CWO Westminster Forums

The Conservative Women's Forum enables women whether they are Party members or not, to speak face to face with Parliamentarians. Panel meetings are set up to give women the opportunity to come and discuss issues in which they have a particular interest, with Conservative Members of Parliament and Front Bench Ministers.

The Conservative Women's Forum has been set up to take forward the Conservative Party's agenda of 'reaching out' and so that the CWO can engage in dialogue with women and organisations who have not involved with the CWO or are outside the Party.

Forum Reports

  • Tue 19 Jan 2016: What is a Modern Family?
    What Is A Modern Family?
    Tuesday 19th January 2016, House of Commons

    • Tim Loughton MP, East Worthing and Shoreham, Former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families
    • Dr Samantha Callan, Research and Policy Expert, currently Parliamentary Adviser to Lord Farmer
    • Joanne Edwards, Chair of Resolution, the national family lawyers' organisation and Family Lawyer
    • Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, the national single-parents' charity
    • Chair - Alexia Roe, CWO Forum Co-ordinator

    Alexia Roe welcomed everyone to the first CWO forum of the year, going on to explain that this forum was the first in a series seeking to explore modern families in contemporary Britain and their diverse needs, in order to set out the best support required to build strong communities where people can benefit from security and opportunity.

    Tim Loughton MP, spoke about the campaign currently close to his heart. As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Conception to Age 2 (The First 1001 Days campaign), he explained that the initial 1001 days shapes a child's future; having a fundamental impact on brain development, attachment and relationships. He referenced the Prime Minister's recent speech about mental health and peri-natal mental health, stating that 1 in 6 women during and after pregnancy are affected by mental health issues. Mr Loughton stated that the financial and social costs of ignoring those critical first days are enormous. Many mental health cases go undetected and there is, as regards effective treatment for mental health problems, essentially a post-code lottery. 1 in 7 maternal deaths are suicides related to mental health issues, but, reassuringly, he said that it is treatable.

    Additionally, where there are mental health issues, the capacity to bond with the child is significantly diminished. Mental health issues has an affect on a child in utero. Fathers are also affected by mental health problems; 39% of first-time fathers suffer distress in baby's first year. Babies are affected by parental mental health issues, parental alcohol abuse and domestic abuse, which often first starts in pregnancy. Worryingly, adults from homes where domestic abuse was an issue when they were children, may go on to repeat that behaviour themselves as grown-ups.

    Children's maltreatment in the home results in high levels of children being taken into care, disruption in school, poor mental health and criminal behaviour. The APPG has published a manifesto which sets out 9 recommendations to best support parents and families, highlighting the critical first 1001 days and the importance of creating stable families resulting in 'Great Britons', adults who are able to make a positive contribution to society. Mr Loughton reported that the Government is supportive of these 9 measures and that the campaign also has the support of charities and experts across the policy field. For more information about the campaign:

    Tim Loughton went on to talk about his Private Member's Bill which is due to have its second reading on 29th January 2016. He realised that there was an anomaly in the law which allowed same-sex couples to benefit from Civil Partnership, but that this was not an option for opposite-sex couples. He feels that it is important to extend the choice to opposite-sex couples who may not wish to marry but would like to show their commitment through Civil Partnership. 

    He made an important point which would be reiterated throughout the Forum; which is that co-habitees have no protection in law, although many are act under the false assumption that protection is afforded them as 'common-law wife/husband'. There is no protection and no recognition in the law for unmarried couples, no matter how long the relationship.

    In the last Parliament, Mr Loughton was proud to have pioneered greater parental involvement from fathers. The Government troubled-families programme invests intensively to stop any problems escalating. What is needed now is a pre-troubled families programme where parents can go when they start their families, to inform, educate and support them. He felt that there is currently a stigma attached to seeking help and support, which needs to be addressed and removed, so that it becomes normal and beneficial for parents to ask for guidance in becoming a better parent. He wanted the process to be as normal as it is for those who go to the gym to improve their fitness, and for that to happen there needs to be a shift in mindset.

    Dr Samantha Callan explained that her priority was putting family at the heart of policy. She referenced the social historian, John Gillis's work on family, especially the difference between the 'family we live with' and the 'family we live by'; family stability being of far greater importance than family composition.

    She continued, saying that where there are single-parent households, often social capital is depleted. There are the financial implications involved in setting up two households with limited resources, as well as often the reduced involvement of grandparents. 

    There has never been a perfect 'family era', although now, 1 in 2 children no longer live with both their parents by the time they take their GCSEs. There has been a massive change in what family represents in our society; the extended family is not particularly relevant. The family is an enduring relationship between two partners. Blood relationships are not so important – fundamentally, a child thrives with lots of love and nurture and families come in all different shapes and sizes.

    A child's biggest fear is that their parents will split up. This is contrary to the parents' belief, when asked, that their children's biggest fear is arguments. Fractured families often affect the poorest strata in our society, and consequently, leads to entrenched poverty after a breakdown, as well as a toxic cycle involving, social isolation, drug abuse and mental health issues.

    Dr Callan suggested that there was a need for universal access to family support in the form of a 'one-stop shop'. She disagreed with Mr Loughton's belief that Civil Partnerships ought to be equalized, stating that they should be discarded entirely and that it was stability within the family which was important.

    Joanne Edwards, spoke about the changing landscape in relation to families in Britain. Although keeping the family together was something to which we all aspire, the reality is that divorce and separation is here and the adverse impact of that needs to be addressed.

    Marriage rates are declining and there is a huge increase in cohabiting couples (who have limited rights in the eyes of the law). There are so many diverse family models, including, same-sex families, heterosexual couples, blended families, adoption and surrogacy and all need support.

    As a family lawyer and Chair of Resolution, the organisation to which family lawyers subscribe in order to reduce conflict when relationships have broken down, Jo sets out ways in which the separating family can be best supported. She said that the Prime Minister is doubling funding to support couples. She believes that it is worth trying to save relationships where they are saveable, but if that fails then it is important to ensure that the separation is dignified.

    There are 120,000 divorces in England and Wales per annum and at least half of those have one child under 16. Reassuringly, the rate has declined since its peak in the early '90s. Relative to the decline in the rate of marriage, she says, same-sex couple relationships are in their infancy.

    Legally, she subscribes to Tim Loughton's idea that Civil Partnerships should be made available to all. Co-habiting relationships are the fastest growing family model with 1 million having dependent children. Many in a co-habiting relationship are not aware that there are no legal rights bestowed on co-habitees; the legal implications only provide for a dependent child, thus there are important ramifications for the family on both separation and death. 

    The organisation, Resolution, sets out a Parenting Charter and has pioneered 'Parenting After Parting' classes, putting children at the heart of separation, and giving those children affected by separation a voice. Jo went into a lengthy explanation of the means by which one can currently make an application for divorce and the most commonly used grounds are that of 'irretrievable breakdown' where examples of unreasonable behaviour needs to be cited. This sets us apart from other jurisdictions and, in itself, instigates conflict at the outset of the divorce process. 

    Miss Edwards believes that there needs to be a change to the law to remove blame from divorce. A 'No-Fault Divorce' Private Member's Bill, sponsored by Richard Bacon MP, removing fault-based grounds entirely from the process, is due to have its second reading in the House shortly, which Resolution is promoting. She also stated that relationship breakdown needs to be better managed, removing the need to go to Court. The legal aid cuts mean that there is no way of knowing how many fathers have given up on trying to see their children, so in her opinion, it is important to review the resources enabling parents to take action when necessary. There is also the problem where one partner can walk away from the children without taking responsibility for their welfare. 

    Jo concluded by saying that she thought that it was important that limited legal rights should be made available to those who choose to co-habit.

    Fiona Weir, the Chief Executive of Gingerbread introduced her organisation by saying that 1 in 3 of the UK's single-parents had visited the Gingerbread website. She added that the stereotype of single-parent families persists throughout society, yet the average single-parent is 38, has a job and many have been bereaved. There are many who are doing well; there are many who are struggling.

    Single-parents risk being in poverty; their financial concerns relate to paying for heating or food. Financial hardship also affects relationship stability. Families with children are being hit; welfare reforms can affect fathers having their children on overnight stays. Half are not paying adequate child maintenance, especially in light of the Child Maintenance reforms, and this has enormous consequences on child welfare in all respects.

    68% of single-parents are in employment but getting the family out of poverty often proves a struggle as there is little job opportunity for single-parents with young children who require part-time work. There is currently a big debate surrounding tax credits which, Fiona, said was not yet over. She feels that it is important to provide work incentives which would encourage families to do the right thing. 

    Inevitably, there are different stories relating to family-breakdown and she explained that we need to be cautious of wanting families to stay together. She suggested that there needs to be sufficient funding available to encourage parents to co-parent without forcing parents to remain together, as conflict can cause bad outcomes for the child.

    Fiona Weir concluded by emphasised her belief that society needs to stop being fixated by family structure as bad outcomes correlate with conflict.

    The floor was opened to a discussion, including the merits of the marriage tax which Dr Callan said was not enough to encourage couples to stay together, although it acted, effectively as a signal of the Government's support of marriage, and Fiona Weir explained that it could be put to better use to support families.

    In the general discussion, concern was also expressed about the Government's policy of encouraging women to work, rather than staying at home to look after the children, which, it was felt, was equally valuable. 

    It was a thought-provoking and insightful evening which raised many types of support which would help improve the lives of families. It was a privilege to be able to engage with such a diverse range of experts and audience members. Thank you to all who attended.

  • Thu 11 Dec 2014: Mental Health in the Community

    North East Region CWO Forum Minutes

    Held at the Northern Counties Club, Hood Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6LH 
    on Wednesday 29th October 2014,
    Chairman    Mrs Sylvia Leigh

    Guest Speakers
    Claire Batey and Barbara Dow                         Alzheimer’s and Dementia
    Dr Kodimela Consultant Psychiatrist
    Anne- Marie Norman                                       NIWE Eating Distress Service
    Mr Stuart Dexter                                             CEO Tyneside Mind
    Chairman’s opening remarks
    Mrs Leigh extended a warm welcome to all those present, especially when the subject was such a difficult one to discuss. She also expressed her gratitude to those speakers who had stepped in at short notice. Mrs Leigh then listed the conditions that would be considered – dementia, depression, bi-polar, OCD, schizophrenia and eating disorders and how these are treated in the community. Mrs Leigh expressed her belief that many of us would know people who have or have had these disorders.
    CLAIRE BATEY, Stakeholder Relations Officer, Alzheimer’s and Dementia Society. 
    Ms Batey gave an overview of the work of the Alzheimer’s Society, the number of sufferers and their needs, provision of care and funding. Services provided by the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Society in the North East 65 staff cover Newcastle, Northumberland, Middlesbrough and Co. Durham. Help is provided in the form of support for carers, dementia cafes, one–to-one support and the work with the family and carers.  

    Alzheimer’s and Dementia Society Report, 2014
    This gives the most comprehensive picture of how many dementia sufferers there are currently in the UK – 850,000.

    Types of dementia
    The term ‘dementia’ covers a collection of symptoms. There are over 100 different types of dementia, all of which progress differently.

    Funding for dementia sufferers
    While there are many more dementia sufferers than people with cancer, funding for cancer patients is considerably higher - £26bn per annum. In addition, the cost to carers who are often unpaid is often not recognised.

    Prevalence of dementia in the North East
    There are 34,000 people with dementia in the North East as a whole, with 19,000 in Northumbria, 6000 in Co. Durham and 19,000 in Northumbria and Tyne and Wear. This is because the North East has an ageing population.   

    The health of people with dementia
    According to the report published in 2014, 61% of sufferers are depressed and/or anxious and 40% feel lonely. A third of people live alone, and over one third of those are visited less than once a week, with some visited less than once a month. 28% are not able to make decisions about how they spend their time. The condition affects everybody differently and 70% live with another condition. 34% do not feel part of the community. Dementia friendly communities like Corbridge are needed.

    What the government could do to improve matters
    £11bn is lost to the economy through unpaid carers: paid support needs to be provided. 52% of carers feel that they
    do not get enough support from the government. The government has, however, given some welcome support with the Prime
    Minister’s Challenge Fund for primary care, but unfortunately the Dementia Strategy has now expired.

    What actions are needed?
    DIAGNOSIS – less than 50% of people are diagnosed. Needs to increase to 75% by 2017.
    CARE NEEDS TO BE INTEGRATED WITH HEALTH CARE - currently most of care needs are met from the social care system.
    DEMENTIA FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES – businesses, employers.
    RESEARCH - funding has been increased but still receives seven times less than cancer.  Funding is needed for research into how people can live with this disease.
    BARBARA DOW – Volunteer for the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Society
    Mrs Dow, cared for her husband who suffered from dementia. She began by stating, “Look at the person before you look at the disease.” She recounted how his illness affected him, how he coped, what others did to help him, and the type of care he received.

    Alastair Dow was an RAF pilot who had a happy life, and on retirement worked in a flight simulator. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer but coped well with having radiotherapy treatment. Mrs Dow said that often Alzheimer’s patients suffer from another disease. The onset of Alzheimer’s disease was gradual. Initially his memory became poorer, then one day he came
    home in the wrong coat and so on. 

    Mrs Dow stressed that early diagnosis was very important as it enabled the sufferer to make the decisions that need
    to be made about such matters as financial arrangements and wills so that the person can be given dignity. She reflected that regrettably, in the past, this was not always the case and GPs may not have taken note or recognised the symptoms, but nowadays they are much more aware. 

    In Alastair’s case he was able to take part in the decision to move further north, choose a new house and its location. For two years the medication he received enabled him to continue ballroom dancing, and then his world gradually began to shrink. He gave up dancing when he could no longer remember the sequences. He joined a gym, however gave that up when he could no longer cope. His world shrank further when he could no longer cope with the conversation at dinner. Mrs Dow commented that to relieve loneliness it is important to have visits from friends. She also suggested doing simple activities that help the sufferer recall memories.

    As Alastair’s illness progressed he developed urinary incontinence which meant that Mrs Dow was working 24 hours a day. Mrs Dow pointed out that there is no use in in becoming cross with people who do not know what they have done. Her husband went into a care home where his behaviour became so challenging that he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. This resulted in his being admitted into a hospital. 

    Mrs Dow said that she was very dissatisfied with the care provided by the hospital. Alastair had falls etc. and he was moved from one ward to another. The nurse ratio was 1:24 which meant that there was no time to change patients. She felt that Alastair was treated with a lack of humanity. To try to improve the care of dementia patients in hospital, Mrs Dow wrote a little booklet for doctors and nurses. She produced it with the help of the Dementia Support Group and it took four years to complete and publish it. The title of the booklet is “This is me”. She recommends that all carers complete the booklet and place it at the bottom of the bed. It is not a medical document: it gives information about what makes the patient happy or distressed and also gives details about their previous life. The aim of “This is me” is to encourage medical staff to see the person before they see the illness.

    Mrs Dow concluded by saying that she and her husband had a happy life together and she expressed her belief that what people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease need most is to feel happy and safe. She hoped that by giving us a glimpse of Alastair we will understand what it is like to live with Alzheimer’s.

    Questions/points from the floor and speakers’ responses
    • - In response to a person who felt that nurses had been unaware of her mother’s needs, it was pointed out that nowadays
    • the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) is available to give advice to relatives and patients. Nurses are better
    • trained to care for patients with dementia. 
    • - Several people had used “This is me” and considered it to have helped improve care for dementia sufferers. One person also recommended “Dementia Essentials” by Jan Hall.
    • - The view was expressed that although care homes had received a lot of bad press it was better to be in a care home than
    • be alone at home. It was agreed that in a care home with EMI (Elderly Mentally Infirm) units, staff have much more awareness. 
    • - It was considered that early diagnosis can help the dementia sufferer to choose the care home themselves and make an informed decision.
    • - It was suggested that having dementia specialists in G.P. practices would lead to earlier diagnoses. The speakers considered that this was now the aim and that probably this will happen. 
    DR KODIMELA – Consultant Psychiatrist, St George’s Hospital Morpeth
    Dr Kodimela explained that she works mainly in the community in Cramlington, and with the crisis team in Northumberland. She treats patients who are over the age of 18. She stated that while mental health problems account for 23% of illness and the cost to the economy is around £100bn, spending in this area is very little. Dr Mela then described various mental health problems and how they are treated. 

