is a political choice. I would like to be part of a council that pushes back on central government on these decisions.”
So what are the solutions and approaches can they offer for the challenges the city faces?
“We need to be taking violence against women a lot more seriously”
One of the party’s big pledges is to tackle the growing issue of violence against women.
Barstow said: “There has been a massive increase in the instance of violence against women in Brighton, with 115 percent rise in sexual assaults and 28 percent in domestic violence reported as well.
She claimed that cuts to local government and public services have put a greater strain on support for women at a time when they are needed most.
Jessie MacNeil-Brown, the Women’s Equality Party candidate in Central Hove and a founding member of the party, said: “Last year, the Brighton Women’s Centre had their funding cut so quickly that they were unable to secure alternative funding. This meant specialist services around counselling for women had to stop.
“We really want to see an increase in investment in women’s services, that reflect the dramatic rise in demand.”
She explained that the case of Shauna Grice, a 19 year old woman from Portslade fined for wasting police time for reporting her stalker ex-boyfriend who later murdered her, should be a wake-up call for the council.
“We need to be taking violence against women a lot more seriously in this area and putting the appropriate budget behind that as well.”
Another key policy that the party has campaigned on is introducing gender-aware budgeting to the council, especially when allocating funding, to ensure women’s experiences and needs are taken into consideration in making such decisions.
Barstow explained: “When you’re funding projects in Brighton, we should look at it through a gender lens. It gives you a different perspective to look at how money is being spent and who’s the beneficiary, and at that point you can actually audit what is going on what’s being spent where.”
“Whilst austerity is difficult, we are trying to focus on how we use the rest of that budget. Parties are holding their hands up and saying their hands are tied, they can’t do anything. We want to try to do something, we don’t just want to stand there and say ‘national government are doing this, so we have to too’.
“We want to look at it and address it with gender-aware budgeting, so we can do they best we can with the money we have left.”
“It’s just become a no-go zone”
The Women’s Equality Party also want to tackle the issue of crime in the community, in particular making The Level a safer place for the public.
The party want to see a police presence at The Level and re-introduce PCSOs back into the community to make local residents feel safer.
“The Level was a place for the whole community, but now people are reporting on the doorstep that they now are reluctant to take their children down there and reluctant that their teenagers should go down there too,” Barstow said.
“When funding was given to The Level, it was given with a condition to have a permanent community police presence. Fast forward to now, where are they? It has become a place no one wants to walk through. It’s just become a no-go zone.
“It’s time to take that space back, it’s a public space, it should be for everyone.”
Funding also needs to be given to invest in local youth services, following the example that Glasgow has set, MacNeil-Brown said.
“I think that’s where you start with fighting crime. If you invest in your youth services, if you engage young people, they’re not going to turn to crime,” she said.
Addressing the homelessness crisis
The party is also concerned at the crisis of homelessness in the city and wants a gender-specific approach to homelessness, recognising the different causes of for men and women.
Both of the party’s candidates are critical of the private rented sector, claiming it has made it incredibly difficult for people to afford housing.
MacNeil-Brown explained she had talked to a woman in Central Hove who suddenly found herself sleeping in her car after her relationship of over 20 years broke down.
“She was telling me how difficult it has been to find accomodation that she could afford. And here in Central Hove, we have double the English average of one-person households and we have half of our households rented by private landlords,” she said.
“We’ve got a council that has trail-blazed in many areas and likes to consider itself progressive, so I think we need to work with housing experts to look at systems we could put in place that mean we have more affordable housing.
“I would love to see Brighton and Hove create new standards for the rest of the country.”
Barstow said that, with their seat at the table, the council would do more to provide housing for the most vulnerable.
“With homelessness, most emergency accommodation is privately rented, which makes it incredibly expensive for the council. If we actually invested more in creating more council-owned accommodation, it would make sense in the long-term and we could house people and house them properly,” she said
“I’m really proud to be standing for a feminist political party”
Regardless of whether she is successful in her efforts to be elected, MacNeil-Brown feels that the party has already made a big difference by just running in Brighton.
“When we stand, some of the other parties are launching women’s manifestos or they are prioritising women’s policies, or even better they have more women candidates. That’s part of the fantastic effect we’re having, and by having women run for the Women’s Equality Party, it shows other women it can be done.”
Barstow agreed and expressed her pride in running for the party in the city.
“I would never ever stand for another political party, because they don’t stand for what I believe in, which is women’s equality. I’m really proud to be standing for a feminist political party that’s mainstream in our country in 2019.”