    One in five people will suffer from depression which is very difficult to shake off. It affects sleep, appetite (eating less/more), concentration, reduces enjoyment of activities, reduces motivation and the ability to make decisions. Sufferers may feel a sense of hopelessness and become suicidal, want to go to sleep and not wake up. 

    To show that mental illness can seriously affect the family of suffers, Dr Kodimela gave the example of ‘John’, a married man with two teenage children, who became very depressed when he became redundant. He had to apply for benefits and found this very demoralising. He was prescribed anti-depressants. One day he repeatedly phoned his wife to ask when she was coming home from work. She stopped off on the way home to buy pizzas, phoning  ‘John’ to ask what kind he would like. When she arrived home she discovered that he had hanged himself. This greatly affected his wife and children. 

    Dr Kodimela explained how depression is treated. In Mild to moderate cases counselling is offered, while more serious cases are referred to a consultant and they may be given anti-depressants. She stated that the outcome often depends on self-help and the support of family members.

    Bi-polar disease
    The sufferer is hyper active, needs little sleep and has inflated self-belief. Mood stabilizers are prescribed.

    Sufferers from schizophrenia do not have a split personality and most are not violent.  They have difficulty with thinking and with their behaviour. They may have auditory hallucinations, believe things that are not true, have difficulty in concentrating, may lack motivation, stop caring for themselves and they may harm themselves or others. Schizophrenia is treated with medication.

    The sufferer has obsessive thoughts which they cannot stop. They develop compulsive behaviour in an attempt to ward off their obsessive thoughts or fears. Sufferers are often not diagnosed as they may try to help themselves.  

    Generalised Anxiety Disorder
    This has physical symptoms. There is a fight or flight response all the time. The sufferer may not be able to leave home and so they become house bound. 

    Dr Kodimela said that one of the differences between physical and mental health problems is that with physical problems there is something to check whereas with a mental health problem there is nothing to check. There is also a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness.  

    Dr Kodimela then summed up the treatment of mental illnesses in general. There is the medical approach involving anti-depressants, anti-psychosis medication and mood stabilizers. There is also the psychological approach of talking therapies where unhelpful thoughts are challenged. She also mentioned that people may try to help themselves by using alcohol and drugs. She went on to say that it can be difficult to motivate sufferers so small goals are set, using one step at a time. Family members also need to understand and should talk to the doctor, read leaflets etc. 

    When seeking help the primary contact is the G.P. who will refer the sufferer to the mental health services. Medication may be offered and community health workers or occupational therapists may be involved. Occasionally a person may be sectioned if they are at risk to themselves or others. They may need more help than they want, so will be admitted to hospital. Multi-disciplinary mental health teams are also available 24/7 to treat a person at home, perhaps visiting twice a day. 

    Dr Kodimela again stressed the importance of family support in the success of treatment and the prevention of a relapse by being aware of the signs of a relapse. The signs of relapse are becoming withdrawn and, taking refuge in sleep. Awareness is necessary so that treatment is sought early. For a person to recover it is also necessary for them to connect with other people. They should help others, engage in hobbies and set themselves goals. 

    Questions from the floor
    Q. How long does it take to see a counsellor?
    A. A scheme has now been set up that has improved access to psychological therapy. Help is now much quicker
    Q. How can I support somebody who has a mental health problem? Can I go to a doctor?
    A. Confidentiality means that the person must go to the doctor themselves but most people agree to a family member being involved.
    Dr Kodimela concluded by recommending the following websites:
    - Royal College of Psychiatrists
    Anne-Marie Norman – NIWE Eating Distress Service
    Anne-Marie introduced herself as a founder member of NIWE.  She has worked in the field of eating distress for 26 years and is also an art therapist. She explained that ‘NIWE’ (The Northern Initiative on Women and Eating) was established to help women who had issues about eating. The name was changed because children, young people and men also ask for help. It was also decided that ‘distress’ described the situation better than ‘disorder’.

    The people who seek help from NIWE may or may not have been to see their G.P.  Often it is the first port of call for themselves or they may contact the service for somebody they care for. People may not have wanted to tell anyone about their eating problem or they may have been directed by their G.P. or have found the website. Somebody may have struggled with their problem for months, years or even decades without being diagnosed, or the help they have been given may not have been appropriate so they may have taken fright and tried to struggle on alone. 

    Anne-Marie explained that NIWE has offered group therapy for over 25 years. Groups include a ‘Recovery’ group and a ‘Stay Well’ group which was founded by somebody who had benefited from treatment. Yoga, art and ‘Managing anxiety’ sessions are also offered. NIWE is a regional organisation that has a contract for Northumbria and North Tyneside. Other areas are supported by charitable trusts and raise their own funds.  

    Anne-Marie said that 25 years ago there was little to help those with eating distress and help is still patchy across the country. NIWE does, however, direct people in other areas to local services, suggest leaflets and gives advice on how to talk to their G.P. One of the aims of NIWE is to raise awareness and it was suggested that we should try to raise awareness ourselves. Anne-Marie emphasised that an eating disorder is an illness that can be treated and that it is possible to recover. She also stated that there are many myths about eating distress, particularly that it is a condition confined to young middle class women who want to look good. The reality is that it affects men, and people of all ages and backgrounds, including children. 

    Anne-Marie described the symptoms of the different eating disorders: 
    - Anorexia nervosa – change in eating patterns and considerable weight loss.
    - Bulimia nervosa – normal weight is maintained but there is binge eating followed by expulsion and periods of restricted eating. The sufferer may also exercise compulsively. 
    - Binge eating disorder – compulsive overeating that is not followed by compensatory expulsion.

    Anne-Marie explained that emotional issues underlie all eating disorders. Triggers may be bereavement, divorce,
    sexual abuse, disturbed relationships, being bullied at school about size and concerns about body image.  It may also be learned behaviour. An eating disorder is a secret, hidden illness where the sufferer is trying to manage emotional problems by themselves. 

    Anne-Marie drew attention to a national charity, BEAT (Beat Eating Disorders) that gives advice and directs people to help they can receive locally. She emphasised, however, that the first person to contact should be a G.P. She concluded by informing  us that the recent campaign to keep hospital beds for eating disorders in the North East has been successful which means that there is a stable team of experts to care for those who need treatment. 

    Questions from the floor
    Q. Has there been any research into whether what we eat during our lifetime can affect whether we develop dementia?
    A. The general advice is ‘What is good for the heart is good for the head.’
    Q. Do people in their 70s and 80s have eating disorders?
    A. This is a neglected area. Elderly people may become depressed and focus on their weight. They may also become vulnerable to the plethora of health messages in the media. More people with eating disorders are women. 
    Stuart Dexter – CEO Tyneside Mind
    Mr Dexter explained that Mind is a federation of 148 separate charities. Tyneside Mind - originally Blaydon Mind - was founded 25 years ago. As a result, there are now counselling services in every GP surgery in Gateshead and also in some practices in South Shields. The charity offers one-to-one support, group work and activities to develop skills
    such as cooking. 

    The charity also provides services for young people. Nearly half of mental health problems start in childhood and schools now provide counselling services. Mr Dexter explained that a particularly vulnerable age group is 18-24 year olds who in terms of care fall between child and adult. This group is affected by socio-economic factors such as unemployment or university graduates not getting the jobs they expected. The lottery funded ‘Talent Match’ programme, supported by a team of mental health workers, has been developed to help people in this age group who are not in education, employment or training (NEETS). 

    As an example of how Tyneside Mind helps young people we were told about a 21 year old man who was thrown out of his parent’s house and lived in a tent with no cooking facilities. He had poor mental health and hygiene problems. The charity bought him a pay-as-you-go mobile phone to help him keep in contact. 

    Mr Dexter continued by speaking about self-harm, a pattern of behaviour that can develop. He commented that perhaps the media has made this appear normal and he considered that the internet has spread this misconception. People can also copy the methods of self-harm that are detailed on the internet and he gave the example of Robin Williams. Tyneside Mind aims to help people to help themselves by using the four principles of Well-being, Recovery, Resilience, and Prevention.

    Mr Dexter concluded by considering the future. He considered that the lack of parity of esteem between physical health
    and mental health needs to be addressed. Currently one in four adults and one in ten children have mental health problems. These are only those who have been diagnosed and there will be many others who have not been diagnosed. He lamented that only 1.1% of the health budget is spent on mental health problems yet mental health and physical health are interdependent. He maintained that the lifespan of a person with mental health problems will be 20 years shorter. 

    He considered that the gap between adult and children’s services also needs to be addressed: a counselling service is needed in all schools. He noted though that staff have an increased understanding of what is motivating young people with mental health problems. Mr Dexter concluded by stating, ‘If you can’t get most of life right, you can’t
    sort out mental health problems.’
    Questions/points from the floor
    Q. Do you think that if mental health had parity of esteem people would be willing to admit to having a mental illness?
    A. Attitudes do change. In the past people didn’t talk about cancer. 
    Q. How much do genetics influence mental health?
    A. It is more a matter of family environment. It is possible there may be a chemical imbalance, though. 
    P. Regarding stigma. In the North East people take to drink rather than seek help. Incidentally, there is a counsellor in every school in Wales.
    Q. How is Tyneside Mind funded?
    A. Currently 45% is from public funds.
    Q. Drugs-do they cause or help with mental health problems?
    A. Long term cannabis use does have a detrimental effect.  People use comfort eating etc. Drug use may be less than young people claim. 
    Q. Can family break-up cause mental health problems?
    A. It’s a lack of caring parents rather than family break-up itself. It can result in homelessness for young people. They can seek help from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) but parents are required to attend which can be a problem. 
    Q. Are many young people with a mental health background from a social services background? Have they previously been in care?
    A. This is part of the problem. They have not been prepared to be an adult. 
    The vote of thanks was given.
  • Mon 22 Sep 2014: Young Women and the Vote

    Did the Suffragettes Waste their Time?

    The CWO Forum: Young Women and the Vote: ‘Did the Suffragettes waste their time?’ took place on Tuesday September 9th 2014 in Committee Room 17 in the House of Commons.

    On the panel were:

    Niki Molnar (Chair) – National Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation
    Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities
    Sarah Newton MP – Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party
    Katie Ghose – Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society
    Zoe Stern – Project Manager of the Stand Up and Be Counted campaign at Sky News
    Celia Surtees – National Membership Director for Conservative Future Women

    Niki Molnar welcomed everyone and outlined the work of the Conservative Women’s Organisation and the role of the forums within the organisation. She then introduced the topic and the five speakers on the panel.

    Zoe Stern was the first to speak and explained that the exciting Stand Up and Be Counted campaign at Sky News was launched just over a week ago. It is a digital platform where young people aged 16 -25 are able to upload information which demonstrate the issues in which they are particularly interested. Sky News commissioned the campaign to seek to address the issues that matter most to young people. These will shape their coverage of democratic engagement in the run up to the General Election. There is great concern that those who do not vote are not engaged in the political process.

    Zoe said that, as with all campaigns, she had had less than four months to get the campaign off the ground. She spent the summer going around the country meeting SUBC’s potential audience and that one of the most striking lessons she had learned was that young people found talk of the Suffragettes, in relation to the political process, alienating. The questions young people asked were:

    • Why should I vote?
    • Why should I care?
    • Who is listening to me?

    Zoe took away from her interactions with young people that it was important not to start with ‘the vote’ but to start with ‘engagement’ and to give young people a platform for issues that are important to them. What needs to be addressed is essentially, whether or not people are actually listening to the concerns of young people and are they listening to their solutions. Fundamentally, she explained, that is what the SUBC campaign seeks to address.

    Niki Molnar asked Zoe whether young women are less engaged than young men. Zoe replied that yes, she felt that they were. It was her opinion that young women were less likely to vote but they were not less concerned by the issues at stake.

    Katie Ghose spoke next, explaining that as CEO of the Electoral Reform Society, these were questions with which she was grappling all the time. At the ERS, issues of building a democracy and making it relevant to the everyday are real concerns, as well as finding the best way to move forward as a democracy.

    The 18 – 24 year group are least likely to vote at all. If the trend continues this will have alarming implications for democracy. She reports that there are now hardened non-voters who are evident when out canvassing and say, with pride, that they do not vote.
    In her view, political participation takes many forms, from voting, to signing petitions, to joining political parties. In the 2010 General Election, there was an alarming gap between young men and young women exercising their right to vote (50% young men to 39% young women). In the 2001 and 2005 General Elections there was a gap but in 2010 that gap was more significant, and in the younger age group that gap was heightened.

    Interestingly, Katie noted that in the list of most popular Member of Parliament’s names, the first female names to make it on the list were at number 67, with the names Ann and Margaret tying. She said that female participation in politics is woeful and that it’s reflected in research, which suggests that young women, in particular, are turning away from politics because they are not seeing enough ‘people like me’ in positions of authority.

    Katie stated that her vision is for every young person, on leaving school, to be able to see themselves as an elected representative, whether that be on a council or in Parliament or in Europe. She also felt that trust and respect for politicians, both globally and at home, has declined, although people still have faith in democracy.

    She told the forum that there is a lack of research into the reasons why young women are not participating and this is something that needs addressing. She suggested that perhaps the perception of the ‘Yah Boo!’ Parliamentary culture is off-putting to young people and that the issues 18 and 19 year olds care about are not being tapped into. Katie also suggested that older women rather than younger women have more of a sense of civic duty. Another question that this issue raised is why younger men are more likely to say they will stand for office rather than women.

    The Electoral Reform Society advocates reform. It believes it is necessary for young people to readily engage in the political process and this is most likely to be achieved through technology. The political system needs a wholesale modernisation and there needs to be funding available to restore young people’s faith in the system, as well as an understanding of the barriers to politics for young women.

    Katie concluded by saying that to overcome these challenges schools should start teaching Citizenship to young children: Young people are a captive audience, especially from the ages of 14 – 16. It has been shown that if people start voting at an early age then they are more likely to continue to vote. Politicians need to start afresh and modernise the parties. There are a number of campaign groups, of particular note ‘Bite the Ballot’, which have begun interesting initiatives in this area, but most important of all is to spend time with young people and to convince 18 year olds that engaging in politics is worthwhile and that that there is something on offer which is relevant to them. It would be worth looking at the medium of social networks such as Facebook or other peer to peer groups, but it goes without saying that the issues at stake vary from person to person. Women particularly lack confidence and it is fundamental to encourage young women to engage in the political process themselves.

    Celia Surtees began by saying that she had been introduced to the political process as a small girl when her father used to ‘drag her out to vote’. Celia then made reference to a number of articles; the first of which was the Mail Online headline that more people would vote for Joey Essex than for Nick Clegg. 3% of those polled admired Joey Essex and only 1% admired Nick Clegg. David Cameron fared only slightly better, polling 4% of the vote, whilst Ed Miliband tied with Joey Essex.

    In the original Cosmopolitan Magazine article from which that poll was taken, women described MPs as deceitful and power-hungry and felt that as a career choice being a Member of Parliament was only marginally more appealing than being a stripper. Celia concluded that young people believe the political system is broken. She felt that whilst this article may not be an accurate reflection of the views of young people nationally, those journalists probably had a good handle on the situation.

    Globally, politicians are predominantly male and viewed as being out of touch with people’s real concerns. Maybe the young are able to identify with ‘people who are like them’. She felt that women need to identify with people in order to vote for them and currently the backgrounds of our elected representatives at have changed. Years ago Members of Parliament were drawn from a wide variety of careers, now they are seen as Oxbridge educated and Westminster trained. Ordinary women, consequently, may have a sense that politics does not apply to them.

    Celia then examined the Democrat and Republican campaigns in the USA election and said that it was very clear that Obama had made an effort to appeal to women and it was their vote which had propelled him to the White House.

    Celia felt that there were lessons in this for British politicians who should not assume that because women are not voting that they are not listening. Politicians should not just target their policies towards those who vote.

    At Conservative Future Women, the organisation Celia represents, the aim is to encourage young women to engage in the party. She explained that there were a myriad of events on offer and CF Women hold receptions and speaker meetings, but the most popular events, by far, were those which offered training, mentoring and networking business leaders; events which offered something to women.

    Nicky Morgan agreed that Conservative Future and other youth organisations are vital to engage young people in the voting process and that politicians should be concerned with political engagement. She also thanked the Conservative Women’s Organisation for the work that they do in engaging with women of all ages.

    Nicky then went on to say that she is not alone amongst her colleagues in thinking that one of the most rewarding activities she undertakes as a Member of Parliament is to go into schools and talk to young people. She believes it is important to inspire young women and enthuse the next generation about policies and politics.

    She went on to state that this Government has achieved a great deal; most notably increasing educational standards and raising aspirations of young people. She says that she is passionate about raising the aspirations of girls and is committed to increasing opportunities for girls in the traditionally male areas of education: the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

    She recounted a recent visit to the Bombardier factory where she met their first female welder. She noted that the company took great pride in her accomplishments.

    Nicky told the forum that politics is so much more than the commonly perceived ability to stand up and make a speech; it is about building relationships and identifying problems, bringing people together to resolve those problems and find a solution. Young women need strong female role models and Nicky welcomes the rise in talented women in the Government as Ministers and PPSs and believes there is room for many more female appointments. She said that she first became involved in politics 21 years ago because she realised that you can actually change things. MPs have the ability to change the law as well as having a voice on an international platform. She felt that it is essential to make people understand what it is that Members of Parliament actually do and why what they do matters.

    Nicky was asked, whether as a short-term measure, all-women shortlists would be appropriate and stated that it was her opinion that shortlists should be a meritocratic process. She recalled her own selection, which, simply owing to the choice of candidates shortlisted by the Association, happened to be an all-women shortlist, although this was a happy coincidence rather than as a result of having been manufactured. Nicky believes that new ways of selecting candidates should be considered and that in her opinion, one of the better ways for an Association to select a candidate is to give each candidate the opportunity to associate with potential constituents. She was also asked, as Secretary of State for Education, about including more female role models on the Curriculum. Nicky responded by saying that she would find it an interesting exercise to undertake to discover how many women are currently included on the current Curriculum.

    Sarah Newton, as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, started by saying that there are more women standing at the 2015 General Election than in the past. She said that the selection of candidates is a completely meritocratic process and in selections for the upcoming General Election, there have been 6 spontaneous all women shortlists compared to only 2 all men shortlists.

    She stated that she wants a Party which looks like the country. There is a much bigger picture to reflect than a simple split of 50% men and 50% women. She believes that people are passionate about issues and the desire to make the world a better place.

    The Party has undertaken a number of ventures to draw people into the political process. She explained that one of the most innovative campaigns was the introduction of Team 2015 which was the brainchild of Grant Shapps. To be a member of Team 2015 does not require party membership but those who participate do believe in Conservative aims. Sarah believes that young people do give up their time and volunteer for issues they believe in.

    When visiting schools she finds that young people are interested in issues as is evidenced with the success of school councils and mock elections. She said that she uses the model of the school council to explain the wider implications and importance of political engagement starting with the school council, to the town council, to the County Council to Westminster.

    A lively discussion ensued from which various themes were drawn. It was clear that in order to engage young people in the political process they need to understand the role of a Member of Parliament. Sarah Newton explained that she directs prospective candidates to the Women2Win website which has a number of short films about the realities of being a Member of Parliament.

    Additionally, issues do matter to young people, even if they choose not to vote, however, politicians and policy makers should not assume that those who do not vote are not interested.

    Q&A: The importance of social media in young people’s lives was debated, as well as the question of whether lowering the voting age would have any impact on young people’s political engagement. Looking to Scotland where the voting age for the imminent Referendum has been lowered it was not clear whether it was this factor, or whether it was the energy and passion behind this particular campaign which was drawing young people into the political process.

    Much discussion was had about the relevance of the Suffragettes to young people’s attitudes to political engagement. We were reminded that there is a play, ‘To Freedom’s Cause’, which caused Jane Garvey, R4 Women’s Hour, to comment that it should be seen by everyone who cannot be bothered to vote and that the new film “Suffragette” with Meryl Street as Emmeline Pankhurst is due for release on the 16th January, which may help with political engagement with women.

    It was also noted that more young women pay to vote on reality TV shows each weekend than would vote in an election.

    Niki Molnar ended the evening by thanking everyone for coming. She informed those present that there are a number of Conservative Women’s Organisation events scheduled during Conference and the next CWO Westminster Forum is on November 25th called ‘Body Beautiful; the Ugly Truth’. The details and registration facility are on the CWO website.
  • Wed 5 Mar 2014: Women Returning to Work
    The CWO Forum Panel on 'Women Returning to Work' took place in the Committee Room 19, House of Commons on Tuesday 25th February 2014.

    The speakers for the evening were:
    • Rt Hon Mrs Caroline Spelman (MP for Meriden Constituency);
    • Jessica Chivers ('Maternity Comeback Coaching');
    • Rachel Tranter (Director, Women on Boards UK).
    Seema Kennedy (Chair) welcomed everyone and outlined the wider work of the CWO and the role of the CWO Forum. She then introduced the topic and the three speakers who would be reflecting upon some of the issues faced by the many mothers in our different communities and also, by women with caring responsibilities, when returning to work. She noted that although there are more women in the workplace than ever before, there are still too few women in top positions - only 22% in the Houses of Parliament are women. That said, in her own life as a Director, Trustee, a Conservative party campaigner and a mother of three boys though, Seema also knows some of the challenges there are for women and how hard it can be to balance family life and work. 

    Jessica Chivers noted that this has been an important issue for a very long time and that many challenges remain for women. She outlined some of the barriers her clients had experienced: some women believed that they didn't have enough to offer after a break, others thought that people may not value them anymore, or even felt overwhelmed at prospect of having to work full-time and also manage a household. She explained that there is often a triple burden for working women, as they still tend to have to come back from work and then do the lion's share of childcare, alongside running the home. Women have shared feeling underwhelmed by part-time job market as these roles often require lower skills and pay substantially less pro-rata than full-time roles. The cost of childcare is prohibitive and in addition, women may also feel guilty about leaving their child - this can gets worse as the child gets older, rather than better, as the days are very long if children go to breakfast and after-schools clubs.

    For those women who do choose to return and who take on flexible working, there are other challenges too. Some can be ostracized for working in this way, or not feel part of the team. They are sometimes seen as being less committed and can suffer career penalties. For example, 95% of police-women working part-time after having a baby, thought their career had been disadvantaged by this. For fathers, it can be difficult too, as talking about their caring responsibilities with colleagues is not always encouraged. They may also find it hard to take up flexible working policies. 

    Jessica believes that if fathers take time off though, it could help us to retain women in the work force. She also believes that we need specific non-transferable entitlement for fathers, in order to ensure that both parents retain strong links with work. We need to legitimize men taking on a role as primary carers.  She thinks that good employers need to help fathers to do this, by developing policies for parenthood. It would be helpful if alongside this we could start a national campaign to encourage fathers' involvement in the care of their child. 

    If flexible working were available to all, e.g. a core hours culture, Jessica thinks that this could help. She explained that if employers could move to an 'output' culture, rather than just wanting staff to be present in the office, this would enable parents to see more of their children and still be able to hold high quality jobs. She reiterated her belief that it is a waste of training and talent to under-utilise women in our community and that we need to make it easier for would-be working parents to raise this with employers. Although flexible working is being promoted, many women are scared to ask. 

    What is needed:
    1. Role models are often the most powerful levers for change and so employers, recruiters and the government should all showcase such examples. 
    2. Work needs to be done to boost self-esteem, so that women really believe they will be able to get back into the market. 
    3. It would also help if childcare was 100% tax deductible and if regulations for child minders could be relaxed somewhat.
    Rachel Tranter quoted a statistic from a recent Radio 4 interview on which a speaker explained that you needed to earn £80,000 a year, to be able to pay for childcare. She explained her own path, moving from PWC to Women on Boards, after taking leave and a career break, due to family illness. She noted that she had sworn she wasn't going back each time, yet kept going back. This was because the organization kept tempting her back, with offers of limited hours because they wanted to have her on the team. 

    'Women on Boards' launched 18 months ago in the UK, after beings et up because women weren't being ask to apply for board positions and they didn't have enough information to help them to succeed. 

    She believes that taking on a non-exec position can only enhance careers and lives. WoB offer taster workshops, market intelligence on sectors and how the process unfolds, what is means and role and responsibilities. She also offers tips on how to package up skills and experience. Women on Boards plan to 'go on a journey' with the team and to keep developing skills. The network is powerful and supportive and about 90 women so far have been placed.
    Trustee positions allow one to continue to work in a business way in the marketplace, without losing confidence, because there is still involved in the work environment. Some companies are now making this available for all their staff.  Since started 5700 women registered; run 50 workshops across the UK. 

    Allowing women to participate like men is a global economic changer. The Fawcett Society noted that: if women are going to have equal power we must focal on all aspects of life.  We also need to remember that:
    • There is a 14.9% full-time pay gap.
    • 64% employed in low paid work are women.
    • Women account for 2/3 global workforce but earn only 10% of worlds income.
    • Women are good for business.
    • Lots of research to show the value for women in teams – makes economic sense. People development estimated cost of losing senior women £3 million a year. 
    Rachel's Top Tips:
    • Give perception that you've never left; have a buddy in the system, and go to monthly networking events.
    • Ask for a performance review.
    • Take initiative – be proactive and arrange the meting and tell HR what you'd like to do.
    • Take on a NED or trustee role.
    • Learn how to make achievements known; champion yourself.
    • What should organisations do? Women need to realize the cost of losing themselves.
    • Childcare flexible working; more female initiatives e.g. women in mining. female networks, unconscious bias training, grant career breaks for a year at a time.
    • Coaching for staff going on maternity leave. Keep in regular contact – 10 keeping in touch days, phased return.
    • Speaking to teenage girls – we still thought that we had to make a choice; realize after speech that there were other options. We all need to encourage young women, because men and women have babies.
    Rt. Hon Mrs Caroline Spelman MP explained some of the unique challenges for women MPs – you can't take maternity leave. She chose to move from full time to part time work, to campaign as a PPC for her association. She chose to work as a consultant, as this gave more flexibility. Networking is really important and she acknowledged the benefits of her own experience of holding a public appointment. 

    Having time out of work can be difficult, as women can become disconnected from the social aspects of the workplace and also changes in technology; this may undermine their confidence.
    Questions and comments from the audience included examples of good employment practices, such as a school that offers career breaks and allows staff to negotiate at last 10 days a year to return. This has been very successful as people continue to feel part of the team. Another example was given of a small business that offer flexible working. Jessica noted that some of the big companies offer this too, but it depends on how open-minded they are. Many have good policies, but often the attitude of one's line manager can be very important. Research shows that the attitudes of male employers are impacted by if their own wife does, or doesn't work. Women need to speak up and ask for what they need.

    The challenges of applying for public appointments were also raised – difficult process as even the forms are really off-putting. Speakers noted that there is a lot of competition for some of these roles and they one would need to keep trying. Skills also need to be packaged up carefully – Women on Boards help with this. 

    Some concerns were raised about the support that is offered to fathers; many men struggle to balance personal and professional lives. The language that is used has changed though, which is positive. There are now 'shared residence orders'.

    In conclusion, Seema acknowledged the complexity of the issues that women face returning to work. Rachel explained that she would always work, because she wants to be a good role model for her three sons. Women are not only role models for daughters. It is really important that men take up this issue too.

    Seema thanked everyone for their contribution and closed the forum. 


  • Sun 27 Oct 2013: Returning to Civilian Life
    The CWO Forum Panel on 'Returning to Civilian Life' took place in the Grimond Room, Portcullis House on Tuesday 15th October 2013. 

    The speakers for the evening were:
    • Rt Hon Mark Francois MP (Minister of State for the Armed Forces) 
    • Carly Raby (a psychotherapist, specialising in PTSD and trauma) 
    • Simon Brown (from the 'Band of Brothers', speaking to us on behalf of Help for Heroes and Blind Veterans UK)
    • Matt Sibley (a bomb disposal officer who has just left the Army at the end of his commission) 
    Deputy Chairman of the CWO, Cllr Claire-Louise Leyland (Chair), welcomed everyone on behalf of the CWO. She explained the purpose of the CWO Forums and thanked the Steering Group and her fellow officers for all of their hard work and support.  She then introduced subject of the forum, noting that returning to civilian life can be a challenge as the Army is not a normal job and leaving the army is not the same as changing jobs when one is a civilian. Being a soldier requires a level of loyalty and commitment beyond that usually required in everyday civilian life. She expressed satisfaction that this commitment is now being honoured through the Community Covenants, signed by the Armed Forces and local authorities. These encourage residents to support the Armed Forces Community and also help to raise awareness of issues affecting those in the Forces and their families, complimenting the national Armed Forces Covenant. 

    PanelClaire-Louise referred to a quote that one often hears is in relation to transition - 'the Army 'borrows' people from civil society and has a responsibility to return those people back to society in a way that allows them to settle quickly into their new lives and to make a positive contribution'.  She noted that in her experience of working with many men and women who support our soldiers and veterans, both in the army, the health service and in a range of different charities, this responsibility is keenly felt by many and much is being done in this area. 

    Claire-Louise then introduced the four speakers who will be able to help us to understand and reflect upon the range of different experiences that people have when leaving the armed forces.

    Simon Brown spoke of his path to joining the army, describing growing up on a council estate in Yorkshire and leaving school with only a few GCSE's. After a succession of jobs, he realised that his life was 'going nowhere' and he decided to join the British Army.  For many people joining the Services is about getting away from their childhood environment, either a broken family or in his case, a broken area. He described his career - being posted to Germany and being deployed on three operational tours to Kosovo and Iraq. He went on to share with us the tragic events that took place in Iraq on his third tour, when the crew he commanded was called in to rescue a stranded vehicle. He successfully led the mission, but on the extraction was shot in the face by a sniper.  He described his treatment and recovery from this injury, from which he lost his left eye and had limited sight in the right.  He explained the challenges that he had faced and spoke of other friends who had also struggled with the transition and who are still struggling to manage the emotional impact of what they had experienced. They act as a support system for each other; leaving the services can make you very feel very vulnerable without the support network that being a soldier provides. Simon told us that he wanted to focus on what he had got and not what he had lost in 2006. He has been able to find meaning again by volunteering with disadvantaged young people, using his own experience to help motivate and inspire them.  He wouldn't have known where to get advice, because of the huge number of agencies working in this field BUT the important thing for him was meeting the right person at the right time, who was able to mentor him and signpost the right services. He suggested that on all forms from the council etc. there should be a box that you can tick asking if you are a veteran. This would alert the authority make sure that there is a trigger to every other service that might be required.  Simon now works full time with Blind Veterans UK and feels that he has come to terms with what happened to him.

    PanelCarly Raby spoke about setting up a charity, 'Luna', to work with trauma across the world with children and adults suffering from PTSD. She talked in more detail about her work with a particular soldier, who had experienced extreme trauma and suffered from PTSD for seven years without treatment. She explained the cumulative impact of this on his life and the challenges she experienced in trying to support him to access support such as housing, which had required extensive liaison. Carly also introduced the work of 'Dare to Live' the organisation that had provided Equine Facilitated Therapy for the soldier, after his PTSD had been treated. She reiterated just how hard it had been for her to help him and expressed concern about ensuring that he has the support he needs going forward.

    Matt Sibley shared his experiences as an officer in the Army and explained the transition process in some detail, outlining all of the training and support that is currently available to all soldiers who leave the army. Matt noted that he has made use of these resources and that he feels very well supported.  The army teaches resourcefulness and about 96% of personnel are in employment by 6mths of leaving the service.

    Rt Hon Mark Francois MP introduced the Government's perspective and the importance that is given to supporting all who have served our country. He paid tribute to Simon Brown and the sacrifice that he had made in protecting the lives of his men.  He explained that much work has and continues to be done with service charities, such as 'Combat Stress' and 'Help for Heroes', particularly to support those with physical injuries and for those who have suffered psychological trauma. He explained some of the developments: the 'Big White Wall' (a peer support network), TRiM  (a peer led Trauma Risk Management programme), Community Covenants between local authorities and the armed forces and the new Corporate Covenants, that will allow British businesses to show their support for the armed forces in more practical ways, such as guaranteeing Reservists, veterans and spouses job interview opportunities.  There seem to be a lot of organisations doing similar things, but perhaps not enough liaison between them. He asked the forum if they knew which person or organisation they should contact, if they met or heard of a veteran who was in trouble. No-one did. He said that he would take this away with him and see what could be done.

    Questions and comments from the audience included a request for more information about the progress made by an excellent trauma service that had been based in Devon and if this approach would be rolled out across the country; a query as to whether any links are being made with private hospitals that may be prepared to support veterans. A representative from the RFCA shared information about an upcoming Career Transition Partnership event. A representative from 'Combat Stress' spoke about the different support that they offer for veterans. Concerns were expressed about the practical support available in helping soldiers to explain their experience when writing CV's for civilian roles.  An ex-officer described the work he is doing to support other ex-servicemen and women by setting up a project called 'Serve On', which uses the leadership skills and sense of teamwork developed in the army to provide much needed resources in local communities, such as disaster relief and work with young offenders.

    Claire-Louise thanked everyone for their contributions. She noted that it was clear that much work had been done over the past few years to provide service leavers with appropriate support, but that it appeared that there are servicemen and women who had left the army when there was less support available, who might be in need of support to manage the ongoing impact of trauma or physical injury. 

    She highlighted the importance of working together to raise awareness of the issues faced by our ex-service men and women and their families and expressed her hope that all those who had attended would go back to their communities and do their part to support our veterans and the different services that help them to adjust to life in 'civvie street'.


    Luna Children's Charity:

  • Tue 25 Jun 2013: How does the Conservative Party deal with UKIP? (CWO North East)
    Forum Report from CWO North East
    Wednesday 29th May 2013 at Northern Counties Club, Hood Street, Newcastle upon Tyne
    It was said that up to a fortnight ago UKIP could be looked upon as a ‘blip'. However, since the alleged insults, aimed at the ‘grassroots', many people are relinquishing membership, and a number are now supporting UKIP, [which is a protest Party and a single issue one]. 
    In 1997 the Referendum Party were not seen as a threat; voters were taken from the Conservatives, and Labour won the General Election.  Is this about to happen again?  UKIP appear to be localised, and have very few policies.  They have are not rooted, but we ignore them at our peril.
    The policies that they do have are controversial, but  guaranteed to get them votes. Many of the things blamed on the Conservatives were unfair, [for example, the mines were badly run, and had to be closed because they were not viable].
    In the recent Elections UKIP put up many candidates, did not get many votes, but took the votes away from the Conservatives.  It was said that UKIP pick up on people's concerns, they do not have any policies, but say what people want to hear.
    It was said that the Conservatives have to become more pro-active, get into contact with Conservative voters, and remind them that voting for UKIP lets Labour in. So how do we deal with UKIP? Begin by realising that UKIP is here, is dangerous, and must be fought.
  • Fri 21 Jun 2013: Sexual Exploitation

    Published 21 June: The first Stop Cyber Bullying Day

    The CWO Forum Panel on 'Sexual Exploitation' took place in the Wilson Room, Portcullis House on Tuesday 11th June 2013.

    The speakers for the evening were:
    • Sarah Newton MP
    • Dominic Clout, Independent Chair of Camden Children's Safeguarding Board
    • Holly Dustin, Director, End Violence Against Women
    • Louise Burfitt-Dons, Founder, Act Against Bullying
    • Jane Coppock, Children's Services Manager, Missing & Trafficking Service, Barnardo's
    Deputy Chairman of the CWO, Cllr Claire-Louise Leyland (Chair), welcomed everyone on behalf of the CWO.

    Dominic Clout introduced the Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs). LSCBs have the key responsibility in every council/borough of the country and bring together organisations to agree on how to safeguard the welfare of children. Camden's LSCB work closely with Barnardo's and offer training and support, identify risks and use intelligence to find and disrupt offenders. Dominic reminded the forum that there was no actual offence called Child Sexual Exploitation; the offences are covered by indecency, rape and sexual assault, etc. As little as two years ago, when Dominic was still a serving police officer, Child Sexual Exploitation wasn't really mentioned. In his experience of protection young people, it can be an almost hidden crime as victims often do not know that they are being groomed and may even go on to become offenders themselves. Dominic said that it had taken the tragedies of Rochdale and Oxford to galvanise agencies into action. He finished with the warning: 'Once we start putting resources into connecting the dots, we will unearth many instances and we must be ready to deal with them'.

    Sarah Newton MP started by relating the story of the huge child exploitation ring that was discovered in her Cornwall constituency the day after she was elected in 2010.  She highlighted the fact that the perpetrators were all seemingly 'normal' people, like football coaches, who showed affection and kindness in their role, whilst secretly grooming the children for abuse. Similarly, the homes used to exploit these children were in pretty tourist villages. The children abused by the exploitation ring were from secure families, who still struggle to understand how this could have happened. The most prevalent source of exploitation was the Internet, which poses terrible risks to children from every sort of background.

    Jane Coppock, from Barnardo's, carried on this theme and told the forum that only 44% of child exploitation victims are 'looked-after' children or come from 'sink' estates. The abuse and exploitation of children comes mostly from: an older boyfriend (who is 4 or 5 years older than them); gang exploitation; peer exploitation (other children taking indecent images of them and posting them on the Internet where images are becoming ever more explicit); familial exploitation (usually when a parent has substance misuse); and organised trafficking. She told the forum that in 33 boroughs and police forces, there have been minimal arrests - this could in part be down to children being groomed in different boroughs and then being moved across boroughs, which needs co-operation and intelligence from more than one police force. Jane reminded us that anyone under 18 is a child and that we need to protect them. She has found that nowadays there are more excuses made, such as 'they are streetwise'. This is no excuse. Exploitation can cause depression and family breakdown and 80%+ of victims self harm. The forum heard that Barnardo's work now focuses on building an understanding of healthy relationships, raising self-esteem and aspiration.  Jane finished by reading a statement from a 15 year old girl who had been the victim of exploitation. She wrote: 'People tell you that you're bad and it pushes you into [being groomed]... It's like an addiction... and it can be your son or daughter'.

    Holly Dustin said that rape and violence were going on a long time before the Internet but it is so much easier to access now. End Violence Against Women (EVAW) have found that girls feel much more uncomfortable about pornography, whereas boys will actively seek it out. EVAW did a poll with YouGov a few years ago and found that 1 in 3 girls said that they had experienced groping, while 1 in 3 teenage girls had experienced abuse from a partner. Holly also noted that over 20,000 of girls under 15 were at risk from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) every year. She told the forum that the problem is no longer 'stranger danger', it's online with perpetrators often spending a lot of time (months or even years) grooming children. The biggest missing link in the system, Holly felt, is education: 'If we're allowing children to learn about sex from pornography, we're failing them'. What is needed was public campaigns (a similar investment needed for Violence Against Women); working with schools to make relationship and sex education compulsory (where teachers should talk to boys about consent and not just about girls saying no); improved teacher training and assessment ('there's a reason why perpetrators go into teaching'); better reporting in the media (the Daily Mail ran the story about 6 men raping 2 girls with the headline 'Midnight Sex Orgy in Park'); controlling Violence Against Women as portrayed in music videos; good community programmes and community support (many abused girls and women don't report abuse); and continued funding for local services. Holly finished by reminding us that extreme pornography laws currently do not include rape in the definition.

    Louise Burfitt-Dons told the tragic story of 15-year old Canadian, Amanda Todd. When she was 14, she was lured onto a webcam and convinced to do show her breasts. After trying to bribe her into doing more graphic acts, the man released the photograph onto the Internet and led her school mates to it. Amanda was bullied at school over it, whereafter she released a 9 minute video onto YouTube using flash cards to tell her story. After depression, moving home to avoid the bullying, drug and alcohol abuse and a failed suicide attempt, Amanda was found dead on October 17 2012. The perpetrator has never been prosecuted. This is a classic case of online sexual exploitation and cyberbullying, which most of the time cannot be proved.  [Amanda's 9 minute video:; Wikipedia Entry:]

    Louise noted that women and girls are in greater danger today than ever before: Laws don't protect women and girls from online exploitation and society doesn't believe that women and girls are as vulnerable as we used to be. Assumptions are made that a modern society is safer and that all cultures in the UK treat women the same. Louise reminded the forum that in this country, 90% of rapes are perpetrated by someone who is known rather than a stranger. Even though women no longer need to be trapped in an abusive relationship, inappropriate behaviour has always happened and will continue to do so. Louise gave the example of groping on public transport and noted that women should stand up to this, as it's fast becoming the 'norm'. Louise finished by saying, 'There is equality in the office but not on the street'.

    Questions and comments from the audience included recollections from school dances in the 1970's when girls were routinely groped, the challenges of controlling long areas of coastline from exploitation gangs, the difficulties of multi-agency safeguarding and sharing of information between GPs/teachers/etc., and the importance of economic support of gender support services.

    One attendee quoted Germaine Greer on a recent BBC Question Time, where she had said that everyone should be protected 'even prostitutes' - the commenter wondered when it will become 'especially prostitutes'. 

    Another attendee, whose daughter had just finished her teacher training, told the forum that exploitation nor grooming had been covered in the training.
  • Tue 26 Jun 2012: Women in the Justice System

    Forum Report

    • Pauline Lucas, President CWO (Chair)
    • Fiona Parkin QC, Atkin Chambers
    • Julie Iles JP, Surrey Magistrate
    • Jackie Sebire, Acting Detective Superintendent, Hackney
    • Margaret Vallance, Director - Prisoners' Families and Friends Service
    Fiona Parkin
    • Acted for parliament in building of Portcullis House. When taking bar exams the split was 50/50 men to women, approximately 80 got pupillage of which 35 were women. Fiona was the only female pupil in her chambers and was told "Don't expect to be taken on".
    • She commented that women tend to offer to do everything in order to be accepted/get given work; also the more senior a woman climbs in law the less women are at the same level as the dropout rate of women is higher.
    • Need to put in about 18 hours a day, 6 days a week when you are litigating.
    • Most female QCs don't have children or are very 'steely'.
    • Face overt sexism and unspoken sexism from colleagues however clients tend to be very loyal when they see that you are giving their case 'your all'.
    • Clients also tend to be more forgiving then colleagues.
    • The judiciary are keen to get more women into roles, however demands on time within judiciary are very taxing. As a barrister it is difficult to say 'no' to work because of how it is allocated.
    Jackie Sebire
    • Investigation into serious crime, paedophiles and high profile cases e.g. Amy Winehouse.
    • There are 3 women in senior management team at Hackney. You have to work all hours in order to get promoted and you are always on call.
    • Deals with women as victims, witnesses and suspects.
    • Homicide rates have gone down in London but rise in domestic killing.
    • Specialist domestic violence teams. Looking at teenage domestic violence and ASB. Girls brought into gangs/exploited.
    • Key challenge is data sharing.
    Margaret Vallence
    • Started work at DWP which was a very male macho environment. Headed up team of men who were not impressed but MV used her analytical skills to 'prove' herself.
    • Conviction rates increased under her management; MV paid more attention to details whereas men tend to dive in.
    • Child protection – paedophiles are very good at covering tracks and are often in a position of power.
    • MV shut down Barnado's flagship home due to abuse issues.
    • She moved through Home Office then into small voluntary organisation – Prisoners' Familites and Friends Service, which was established in 1967, at the time there was no organisation to help families of prisoners whom are stigmatised and condemned; the organisation helps by working on self-esteem issues.
    • More mothers now coming through service than partners.
    • Focus on needs of families, mental well-being, relationships. Keep family together as a unit as this has better outcomes: 'The state is a poor parent'.
    Julie Iles
    • Working at Magistrate for 10 years; voluntary position and they are not legally qualified.
    • Women have only been allowed to wear trousers for the last 20 years. Minimum requirements to sit 1 day a month.
    • Difficult to recruit people from different backgrounds.
    • 97% of all cases start in the Magistrates Court; they will decide whether accused gets bail or is reprimanded in custody. Balance of common sense.
    • Can operate in different areas/specialisms, JI chose youth.
    • Have to retire at 70. It is usual for cases involving women to involve mental health issues.
    • It takes a woman 32 times (on average) of being abused before they report domestic violence and then often they withdraw statement.
    • Ethos is to prevent reoffending rather than criminalising.
    Question: To JS – Is the Rochdale case evidence of a more common problem?
    A study of 26-30 girls in Hackney showed that 26 had been involved in some form of sexual exploitation; don't know scale and level it is at.
    MV - Profile of what to look for in terms of characteristics of an abuser. More to be done on educating young women at school to teach them what is possible, what they can become.
    FP – teaching young girls about self-esteem is imperative; some women are not at all supportive but FP had an older woman mentor and mentoring young girls is so important
    JS – also educating young boys about what is/isn't acceptable. Role models play such importance; this can be done in schools
    MV – her organisation do a lot of advocacy work

    Question: If there was one thing each of you could change in the system you are in, what would it be?
    JI – Immigration/detainee; would make history of their case available to Magistrates so that decisions can be taken to send them back to their own country
    JS – just do the job rather than form filling
    FP - when judge says start at 10:30 really start at that time. They don't realise what a lot of work they create for mothers/women when they simply make announcements about reconvening.
    MV – Improve mental health education/assistance in prisons
    JI - Also test as to whether a person needs translator or not i.e. can they really understand?

    Question: What would your working life be like if you worked with all women?
    FP – less posturing as men posture/point score, women don't
    JS – Physical aspects of the job, just a fact that men are stronger. JS has been told she is too emotional however it's good to be emotional.
    JI – Agree with FP regarding sheer logistics, when men make snap decisions about times of meetings etc. this can be difficult in respect of child care etc.

    Points to Note and Areas of Focus
    • Fewer than 5% of prisoners are women
    • More women are convicted of manslaughter than murder
    • 51% of women leaving prison reoffend within 1 year
    • Better information sharing
    • Everything starts from the home – parenting
    • For police, training and ensuring officers know about the types of crimes 'out there'
    Sophie Stratton - 26th June 2012
  • Tue 8 May 2012: Business Budget 2012
    The CWO forum panel on the ‘Business Budget 2012’ took place in a committee room of the House of Commons on Tuesday 24th April.

    The speakers for the evening were:

    Andrew Tyrie MP for Chichester and Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.
    Susan Hayes Head of Business Banking, Barclays
    Gillian Cardy Managing Director of the Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) centre.

    CWO Chairman, Katy Bourne welcomed our guests on behalf of CWO and outlined that the purpose of the ‘Business Budget 2012’ was to allow exploration of the impact of the recent budget announcements on small businesses. Katy encouraged discussions around the role of women in business and in what ways the budget will have an impact on economic growth for all demographics.

    Sue Hayes led the discussion by explaining her role as Head of Business Banking at Barclays and went on to discuss how and why banks are making a concerted effort, through their growth agenda to help small businesses.

    Currently 50 % of start-up businesses fail within their first three years; Sue discussed the challenging conditions that a start-up company is likely to face based on her assessment of the core issues she sees arising daily within her client’s environment. The three main reasons she identified for the failure of new businesses are: the economic climate and reduced demand, the competitive landscape and cash flow issues.

    Sue observed that there is a general feeling of uncertainty around the regulations in respect of setting up a new business which serve to deter people from venturing into this territory due to a lack of confidence and understanding of the basic logistics involved in setting up a new business.

    Homing in on the budget, Sue thought that there had been modest changes but nothing which would make a substantial difference to promote entrepreneurial growth. However, the reduction in the higher rate of personal income tax and the increase in personal allowance would mean that greater disposable income could potentially have the effect of stimulating consumer spending, albeit not aiding initial investment.

    Sue went on to explain how banks can help to stimulate confidence via a number of fiscal initiatives and support services such as;

    • The National Loan Guarantee Scheme which creates lower interest rates for lending and gives a percentage of cash back to the applicant.
    • Business support units and seminars proactively advising business on any issues they are experiencing and discussing ways to increase revenues for a new business. E-commerce for example, if conducted internationally, gives a business a fourfold chance of being successful in the critical 36-month window.
    • Networking forums to link customers and business together.

    The overall message was that banks do want to loan to businesses to aid the UK’s economic recovery. Last year alone £4.7bn was invested by Barclays into small businesses and Barclays hit their Merlin targets. Given the current economic situation today around 42% of people will have to rethink their retirement plans and 25% of people will have to work over the age of 65. Barclays wants to encourage a stimulus for growth to give people greater flexibility over their retirement options.

    Gillian Cardy spoke about her role as Managing Director of the IFA centre and how she perceived the budget would have an effect on the financial planning strategies of individuals and businesses alike.

    Gillian sees the budget in its current form as having only nominal changes which directly affect the role of an IFA in giving client advice. In her view, present regulations need simplification to stimulate economic growth as the increased complexity of rules around taxation are making it challenging for both employers and employees to understand their responsibilities and, as a consequence, more costs are being incurred by businesses.
    Prohibitive costs make it more challenging for new business to flourish. An example of these increasing costs for employers is the new National Employee Savings scheme which all business must start to contribute to.

    An example of change suggested by Gillian was in regards to rules around National Insurance; she suggested a revision of the current 13.8% which has to be paid even into retirement.

    To summarise, Gillian brought the discussion to an employee level and discussed the current missed opportunities for road-mapping a real savings plan and taking advantage of tax free opportunities such as ISA’s and personal allowances.

    Finally Andrew Tyrie discussed how he saw the budget from his perspectives as an Economist, an MP and as the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.

    Andrew supported the defining strategy of the budget which is a deficit reduction programme to deal with the current economic conditions. He believes in turn this will promote confidence from the markets. The budget has been set by the Chancellor with little scope for manoeuvre as there are real fiscal targets to be met and the government is in the early stages of implementing a long term strategy to restore economic growth rates to 2.4%. Andrew is confident that this coalition budget will prevent a UK replication of crises seen in Greece and other Eurozone countries.

    In line with his co-speakers, Andrew agreed that an overhaul of regulation in certain areas affecting business is overdue and that a simplification of employers’ legislation and a focus on making it easier for sole traders to create the jobs, are needed to boost the economy.

    In agreement with Gillian Cardy, Andrew went on to say that the British taxation system is one of the most complicated taxation systems in the world. There are issues around tax avoidance which could be addressed by less ambiguity on the subject and clearer tax models. Tax cuts at the top end of the market are designed to retain wealth within the UK and avoid overseas relocation in line with Laffa principles. In addition to this, improvements via the Loan Guarantee scheme will serve as a much needed catalyst for bank and consumer lending and UK entrepreneurialism.

    Questions and comments from the floor examined issues such as: why has the tax code not been simplified since the 1980’s; why income tax has not returned to the previous 40% level and will there be more efforts put in place to incentivise start up businesses and support their growth? Each of the speakers summarised their final points and the Chairman thanked them for participating in an informative panel discussion on the budget.

    With thanks to: Sophie Stratton, CWO Director of Forums and Charlotte Argyle

  • Tue 31 Jan 2012: Caring For The Elderly
    The CWO Forum Panel on “Caring for the Elderly” took place in a Committee Room of the House of Commons on Tuesday 31st January 2012.

    The speakers for the evening were:

    Margot James MP
    Esther Rantzen CBE
    Cllr Lady Flight
    Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of Age UK.

    CWO Chairman, Niki Molnar, welcomed everyone on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect them and their families every day.

    Diane Jeffrey introduced the topic and explained her role as Chairman of Age UK and the relevance of the Forum with tomorrow’s publication of the Care in Crisis report. She discussed the current challenges that older people face in the UK. Life expectancy is increasing with the population of over sixties set to rise by 50% in the next 25 years. The country’s ageing population raises questions about how to care for the elderly and concerns about future burdens on society and the state. Diane argued that the elderly should be celebrated and supported in later life. She said that the current care system was in crisis, where people need help but are being failed by the system. For example, many people are being forced to sell their homes and assets to pay the costs of care.

    The current system is too complex, underfunded and in need of urgent reform. She cited three main issues with the system at present: lack of support; failure to plan for long-term care needs; and underfunding. She described how many people were unaware that social care was not provided free like the NHS and that instead it was means-tested within strict guidelines. Anyone who owns assets worth more than £23,250 has to pay for their own residential care including accommodation and food. As a result, many people were being forced to sell their homes to afford their payments especially as many private sector insurance companies will not insure personal care needs. In 2012, 18% of councils had raised their eligibility criteria to substantial or critical which means that many older people were no longer meeting the new standard.

    Age UK was also concerned about what she termed the ‘glass of water placed out of reach’ syndrome and a lack of concern by staff regarding patient dignity. She concluded by arguing that the central challenge facing the care for the elderly was a lack of funding. The current cuts in social care of 4.5%, equivalent to £331 million, was directly impacting on frontline services. An urgent reform of social care was needed now in order to deal with the growing, long-term problems of the UK’s ageing population.

    Cllr Lady Flight spoke of her role as the champion for older people in Westminster, with CONTACT group and as Editor of Westminster Plus. Four years ago, Christabel raised the idea of an ‘Older People’s Day’ as a UN day on Wednesday 1st October every year. She would like to resurrect this idea to have a specific day in the calendar to celebrate older people.

    Popular culture impacts on our everyday life in numerous ways. She argued that we should feed narratives into television and radio such as the ‘Archers’ and ‘Eastenders’ which can depict issues with life far better than politicians. A recent example was a storyline focused on dementia on the Archers which resulted in a huge amount of publicity and considerably raised the profile of dementia as a direct result of the programme. Several ideas of how to celebrate ‘Silver Sunday’ and ‘Older People’s Day’ were discussed. A central concern was the invisibility of older people. She suggested that everybody was asked to find an older person such as a neighbour and to bring that person back into society so they were less lonely.

    Through her role with Westminster Plus, she has seen the importance of getting older people together such as with their annual tea dance for nearly 1000 older people. If we could replicate events such as this across the country, then we could successfully engage older people. Her central message was that older people need to feel that they are visible and that ‘Silver Sunday’ would be a good way to recognise them.

    Esther Rantzen CBE spoke of her experiences as the President of ChildLine and the work she is currently doing to support older people. She agreed with Age UK that there was a problem with the current system and the ‘glass of water out of reach’ syndrome. However,
    it is not simply a case of underfunding but one of attitude. ‘Silver Sunday’ was an idea she supported but asked the audience how they would define old age. Arbitrary age brackets, such as 60 plus, were perhaps no longer helpful. Esther said that she believed the central problem facing older people was that they were increasingly isolated and lonely.

    Recently she wrote an article in the Daily Mail on loneliness and was overwhelmed by the response she had. Many people ranging from children to widows wrote to her. Problems that they brought to her attention included the challenges that disabled people faced in isolated rural communities where it was possible to be alone for weeks at a time. She quoted from one letter where one elderly correspondent wrote that the public “shun us like empty restaurants”. Another issue raised was how many older people did not want to become a burden on their children or families.

    Esther announced that tomorrow she would be launching Silverline which was to be a telephone advice and help service for the over fifty-fives. Her experience with Childline had shown that having a number that anyone could ring with no agenda was essential. The helpline will take the time to listen to the concerns of older people and to discuss any issues they may have. For example, there are instances of abuse by carers where it is very difficult for people to ask for help. Having a national resource which provided information and would signpost problems would therefore be of great use. Another purpose of the helpline was to become a resource, providing information on local agencies and opportunities for older people in their area. She concluded by arguing that, if we help each other, then we can change attitudes and make our society more inclusive of older people.

    Finally Margot James MP spoke on her role as Vice Chairman for Women in the Conservative Party and her role in the Women’s Policy Group. Her previous experience as a Councillor in Kensington and Chelsea and her work with the NHS Trust meant she had worked with several branches of Age UK. In her constituency of Stourbridge there are two day centres which are open 364 days a year and provide a vital break from loneliness for older people. Margot discussed the legislative challenges facing elderly care and the Government White Paper expected before Easter. She acknowledged that legal reforms of the current system were needed and that there were funding challenges. Her experiences dealing with residential and home care in Kensington were used as examples of the current problems with the system. In 2005, half of councils funded home care for people with moderate needs. However, now less than 20% of councils do the same. Several good residential homes had been closed as they no longer met the stringent new regulations, such as not having the requisite on-site facilities. Home care has been contracted out to private health care providers who offer cheaper services. The private sector was doing a good job but the problem is with local councils who are cutting funding to care services. Margot pointed out that the population of over 55’s was increasing and that NHS funding had been increased by 27% so more funding should be available for adult social care. She suggested that the solution could be to raise the threshold for which elderly people pay for care, perhaps to a capped amount of £100,000. The current £23,000 threshold was far too low and residential care in London is particularly expensive. Residential care homes were important and provided a sense of community to individuals living alone. The challenge is one for the NHS which had to make £20 billion in savings over five years under the last Labour Government. The new Health Bill aims to integrate health and social care and increase the power of local authorities.

    Questions and comments from the floor explored issues such as perceived bias by GPs and doctors against elderly patients, how to define elderly and the eligibility criteria for admittance to care homes. A member of the audience raised the Dilnot Report and asked whether care for the elderly was not a matter for society and that we needed to ensure the next generation understood social responsibility. Several members of the audience also asked about resources in rural areas and what Age UK was doing for people in inaccessible areas who were frequently neglected. Each of the speakers summed up their final comments and the Chairman thanked them for contributing to such a fascinating panel discussion.

    With thanks to Sophie Stratton, Director of Forums and Theodora Clarke.
  • Tue 1 Nov 2011: Women on the Frontline
    The CWO Forum Panel on "Women on the Frontline" took place in Committee Room W1 in the House of Commons on Tuesday 13th September.

    The speakers for the evening were Lt Col Alison Curnow, C.O Royal Logistic Corp, Anna Walton, crisis response for Merlin and Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor for The Times.

    CWO Chairman, Niki Molnar, welcomed everyone on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect women and their families every day.

    Anna Walton introduced the topic and explained her role as a member of the crisis response team for Merlin and her experiences in countries that include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Darfur. Merlin is the largest UK based health NGO which focuses on emergency relief and lasting healthcare in fragile states. Her role is to respond to new emergencies such as earthquakes, flooding, famine and armed conflict. Anna discussed her role as the project coordinator for the response team which is immediately deployed to respond to any manmade or natural disasters to help with local health problems. She described how the 24 hour deployment rosta worked and that she had a bag always packed at home in order to respond immediately to any new crisis. Typical deployments would be up to three months long in which time she and her team would help with rebuilding the health system in the host country. The situation in the Ivory Coast with rising refugees, she said, was one ongoing problem.

    Merlin mainly provides emergency response workers to assist at the beginning of any new crisis in a surge capacity. However, the NGO also provides longer term support for ongoing conflicts, such as in Liberia, over the last decade. Anna spoke of the main challenges she faces as an aid worker and a woman working in conflict zones. She identified the following main areas: aid quality and effectiveness; value for money; disaster risk reduction; media led responses and security. She pointed out the professionalization of the industry and the problems of donor strategies affecting the quality of aid being provided. There are also an increasing number of incidents targeting women in conflict areas with risks of kidnap, rape and occasionally death. The constant media attention on disasters has resulted in a greater awareness of these negative stories.

    She summarised her talk by focusing on the challenges and advantages that women face in the front line. In certain countries she found it more difficult to be a woman, in a position of authority, particularly in male orientated, Middle Eastern nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She found situations where there was limited access to senior figures which impacted on her ability to deliver aid. However, being a woman, Anna also finds it easier to build relationships with people particularly women and children who were refugees or displaced people.

    Lt Col Alison Curnow spoke of her role in the army and her personal experiences as a senior female member of the Armed Forces. She has over 17 years experience in the army and has four operational tour medals. Her role focuses on operations and she was responsible for all logistics in Afghanistan providing 12,000 troops with ammunition, food, fuel and water. She explained how the role of women in the Forces had changed since the Second World War when the focus was on nursing, cooking and ambulance crew. In the 1990s there was an increase in specialist arms in the military and stereotypical gender roles are no longer employed. In 1993 the Royal Logistics Corp was founded as a combat service support unit. Alison attended Sandhurst for officer training and now commands soldiers in the Royal Logistics Corp. Women make up 13% of officers now in the army and the number of women serving is increasing. There are now females in every rank right up to Colonel and the perception of a glass ceiling was incorrect. In her regiment there are 4 female COs and the best individuals are selected to be recruited regardless of gender.

    She challenged the question of the forum of whether women should be on the frontline and suggested that the question should be different. Women are already serving on the frontline and women have been killed in active duty. The only place women are not currently allowed was the Household Cavalry and the Royal Marines. These restrictions were due to physical strength requirements and the need for team cohesion. The question of whether women should serve on the frontline, she suggested, is no longer a relevant debate. Instead, the question was whether women should service in the infantry. In her experience there was no sexism in the army; soldiers and officers were simply judged on their ability to do their job.

    One challenge facing women in the army however, was dealing with local infrastructures in male dominated societies. There are no senior female NCOs in the Middle East because local senior figures would not take seriously a female and would prefer to talk to a man. The other difficulty was the number of postings abroad which significantly impact on relationships. Partners might get sent to different locations at the same time so they saw each other infrequently. This was the central reason for a high divorce rate and low number of married female officers in the army. Alison spoke of her personal difficulties in balancing her professional and domestic life being away from home so often. She said it was difficult to go on operational tours and to retain a regular life at home which was why she herself was divorced.

    Finally Deborah Haynes spoke of her experiences as a journalist on the frontline. She is the first female Defence Editor of The Times which showed that traditional attitudes in the industry were changing. She recently returned from Libya where she has been reporting on the current conflict. Deborah provided some background on her first experiences as a war correspondent in Kosovo during 2000 and being a female reporter in Iraq in 2004. In the last five years she has seen an increase in the number of women correspondents on the frontline. She explained how she had become involved in war reporting after 9/11 when she was an economics journalist in Japan. In February 2004 she first visited Baghdad, her first visit to the Middle East for which she was given no training. Today journalists are provided with hostile environment training. She was given a week’s notice before flying out and had to carry £2000 in cash on her person when entering the country.

    Deborah spoke of the challenges of doing her job in Iraq operating in an environment with such an intensity of violence. While she was in Baghdad there was a bombing in which 191 people died. She recounted how after so many incidents journalists became immune to such horrific violence. Media coverage on the conflict was dictated by the number of Western soldiers killed as to whether it was reported or not. For example, it took only one British death in Iraq for it to be reported whereas it took 25 Iraqis to be killed for any media outlets to report any deaths. The Times always employs an Iraq correspondent in their Baghdad office in order to get the most up to date reporting. Women strive to be at the top of every profession, Deborah said, but she found that being a female journalist working in warzones meant that it was difficult to have a family and she did feel judged by other mothers and her colleagues. However, it was indicative of The Times’ focus on gender equality that they promoted her whilst she was on maternity leave to be Defence Editor. Deborah spoke of the difficulties of being in Iraq when pregnant and her fears as a mother when being ambushed by the Taliban and when she survived a sniper shoot in Tripoli when following the Libyan rebels in Martyr’s Square.

    Questions and comments from the floor explored the problem of being a woman working abroad in conflict situations and the challenges of raising a family. The audience raised the question of being a senior woman in the Middle East and the difficulties of working in a male-dominated environment. Several members of the audience also asked about skills training for people interested in becoming an aid worker themselves. Several degree courses now exist for Humanitarian Project Management they were told. Each of the three speakers summed up their final comments and Niki thanked them for contributing to such a fascinating panel discussion.

    With thanks to Theodora Clarke and Sophie Stratton.
  • Tue 21 Jun 2011: Human Trafficking and the Olympics

    Report from the forum

    The CWO Forum Panel on "Will the Legacy of the Olympics be victims of Human Trafficking?" took place in Committee Room W1 in the House of Commons on Tuesday 21st June.

    The speakers for the evening were Anthony Steen, Founder of the Human Trafficking Foundation (who also chaired the panel), Kit Malthouse AM (Deputy Mayor for London with responsibility for the Metropolitan Police), Margot James MP (Vice Chairman, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking) and Johnny Hollins (Educator).

    CWO Chairman, Niki Molnar, welcomed everyone on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect women and their families every day.

    Facts from the Forum
    2,600 women have been trafficked into the UK
    2,900 women are vulnerable and likely to be trafficked
    2,500 known brothels
    85% of street prostitutes are British
    85% of hidden prostitutes (ads, cards, telephone only) are foreign and likely to have been trafficked
    Human Trafficking Hotline gets between 8 and 15 reports of trafficked women a day – all are looked at and assessed for risk
    1 in 10 UK men will admit that they are willing to pay for sex

    Antony Steen introduced the topic in his capacity as founder of the Human Trafficking Foundation and his former role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the trafficking of women and children. He spoke of the difficulty in detecting trafficking and the inaccuracy of current statistics, saying that modern human trafficking is unseen and so made more difficult to defeat. Anthony drew on his experiences talking to many victims of trafficking and highlighted recent examples such as kitchen staff forced to live in their place of work and women being forced into domestic slavery. He provided the example of a fourteen year-old girl from Moldova who could be ordered online as a sexual commodity on the internet and was forced into prostitution as a young teenager. He pointed out that are over 2500 known brothels in London alone. Anthony spoke of the difficulties in curbing demand in Britain and spoke of the role of the Human Trafficking Foundation in helping trafficking victims. October 18th has now become Anti-Slavery Day and he suggested that the CWO organise an event to coincide with this date as a follow-up to the forum.

    Kit Malthouse spoke on the Metropolitan Police’s role in combating human trafficking and the policy framework. In London violence towards women and girls is 50% higher than the rest of the UK. He said the police were tackling five main areas: domestic violence; rape and sexual assault; forced marriages; child prostitution and domestic servitude. Kit spoke of the successful campaign he ran as a Councillor in Westminster to ban the placement of prostitute cards in public places. The Met Police needed further resources to fight trafficking but a Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit had already been set up. With the London Olympics only one year away focus was on the Games and any trafficking implications. The Human Trafficking 2012 Network has been set up to bring together the Ministry of Justice, the Metropolitan Police and City Hall to coordinate their work and to share information and resources. Kit ended by highlighting the need to suppress demand for prostitution and trafficking and to cut off supply to the market. An example was getting telephone and mobile phone operators to bar numbers which were used on prostitute cards to prevent repeat business; another was to bring pressure on newspapers that still accepted sex adverts e.g. Loot and Archant (whose sex advertising is worth £1.5m to them every year). Editors are sent letters that they are aiding and abetting prostitution but these are ignored.

    Johnny Hollins spoke of his experiences of trafficking in Africa and his background as a neuroscientist examining victim psychology. He said there was a lack of awareness of the scale of the problem and that being such an emotive and traumatic subject it was difficult for people to engage with. He pointed out that if you believe in the concept of the ‘six degrees of separation’ then we are all connected to a victim of trafficking. He spoke of his work in South Africa with Bishop Joseph Kobo, the nephew of Nelson Mandel. In 2009 Johnny initiated an international symposium on people trafficking in Pretoria which brought together 160 NGOs, government agencies and activists. As a result of this the South African Government adopted the Anti-Trafficking Bill as an Act in advance of the 2010 World Cup. He pointed out that the statistics for human trafficking were unreliable. For example, in South Africa, current data reports that only sixty-five people were trafficked whereas anecdotal research suggests the real figure is significantly higher. Human trafficking is happening every day and action needs to be taken now to prevent it. His current doctoral research into shock showed how trauma was causing brain damage in children who were victims of trafficking.

    Margot James MP spoke of the Government’s work to prevent human trafficking and explained how the UK was working closely with other countries particularly in the EU. She praised the work of the police force in identifying and catching perpetrators of human trafficking and said that the government was committed to helping the police to catch criminals. She cited the Salvation Army and Poppy Project as good examples of an initiative providing support to victims of trafficking.

    Questions and comments from the floor explored the problem of people trafficked from the EU who could not be returned home, the importance of working with other governments to combating human trafficking and the role of voluntary organisations who aided victims. The behaviour of celebrities, such as football players, to normalise the use of prostitution, may encourage men to use trafficked victims without knowing it.

    Niki thanked the speakers and Anthony Steen for chairing the panel. She confirmed that the CWO would continue working on eradicating Human Trafficking and would be working with the Home Office, City Hall, NGOs and the media. Niki expressed surprise at hearing that the media considered trafficking a non-story, when at least 3,000 women were kept against their will in a foreign country and raped multiple times, every day.

    With thanks to Theodora Clarke and Sophie Stratton.
  • Thu 9 Jun 2011: Having a Baby (Privilege or Right)?

    Report from the recent forum

    The CWO Forum Panel on "Having a Baby" took place at in a Committee Room in the House of Commons on Wednesday 18th May.

    The speakers for the evening were Dr Daniel Poulter MP (Member of Parliament for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, previously an NHS doctor specialising in obstetrics, gynaecology and women’s health), Lord Howard Flight (MP for Arundel and South Downs (1997-2005), Ms Amanda Tozer (Consultant Gynaecologist, Centre for Reproductive Medicine, St Barts and The London) and Dawn Howley (formerly in the care system).

    Niki Molnar, CWO Chairman, welcomed everyone to the evening on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending, that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect women and their families every day.

    Dr Daniel Poulter addressed two major issues of unwanted pregnancies and the role of the state in paying for IVF treatments. He spoke of the high rate of teenage pregnancy in underprivileged areas and the high rate of abortion in the UK. He felt that proper education was essential to tackling this problem and spoke about his background in gynaecology and his experiences with the healthcare system as a former GP. He highlighted the issue of the postcode lottery system for IVF and suggested one way the government could help alleviate the problem was through the creation of a national standard for IVF. He believes that the NHS should provide IVF services and that it is appropriate for the government to help infertile women.

    Lord Flight spoke on the economics related to IVF and having a baby. He discussed the issues currently facing women in the UK such as women having careers which impacted on them having children later in life. He said that having children was a privilege but also a responsibility. Parents had a duty of care towards their offspring.

    He discussed the idea of the welfare system encouraging people to have more children due to additional benefits but suggested that the current tax system in practice made it difficult for middle-class families to afford more children.

    One concern raised was that elderly women were having more children and how this would impact future generations. He agreed that parents were the best choice to bring up children and that the state should not be too heavy-handed in its approach to care. Regarding adoption, he believes, there is too much regulation and barriers for people to adopt children. He suggested that the age barrier for prospective parents should be removed and a decrease in the level of bureaucracy in the system.

    Dawn Howley drew our attention to her personal experiences as a child in the care system and how this experience has shaped her life. She pointed out the number of placements she had as a child and how once children turn eighteen and left care there was a lack of support for them. She pointed out the importance of children having stability and a caring home.

    Dawn described her work as a volunteer with Kids Company and their work to reduce the rates of teenage pregnancy. Over 50% of women who have left the care system ended up becoming young mothers.

    Dawn provided examples of children in care who had been abused and were not being looked after by the child protection system. For example, a nine year old who is asked to talk about allegations of abuse to a caseworker in front of her family where they were unlikely to voice their concerns or problems.

    She stressed the importance of a stable home and a good environment for children to be brought up in. She believes the government could do much more to help young people in care.

    Dawn thanked her carer Annie, who she said Annie was responsible for opening the door to the world for me

    Amanda Tozer spoke of her experiences as gynaecologist specialising in IVF treatments. Her primary duty was the welfare of the unborn child and to assess prospective parents who wanted fertility treatment. She believed it was right that the NHS provided this service but highlighted the postcode lottery where different parts of the UK provided different levels of service.

    The average age of women wanting to have IVF was thirty-five years old which reflected the fact that many women now had focused on having careers prior to children. The age limit for IVF is forty-four years old for a woman with her own ages as after this the success rate was substantially reduced.

    Amanda agreed with Dr Poulter that everyone should be given the same opportunity and that the government could do more to provide a national standard for IVF services.

    Questions and comments from the floor explored the high rate of teenage pregnancy in the UK. Issues such as the rights of children in care, sex education being taught in schools, the post code lottery for IVF and the role of the state in paying for multiple fertility treatments were discussed.

    Niki noted that it had been a stimulating discussion and thanked everyone for participating.

    With thanks to Theodora Clarke and Sophie Stratton.
  • Wed 2 Mar 2011: Graduate Recruitment Report
    Conservative Women's Organisation and Conservative Future Forum on Graduate Recruitment

    15th February 2011
    House of Commons



    Pauline Lucas, Niki Molnar, Eve Burt, Sophie Stratton, Theodora Clarke, Ben Howlett, Claire Hilley and other members of the public and Conservative Future

    Speakers (5mins):
    Andrew Stephenson MP – Vice chairman of the Conservative Party for Youth
    Lucy Chamberlain – Angela Mortimer Ltd (recruiter)
    Tim King- Matchking (recruiter)
    Serene Richards- Conservative Future (student)

    Opening remarks: Pauline Lucas

    Serene Richards: student at UCL in process of applying for jobs.

    • Challenges facing students. Only one in five graduates currently employed. Issue of access to opportunities.

    • Unpaid internships only route into job- raises questions about meritocracy. Example of Conservative fundraising dinner where parents bid for internships for their children.

    • Rise of social media and online networking and this impact on the jobs’ market ie. the 'video CV’.

    • New generation of disillusioned graduates.

    Lucy Chamberlain: runs recruitment agency part of the Angela Mortimer group.

    • Increasing need for graduates to have work experience. Higher number of graduates for same number of jobs.

    • Degree and academic achievements no longer enough to be competitive. Only 5% of CVs get an interview.

    • Lack of careers awareness at school and university. Many companies had recruitment freeze during financial crisis and now problem with public sector cuts.

    • Students need to reconsider the degree they study and how relevant it is to an employer. Worrying lack of graduate jobs- could result in brain drain as graduates seek opportunities abroad.

    • Graduates need to learn to market themselves more effectively eg. networking, good CV, interviews, work experience.

    • Minimum work experience of two weeks- start earlier at school.

    • Use of headhunters- 51% quicker process to find a job.

    Tim King: recruiter specialising in IT and telecoms.

    • Importance of graduate CVs and social networking. Need to reflect skills both vocational and academic. Degree is relevant if in business etc shows commercial awareness.

    • Increasing use of internet in recruitment. Linkedin is a powerful tool. Employers and recruiters use networking sites to gain opinion of candidate. Be careful with your facebook and twitter accounts with personal information about you outside of work.

    • Most applications now online. This means very high number of applications 50-100 per job advert. CV very important as it results in interview or being rejected at first stage. Look at job adverts in Telegraph appointments section.

    • Keep updated on recent jobs through variety of media. Problem with current graduates is lack of awareness about their skillset.

    • Recruiter is looking for graduates with commercial experience and an understanding of the market.

    • Never have spelling mistakes or basic errors on your CV. Be aware of search word criteria when writing your CV to get noticed by recruiter search engines.

    Andrew Stephenson MP:

    • Young people still underrepresented in politics. Role of graduate tough as ever. Understanding of challenges face as one of youngest MPs. Uncertain times, difficult economy, time of reduncancies.

    • How can we help graduates? In constituency of Pendle 1/3 of jobs in manufacturing industry. Reluctance to hire graduates prefer apprentices or students with vocational training. Universities need to do more to equip young people for the world of work.

    • Employers recruit graduates who have excellent academic grades but they display lack of commercial awareness.

    • Coalition government recognises the need to help graduates more. Importance of quality work experience.

    • Issue of unpaid placements- access to opportunities. Government proposing to help young unemployed people eg. Job Centre Plus is matching up young people with jobs. If you are do an 8 week internship it will no longer affect your benefit payments. Increasing importance of interpersonal skills.

    • Think outside the box and consider setting up own firm. Need to encourage more young entrepreneurs.

    • Government keen to support small businesses to grow. There will be 40,000 new businesses by 2013 some of which could be set up and run by you.

    • Government’s number one priority is getting the economy back on track and this will create more jobs in the long term. More employers will have more money to take on new staff and grow.

    Questions from the floor

    Recent graduate: Lack of preparation at university for the jobs’ market. So focused on examinations that no one starts looking for a jobs until after university finishes which is too late. Difficult to stay at home with lack of opportunities whilst unemployed. Lack of dedicated careers advisors at university. Need to be better equipped with right skills for finding a job when in education.

    Recent graduate: Issue with expectations after degree. Graduates feel entitled to walk into a job after university. Not situation at all in this market. So competitive at job fairs and for company training schemes. Not sure what skills employers looking for graduates. How valuable are academic qualifications?

    Lucy Chamberlain: importance of widening your job search. Look outside the usual Milkround graduate schemes. Lots of smaller firms hiring graduates too. Be open to different roles if you are not sure what to you want to do. CV is an important sales tool.

    Theodora Clarke: problem with careers services at university and schools. Lack of knowledge of the graduate jobs’ market and lack of opportunities. Many academic faculty now equipped to deal with careers advisor role as never had a job outside of academia or done online applications of the type that graduates face today. Importance of face to face meetings and networking. Contacts essential to finding a job, not just relying on computers and online applications.

    Raleigh International: gap year company for students and graduates. We attend many gap year fairs and talk to graduates themselves. Online resources mean it is much easier to access opportunities. Important to go to graduate fairs. Many firms select graduates from these events. Develop skills that build your CV eg. overseas volunteering.

    Recent graduate: spent the last year filling out applications and heard no response. Ended up falling into recruitment as a job which is not enjoyable as career. So difficult to find a job doing something you like.

    Andrew Stephenson MP: long-term unemployment is an issue. Creates problem for graduate as employers less keen to hire someone who has been out of work for a long period of time. A job is a job. Better to do something while looking for the dream job you want to do. Started out as a bartender long before becoming an MP. Work experience is essential.

    Parent: what should we encourage our children to study at university? Eg. Geography versus Business Studies. Do employers really take into account the choice of their degree when selecting candidates?

    Angela Mortimer Ltd: work experience absolutely essential to find out what you enjoy and interests you. Even one week in an office will tell you enough about that industry to decide. Consider doing paid temporary work- good way to meet clients. Many temp jobs turn into full-time employment. Build your CV all the time.

    Recruiter: importance of building external skills in addition to academic qualifications. Section on your CV on external interests shows teamworking, leadership etc. Draw on gap year or work experience for examples.

    Recent graduate: in debt of 20k after university and still not got a job. How valuable is two week internship versus a degree? Forced to do unpaid internships to get a foot in the door with no guarantee of job at the end of it.

    Serene Richards: Are graduates entitled to a job? Graduates have this expectation that as they worked hard, got good grades and went to university they should be given a job at the end of it. No awareness of how tough the jobs’ market is until it is too late and they have left.

    Student: difficulty of finding an internship and doing unpaid work when studying. Lack of time and money to do so.

    Andrew Stephenson MP: most people end up doing work experience for free when they start out. Government setting up a mentoring scheme to help people eg. Operation Black Vote amongst the new intake of MPs.

    Tim King: people search CVs by keywords. Importance of graduates knowing what to put on their CVs and importance of building an online profile. Use internet to discover references and connections with candidates.

    Niki Molnar: awareness of your image. Limit your public profile ie. facebook photographs as employers will google you.

    Student: what kind of jobs do recruiters fill? What look for in candidates?

    Tim King: good CV with skills for that job, no mistakes as this is easiest way for your CV to be binned. Importance of proofreading and targeting. Interests very important as they show you as a person. Have a personal profile stating clearly your objective at the top of your CV.

    Careers advisor: work with university careers services and students. Whole careers industry being dumbed down. No longer need two years of postgraduate training to be a careers advisor- lack of knowledge and expertise in market.

    Young entrepreneur: is it the responsibility of universities to provide careers advisors? Why can you not study a degree you like eg. history instead of a 'useful’ degree such as business studies? No guarantee that either will provide you a job but both teach you valuable skills.

    Final comments

    Tim King: write your CV with no mistakes and send it to a headhunter

    Lucy Chamberlain: look at every option and expand your job search beyond the usual Milkround companies

    Serene Richards: keep applying for things and keep building your CV

    Andrew Stephenson MP: stay positive, be persistent, take the initiative and do some work experience. Never give up your dream job.

    Closing remarks: Pauline Lucas and Ben Howlett

    With thanks to Theodora Clarke and Sophie Stratton
  • Tue 20 Oct 2009: Social Cohesion

    Report from the Forum

    The CWO Forum Panel on "Social Cohesion" took place at in a Committee Room in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20th October.

    Our speakers for the evening were Chris Grayling MP (Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Epsom & Newell), Chris Myant (Head of Good Relations, Equality & Human Rights Council), Chef Inspector Tim Parsons (Head of Diversity at the Race and Diversity Unit, City of London police and George Lee (PPC for Holborn and St Pancras).

    Pauline Lucas, CWO Chairman, welcomed everyone to the evening on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending, that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect women and their families every day.

    Chris Myant stressed the importance of open dialogue with various communities.

    Chief Inspector Tim Parsons spoke of the plight of the white working class and the message of fear that the BNP is using to win votes. This is more pronounced in the recession as shrinking jobs and the possibility of decreased help from the state lead to competition for resources. He feels that it will be important for politicians to give a new message of a brighter future in which all people can play a part. He noted the difficulty there can be in engaging with different communities - they are so diverse that it can be challenging to find an organisation that speaks for them that the government can link with. He feels that it is vital that we accept the Islamic faith and engage with the Muslim community and spoke of the importance of looking for what we agree upon when engaging with different communities, rather then focusing on the differences which cause conflict.

    George Lee drew our attention to his personal experiences of coming to England and engaging with a different culture and how this process has shaped his life. He spoke of his parent’s appreciation of the values that this country represented for them and the reasons for their decision to move from Hong Kong.

    Chris Grayling MP spoke of the need to find a way to communicate traditional British values. He referred to the model of the USA, where people are different and yet together in their appreciation of what it means to be American. He outlined an approach to funding which would prioritise groups that promote integration between communities around a common purpose or activity – public money needs to go to bodies that break down barriers to community.

    Questions and comments from the floor explored what British values are and ideas were shared about ways/ occasions in which British values could be celebrated e.g. Remembrance Day. A successful housing association was described, in which diversity was encouraged and differences in culture were celebrated. Another participant spoke of her block of flats and the roles that people have taken up to form a community amongst those that live there, helping one other.

    Pauline noted that it had been a stimulating discussion and thanked everyone for participating.

    Relevant Links

    Equality & Human Rights Council
    Race and Diversity Unit
    Holborn & St Pancras Conservatives
  • Sun 6 Sep 2009: Forum News

    News from CWO, London

    The Greater London CWO recently held a successful London Regional Forum on the Credit Crunch with Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond MP. Mr Hammond updated the women present on economic affairs and how a Conservative government would look to tackle the financial problems facing the UK.
  • Tue 16 Sep 2008: Disarming Gang Culture

    Notes from the Forum

    The CWO Forum Panel on "Disarming Gang Culture" took place at CCHQ on Tuesday 16thSeptember.

    Our speakers for the evening were Philippa Stroud (Executive Director, Centre for Social Justice & PPC for Sutton and Cheam) and Simon Marcus (Social Entrepreneur – London Boxing Academy). We were fortunate to be joined by Shaun Bailey (PPC for Hammersmith).

    Pauline Lucas, Chairman of the CWO, welcomed everyone to the evening on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending, that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect women and their families every day. Pauline noted in her opening remarks that in 2007, 26 young people were killed by guns or knives in London. That number has already been surpassed in September 2008. She reported that many people are putting the blame on gang culture, but questioned why so many young people are interested in joining gangs. It is important to recognise that not all gangs are bad, but can be a type of family for youngsters in an environment where families are often dysfunctional.

    Philippa Stroud described how anxious she feels letting her three teenage children, all of whom use public transport to school, go out into the city each day. She has become aware, through talking with parents, of a sense of a rising gang culture in our society and in our community. The importance of this problem for Londoners was highlighted by the fact that Boris Johnson's successful mayoral campaign was run on the back of an anti-crime and fighting gang culture agenda.

    As a parliamentary candidate, Philippa has spent time trying to think through the policy implications, influenced by her work at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). There they have a youth group and gang group in operation, which is now addressing youth and gang crime. She noted some frightening statistics –
    • The majority of young people are doing well and thriving, but for some, alarmingly an increasingly large number, this is not the case;
    • A conservative estimate puts the number at 20 000 young people involved in gang activity. But when asked to self-report on violence, young people report 6% of 10-19 years report being involved in gang activity;
    • Four in every 10 muggings are committed by young people under the age of 16 years. Knives are most likely to be carried by a boy aged between 14 and 19 years. Manchester Police have stated that young people who get involved with gun crime, should not expect to live beyond 24 years old;
    • Every year an estimated 70 000 school aged offenders enter the youth justice system.
    The statistics facing parents in Britain and in fact for all of us living in major cities, the figures are quite overwhelming. Philippa believes that we need to understand where this problem has come from before we can look for solutions and evidence points to the emergence of semi-organised criminal gangs, born out of acute deprivation. Over the last 10 years the gap between rich and poor has been increasing, which she feels is astounding under a Labour government.

    In the report Breakthrough Britain the identified drivers of poverty were found to be family breakdown, failed education, addiction, debt, generational unemployment. Many people involved in gang culture have come from broken families, they don't have hope of qualifications and drugs are pervasive. This leads to a sense that there is no hope through normal routes. Despite this evidence, few policies recognise the volume of damage that family breakdown can do and how it contributes to the crime currently recorded on our streets:
    • Nearly 1 in 2 co-habiting parents spilt up before their child's fifth birthday; compared with 1 in 12 married parents.
    • If you have experienced family breakdown you are 75% more likely to fail at school; 70% more likely to become a drug-user and 505 more likely to have alcohol problems.
    For decades governments have languished under the belief that there is nothing that can be done about these problems, while a generation had emerged which according to UNICEF is the unhappiest of all nations surveyed.

    Philippa does not believe that it has to be this way – reversal is possible. Some argue that a harder crackdown is required, more powers for police to lock up a greater number of young people. The way gangs work communicates that prison does not take away the desire to belong to a gang. It is important to address the causes. Leadership is needed from our political leaders, to take responsibility these issues and attending to them.

    Police and the voluntary sector need to be given the support to operate a two wave system – crackdown, followed by an "exit strategy" with support for young people, their families. Boston had a 63% reduction in crime following this model. Under key leadership, police cracked down and then worked hand in hand with voluntary sector to support growth and development of opportunities of these young people. Philippa believes that this sort of approach is needed in London, Glasgow, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and Nottingham we would begin to see a reversal of this gang culture

    ,b>Simon Marcus agreed with many of the possible solutions outlined in Philippa's talk, based on his experience of running the London Boxing Academy (LBA), which was started in 2005 to work with local schools, the police, youth offending team to help kids that are destroying their school and not getting the education they need because they need one to one care. LBA appears to be offering alternatives that these young people can access. He feels that knife crime is an incredibly complex problem, with many contributing factors – family breakdown; gangsta rap and bling culture; drugs; not enough male role models. He believes that people in poverty stand their best chance of maintaining faith in a future, if they can be shown models of people working hard, with discipline and respect for authority. It's about setting up a new cycle – leadership feeding in new ideas. He also believes that we need to prioritise families and address "father-absent" families. We have a whole generation of young boys, without male role-models. Many aren't allowed to be children – they are the alpha-male in their house from when they are 12 years old. Authority is a massive part of this problem.

    Shaun Bailey wanted to draw attention to girls and their role in gangs. He feels that what the girls need are role models - other women to inspire them, so that they do not just copy boys. Poor communities need women to survive and boy's behaviour is regulated by women. Our macho society is changing the way girls view themselves, looking at men's magazines what they say as women is encouraging men to collect women like key rings and trophies.

    He reported that when he goes to schools to talk, he speaks to the girls and tells them if a boy gets them pregnant, they will raise that child – "Boys don't raise children. Men do. And if you are pregnant at 15, 16 or 17 it was by a boy because no man would do that to you".

    He believes that it is important for successful women to connect with and communicate with girls. Crime is as much a moral decision as a financial decision. He also believes that when women accept more violence, it is an indication that the level of violence is going up in a society. Men will always be involved in violence, but when women are involved in violence, when a high level of domestic violence is accepted by women, something very wrong is happening. The repair starts with girls, because if you could get girls to accept less of men's rubbish then men would have to change because ultimately men are after a girl. Men's behaviour is affected by what he feels it is to be a man and what he feels will impress a girl!

    In Shaun's opinion, the situation in schools is the result of teachers unions connected to the government, who asked for something and now it hasn't turned out to be right. In his experience, firm clear boundaries are important, not turning the police into social workers. Policy has meant that we have become scared of our own children - the kind of policy that treats all adults like paedophiles and separates adults from children.

    Questions and comments from the floor explored liberal politics, race and the culture of blame; the failure of working class white boys to access and succeed at education and links with the value placed on education by parents; the need for media and music companies to take responsibility for the influence that they have over children and young people. The role of parents and parenting was stressed by all the speakers. Shaun noted that particular kind of kids that have been killed are called canaries on the street, they were the kids with talent who were about to do something with their lives. Philippa described an initiative called Early Intervention, a joint project to establish policies for early intervention, recognising that if we are going to turn kids lives around there has to be a cross-party approach.

    Pauline noted that it had been a stimulating discussion and thanked everyone for participating. She described going and see West Side Story the previous week which had reminded her very poignantly that the story is not dated, it is just different groups that are being swept up. She stressed that we need to change policy and hopes that we win that argument and get to change policy.

  • Tue 15 Jul 2008: Mental Health

    Notes from the forum

    The CWO Forum Panel on "Mental Health - Does the Professional Community Need Care?" took place in a Committee Room at the House of Commons on Tuesday 15th July.

    Our speakers for the evening were Shazia Ovaisi, a GP and Chairman CWO Muslim Group and Mannie Sher, Director, Group Relations Programme; Principal Consultant at the Tavistock Institute. Anne Milton MP sent her apologies as she was on the front bench considering the Health and Social Care Bill. We were fortunate to be joined by Dr Alasdair Young, who had participated in a debate on this very subject the previous week on the Radio 4 broadcast of "All in the Mind".

    Pauline Lucas, Chairman of the CWO, welcomed everyone to the evening on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending, that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect women and their families every day. Pauline noted in her opening remarks that it is generally recognised that there is a rise in severe depression amongst all professional groups. She reported the fact that last year one of the leading clinics for treatment of mental illness set up a drop-in clinic in the City of London, because they were having so many lawyers presenting with depression because of stress.

    Shazia Ovaisi addressed the group, describing some issues that affect GP's, and stressing the importance of mental health issues for doctors. She read out a personal statement from a GP, in which he reflected on his painful and debilitating experience of depression. He noted the difficulty of admitting to depression after a life as a high achiever, used to addressing other's needs and well-being ahead of his own.

    Shazia reflected that this account represents only one human story, out of hundreds all around the country.
    She cited several statistics –
    • the rate of depression amongst doctors - 28%, with GP's, Psychiatrists and Anaesthetists at the top in terms of most affected;
    • a BMA study which found that 7% of doctors will suffer from an addiction to drugs or alcohol during their working lifetime;
    • the rate of suicide for doctors is twice the national average, with female doctors having the highest risk;
    • at medical school, of those students excluded for health reasons, 50% are due to mental health issues;
    • 40% of doctors who take early retirement, do so due to mental ill health.

    Shazia believes that these figures are shocking; noting that at a time when England is celebrating 60 years of the NHS, it is ironic that an organisation which looks after the health of the nation cannot look after its own workers when it comes to their mental health. She also noted that mental health remains a hugely stigmatized and under-funded area in society. She believes there is a need to encourage a more open and transparent culture and a change in the mind set towards mental health and expressed her hope that this forum could bring together ideas, generate discussion which would allow us to put forward some suggestions to the Party and policy makers on how to improve things for the future so that people do not need to suffer in silence. The current economic crisis can only lead to additional stress for the general public and those professionals who look after them.

    Mannie Sher then addressed the group and began by explaining that he was going to consider the mental health of all professions, asking "How do we provide care for the communities of professionals?" He outlined four possible arguments that address the causation and treatment of metal health problems in the workplace:
    1. there are ordinary healthy people doing ordinary work (these people tend to be ignored and just get on with things);
    2. there are people with difficult temperaments and personalities who are drawn to particular kinds of work because of their early experiences;
    3. there are ordinarily healthy people who work in extremely hazardous jobs which affect mental health e.g. soldiers, police officers;
    4. and there are instances where ordinarily healthy people work in badly managed organisations that drive them potty.
    Mannie has found that views on the subject of mental health or ill-health are influenced by one's attitude/approach towards personality development and the causation of mental ill health – if it is believed to be primarily genetic cause, the result of family rearing, or socio-economic factors affecting a person at different points in the life cycle. Most large employers accept their responsibility to provide optimum conditions for their work forces. They do this, partly from an expression of their sense of social responsibility and partly for good business reasons, because a healthy work-force means better attainment of organisational aims. They also may wish to be considered organisations of choice.

    It is generally accepted that poor management is a source of stress – not dealing with team conflicts or inter-personal relationship issues; ignoring alleged bullying; not being clear about role and job; where employers ignore the importance of job security for individuals, their family and their communities. In his work, Mannie has seen that organisations which impose competing or contrary objectives on staff are likely to raise levels of mental ill-health. To address this, it is vital in the work place that staff are able to control what happens to them. Having good managers, investing in them and training them well can assist in managing the problems of mental ill health. Performance levels of managers are crucial in creating satisfying work condition for everyone – spotting tensions and difficulties before they grow into larger problems. Good managers help staff to manage the traumatic or potentially difficult aspects of their role – often through risk management policies.

    Organisations will usually have some form of occupational support in place, which Mannie explained would advise management on how best to manage health problems as work e.g. TRIM, a program to manage traumatic incidents that occur at work; counselling; financial advice. Psychological disorders account for a large proportion of overall sickness absence.

    Pauline noted that key issues that had been raised by both speakers, which will need to be addressed if we want to alter the mind-set around how these issues, can be addressed.

    There were many comments and questions from the floor including the issue of management training amongst professionals; anxieties raised by the need for professional registration – fitness to practice – and levels of confidentiality if issues are raised with managers. The work of The Sick Doctors Trust was mentioned, an organisation which draws attention to the plight of doctors, principally those with addictions. The particular problems that women face in coping with being a mother and managing childcare etc alongside all the professional stress was raised as an important issue. Shazia shared an experience from her training, remembering when she started medical school that the things that they were exposed to at such a young age were so profound, compared with what the general public experiences perhaps with the exception of the armed forces. She remembered thinking – "I can't talk about this I have to just get on with it".

    In wondering what an incoming Conservative government could do to address these issues, it was noted that top-down management is a huge problem - there needs to more genuine engagement with any profession which would lead to a better service and a more efficient service. The iniquities of a target culture and top-down management need to be challenged. The culture of measuring, only accepting that what can be measured is real, requires a political counter-move to bring about real change.

    Pauline ended the Forum, by thanking everyone who had contributed to the discussion and noted that what has emerged is a strong belief that the Conservative Party can affect change, as we try to address these issues and promote better practices across the country.

    1. The Sick Doctors Trust
      The Sick Doctors Trust is a wholly independent and confidential organisation, established in 1996,
      which offers support and help to doctors and medical students suffering any degree of dependence on
      drugs or alcohol.
      Email: Tel: 0870 444 5163

    2. Mednet
      MedNet is a Confidential Counselling service for doctors by doctors funded by the London Deanery at Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust and at The Maudsley Hospital.

      KSS and London Deanery Tel: 02089382411
      Tavistock Centre, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA
      Tel: 020 8938 2411 Fax: 020 7447 3745

    3. Doctors Support Network
      Email: Address: PO Box 360, Stevenage, SG1 9AS Tel: 0870 321 0 642
      4. The Tavistock Institute
      30 Tabernacle Street, London EC2A 4UE
      Tel: 0207 457 0407
      Mannie Sher: Website:

  • Sat 23 Feb 2008: Women and Taxation

    Notes from the Forum

    The CWO Forum Panel on "Women and Taxation" took place in Committee Room 7 at the House of Commons on Tuesday 19th February.

    Our expected speaker, Mr Philip Hammond MP (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury), sent his apologies as he was predictably busy in the House opposing the one-day nationalisation of Northern Rock - the Banking (Special Provisions) Bill.

    Instead, we were extremely grateful to Justine Greening MP (Shadow Minister for the Treasury) for being able to replace him at the last minute.

    Also speaking was Farzana Baduel. Farzana is the Founder & Managing Director of two businesses, taxClaim Accountants & Business Advisors & Wimpole Property Holdings. She is also on the committee for Young Directors Forum at the IOD, and works as Deputy Chairman for Conservative Business Relations (London).

    Fiona Hodsgon, Chairman of the CWO, opened the Forum and welcomed the speakers. In her opening remarks, Fiona stressed the continuing pay gap between women and men. On average women receive 17% less pay than men in full time jobs and 36% less in part time jobs - which is particularly relevant to women after they have had children.

    JustineJustine addressed the group and stressed how complicated the current tax system was, with special reference to the Tax Credit system and how many people think of Tax Credits as "free money" and did not realise it was their own money.

    Justine also highlighted some examples of her own constituents that had trusted the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) to calculate their benefits correctly but were in reality being overpaid, the sum of which was then demanded the next year - and sums sometimes running into the thousands of pounds. This meant that the Tax Credit system was not helping the people that needed it most.

    Justine also spoke of the need for both Efficiency and Equity within the tax system, which was not happening under a Labour administration, and how Gordon Brown is creating a benefits dependency state. Justine also re-iterated the social imbalance of financially penalising couples who want to get married - something that would be corrected under a Conservative Government, where there would be benefits for couples to stay together.

    FarzanaFarzana then addressed the group and began by telling us that even as a taxation specialist, she only recently discovered that parents were eligible for a Child Voucher Scheme, thereby stressing the number of benefits that are not taken up by people because they are so poorly publicised by the Government.

    Farzana also highlighted the complications of the current tax system which is open to errors and fraud as checks and balances are not in place at most levels.

    Questions from the floor included inheritance tax, pension contributions and the return on investment on degrees.

    Justine stressed the Conservatives position on raising the level where Inheritance Tax will apply. She went on to say that it was impossible to tell from current NI contributions how much your state pension was worth and that it would be beneficial to send everyone a contributions statement each year.

    As more women than men go to university, Farzana said there was a need for a better return on investment from degrees. Justine agreed that the level of debt that students are finding themselves is making it impossible for graduates to consider buying a house until their student debt is repaid in the early 30s. This also raised the question of when students can afford to start saving for a pension.

    It was widely agreed that the Government was creating a Debt Mindset amongst the young. A questioner asked whether it would be worth educating Secondary School students on better financial planning, something that was agreed would be useful but difficult to implement.


    If you are interested in Universities, tuition fees and the debt surrounding students, please join us at our next CWO Forum: Universities - a good investment? on Tuesday 18th March. See the CWO Diary for the latest up to date information about when and where, or email Elaine Hall for more information.
  • Wed 30 Jan 2008: Iraq & Afghanistan...and those left behind

    Also see: Forum Photo Gallery

    The CWO Forum Panel on "Iraq and Afghanistan…..and those left behind" took place in Committee Room 6 at the House of Commons on Wednesday 23rd January.

    Dr. Liam Fox, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence started the session by talking about the overstretch in the British military forces at the present time due to the relatively low levels of defence spending.. He said that the army was at its smallest since 1851 and that there were more aircraft in Hendon Museum now than in the RAF. He went on to talk about how, conversely, Russia was spending more on defence expansion. He stressed his concern that the media was not reporting the situation of our military accurately.

    Dr. Fox then spoke about some of the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and also about the unstable situations in Pakistan and Iran.

    The PPC for Oxford, Nicola Blackwood, told the forum about her experiences visiting Dalton Barracks in her constituency. She told the Forum that some of the living conditions there were appalling and how the families felt very isolated from the local community. She talked about how she and some of the other local leaders have been trying to address this.

    Cllr. Pauline Hazell was the last speaker on the panel and she talked about her work with SAAFA (Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen Families Association) in Colchester. Colchester has a big army garrison. She talked about the difficulties for families with the long periods of separation that they had to endure and how difficult some of the soldiers found talking about the experiences they had had in action, which in turn led to marital problems.. She also talked about how she works with the Army Welfare Officer to try and help with the families when the soldiers are away.

    The discussion which followed which centred on how army families could be better helped and supported.
  • Thu 28 Jun 2007: Cyber Bullying
    CWO Guest speakers:
    Louise Burfitt-Dons - Act Against Bullying
    Niki Molnar – IT/Internet Consultant
    Tim Loughton MP - Member for Shoreham & East Worthing, Shadow Minister for Children
    In the Chair- Lady Hodgson - Chairman CWO

    Chair's Welcome
    Fiona Hodgson opened the panel session with a brief explanation of the all pervasive nature of the internet, the rise of personal space websites, the availability of mobile phones, personal security and other related issues.

    Louise Burfitt-Dons (Act Against Bullying)

    Louise thanked the CWO for organising the event and keeping the issue of bullying of all forms at the top of the agenda.

    Statistics and specifics on bullying:
    • Long term psychological damage to people worldwide

    • Victims sometimes taking their own lives

    • Suicide rate of bullied young people at 25 plus per year

    • In Japan – 5 children committed suicide in 4 days related to bulling

    • Columbine shootings – related to bullying, also possibly Virginia Tech

    • Wilfully repeated harm through text messaging

    • Humiliation games
    Main reasons:
    • Disinhibition factor – no body language, easier to send hate mail

    • Power of the internet – easy to lay false information trails, power shift from traditional to cyber

    • Information – accessible and huge, suicide sites etc

    • Not enough education re what's possible on the internet ie seemingly innocent photography etc can be used on unsavoury websites

    • Big brother syndrome – instant photography, camera phones, photoshop software, fame in minutes, misrepresentation

    • Cyber bullies can be obsessional and get kick out of watching others react as much as physical bullies. Accessible and global medium.
    What to do?
    • Strategies for young people and parents on issues, information, possibilities,
    • back up by software/computer/mobile phone companies.

    • Communication between children/parents/schools
    Niki Molnar

    Has been involved with IT and the Internet since 1991.
    Hints and tips will be placed on the CWO website

    She gave an example of a young overweight Canadian boy of 14 years of age who video taped himself at school imitating the martial art moves of the Star Wars character, Darth Maul. Unfortunately, he left the the video in the camera. The tape was found by a classmate, digitised and uploaded onto the Internet causing the young boy to be humiliated. 900 Million Internet users have viewed this footage. The boy is receiving treatment for depression and his experience caused him to drop out of school.

    Main issues currently:
    • Rise of user generated content – content generated by anyone connected to the internet

    • Rise in cameras and compact cameras

    • founded 2005 and other similar sites – MySpace, Facebook, Beebo etc.

    • Personal site space involves supposedly hilarious movie clips, photos and items of groups of friends prepared to lose all dignity

    • Uploaded videos and imagines: issues over ownership. VERY grey area if you did not record the images personally

    • if a photograph is taken of a person whilst they are 'in the public domain' then that photograph belongs to the person who has taken the photograph. They hold the copyright and can do any thing with that photograph they choose

    • U tube hosted on US servers, no jurisdiction from here

    • Issues over removal of information if images not owned

    • Terms and conditions need clarification/legal guidelines

    • Advice to be careful, think before uploading personal photographs and information
    Tim Loughton MP

    DfES report on bullying: 50% of school pupils reported bullying of some kind.

    NCH report:
    • 20% digital bullying

    • 14% text message bullying

    • 5% bullied in chat rooms

    • 4% bullied via email

    • 75% knew the perpetrator

    • Less than 25% reported this to parents, even less to teaching staff

    • Childhood Review will include Corporate social responsibility for children, which is his remit for the Review

    • Mobile phone companies had started to take this on board following reporting of phone bullying and happy slapping.

    • Conservatives have been meeting with the main providers.

    • O2 being quite progressive – issuing leaflets on bullying and other issues

    • All companies automatically disabling access to adult content if sold to an under 18
    What to do nationally?
    • Government to be clearer on education programmes

    • Anti bullying programmes

    • Teaching adults how cyber bullying works

    • Filters to disable adult content as standard

    • BBFC – more responsible categorising and classification of video games

    • Education and responsibility for parents

    • Information to be accessible and available

    • In school – system of peer mediators

    • Home/school contracts
    Personal Tips:
    • Buy safety software and filters

    • Ask school IT department what PC controlling software they use - you may be able to get a free or discounted copy for home use

    • Discuss online safety and ground rules

    • Be selective with online interaction

    • Pay attention to emails before opening

    • Family sited computers not in bedrooms

    • Never meet in person without huge safeguards

    • Review mobile phone features

    • Know how and where to report abuse

    • Don't trade personal information for freebies

    • Check safeguards on external computers and friends computers

    • Safe online names

    • Sit down regularly with children online

    • Wise up as parents – ignorance of the technology no longer an excuse

    • Internet is its own regulator

    • Biggest servers outside of jurisdiction

    • Google/Yahoo becoming more responsible

    • Make it an offence to access a site that gives rise to violence or crime

    • Pressure on ISPs to clean up their customers

    • Purchasers of porn to be denied credit cards if car companies worked together

    • Parents to take more responsibility

    • Raising of children's self esteem in other ways offline

    Discussion and comment from the floor:
    • Phones should be simpler
    • More training and guidance for parents with schools

    • Alerting children to it not being a 2D world/ restricting access and time

    • Schools to have stricter mobile phone policies

    • Relationships between parents and children / current disconnect surrounding technology

    • Peer pressure / interplay between groups

    • Group/pack behaviour – encouraging children not to become part of the pack

    • One to one discussions

    • Girls more likely to text bully 73% receive, 10% admit to sending

    • Cyber bullying not seen as school related by teachers

    • Lack of body language and messages

    • Teaching responsibility/politeness/courtesy online/phone as equal to real life

    • Bullies often already know shame and humiliation, so punishment doesn't always work

    • Licensing of Google and similar sites to ensure accountability

    • Ring fenced site – limited site access with no immediate access to whole web

  • Tue 22 May 2007: Environment Forum Report

    Notes from the recent CWO Environment Forum

    Founder of "Cool Earth"
    Deputy Treasurer of the Party
    Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries
    Councillor, Essex County Council

    Johan Eliasch:
    Deputy Treasurer of the Party (since 2003) and involvement in foreign policy and foreign relations. Became interested in the environment through State visits and negotiating Trade agreements. Politicians are busy talking about the environment but no-one is doing much. The Kyoto Protocol issues are only really taken seriously by Japan and Iraq. Loves trees, and as Chairman and CEO of 'HEAD' which is dependent on the winter climate, his interest in climate change has increased

    The biggest contributor to the rising levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

    Five billion tonnes of emission caused by change of land use; 18% of global annual emissions of CO2 from the Amazon.

    The 'Greenhouse effect' has caused rising of temperatures and rising sea levels; some of the biggest effects have been at the Poles where the temperature has risen in excess of 15°C. The Gulf Stream may stop lead to be colder weather in Britain. Flooding of Bangladesh and southern China will mean 300 million people will lose their land, country and homes.

    Deforestation is caused primarily by poor people cutting down trees to feed, clothe and provide accommodation for their families; there are no other options for them to earn a living. Cutting down the trees destroys the topsoil and leads to extremely poor farming conditions. Johan has bought 400,000 acres of Amazon rainforest and created a community based farming model where trees are more valuable to local people left standing; the land is worked, sustainably, free of charges. In return the community protect the trees - protecting their livelihoods. In 2006 there was hardly any illegal logging – just 4 trees in 50,000 hectares. The Amazon Project inspired the creation of Cool Earth:

    Cool Earth promotes awareness of the problems and destruction that deforestation is causing. As at October 2006, there are 3,000 globally registered members. Stopping deforestation is the easiest way to reduce emissions and therefore positively affect climate change; 20 years can be gained by avoiding deforestation.

    Questions and Comments from the floor:

    Q: The people on the land are working which means the land is safe, but do they realise that this project is long term, and does it hold back their development?

    Johan: The people are poor and desperate to feed their families. This way of working becomes part of their livelihood therefore protecting themselves and the land. Creating an infrastructure with local communities means not having to use guards to protect the land. Carbon credits are needed to make standing trees more valuable, creating a knock on effect for financial resources to eliminate poverty through education and development.

    Q: What is your opinion on carbon offsetting for the rest of the world?

    Johan: Each organisation and even individual people with the means should try and offset their own carbon footprint each year. There are voluntary schemes or clean development mechanisms which can help to do this. However, there are flaws in the system and more schemes need to be included in the offset. The frameworks have not been developed into legislation.

    Q: India has accused the West of having done the damage and now they want to hold back the developing world, are there any discussions at government level and lobbying to get these schemes promoted?

    Johan: I have had lots of contact with the government; the UK accepts the need to do something but there is much ignorance in the USA about the issue. Germany and some other European countries have a good understanding and are making efforts. Brazil's attitude is somewhat ambivalent partly because of the dichotomy between conservation and economic development and, perhaps also because there is stigma attached to the idea of being paid to police bad behaviour.

    Q: What can be done about reforestation – planting trees back into areas that have been destroyed – including in Western countries?

    Johan: 200,000 trees have been reforested in my area, some areas that have been lost can be regained but there are problems caused by the open areas in the canopy, damaging the soil by too much sunlight. It is important to reforest wherever possible but there are fewer immediate, positive effects. The most important thing to do is to avoid deforestation in the first place as carbon emissions can stay in the atmosphere for 400 years and more. To some extent India is right to accuse the West, however India has benefited from trade agreements. There are many arguments about how much offset there should be for each country, for example China and the use of clean technology.

    Bill Wiggin MP:

    When we met Al Gore he said that the most important thing to be done politically is to get the third Kyoto round started as early as possible. The USA has now become more active at state level demonstrating that they are beginning to wake up to the environmental agenda.

    Bill has written a book 'A Better Agenda for the Environment' laying out an agenda for politics and the environment; it is an umbrella for everyone detailing various policy areas such as transport and waste etc.

    Sadly Carbon emissions have actually gone up under the Labour government.

    Left wing answers have failed. The biggest driver in communities is innovation to provide better, cleaner, greener solutions. Hydrogen could be used as a road fuel as one can generate it from renewable energy and it then provides zero emission transport.

    Innovation in communities ticks many boxes and allows people to do the right thing without feeling bullied or pressurised. Realistic goals and targets mean a genuine way to deliver benefits and improvements to the whole community.

    A Parliamentary question was submitted by Bill asking all the government departments, 'how many use recycled tyres on their department vehicles?' only two tyres on a trailer in the Foreign Office were recycled!
    Interestingly DEFRA was found to be the worst department for leaving lights on unnecessarily.

    Conservative Policy Review Process: Quality of Life
    About 200 experts are being consulted on policy providing a menu of ideas for the Front Bench. Tapping into a pool of expertise and testing policies with the media and public in advance. We also have a clear message for local elections, being 'Vote Blue, Go Green'. Conservative councils are to be 'cleaner, greener, cheaper, safer'. Councils are winning the 'hearts and minds' of groups which may not traditionally have voted Conservative.

    Nevertheless, in terms of climate change it is important to stay in context, the UK are only 2% of the problem, and as much as 15% if we include the impact we can have through city investments. The UK can have impact on the rest of the world through innovation, but there are hurdles to the individuals' ability to do the right thing. These hurdles include planning permission for solar panels and windmills and some LPG cars faced with the congestion charges. The government needs to cut the red tape and bureaucracy and lead by example proving it is easier to do the right thing.

    Questions and Comments from the floor:

    Q: What are your views on the local measures that are being introduced i.e. waste collections fortnightly, spies in rubbish bins?

    Bill: I am completely opposed to the idea of this type of bullying, it is much better to promote the positive side of recycling. For example a decrease in council tax because of recycling would provide a recycled asset as well as a positive image and a direct benefit to the individual. If people see waste being mixed up in the same lorry it gives the most negative image.
    The fortnightly collections do make it easier as one week there is a collection for food waste and the next week for recyclable rubbish. Swindon is an excellent example, their lorries are second hand, they have dividers for each kind of waste, and will use bio-fuel in the future.

    Q: What about nuclear power for the future and for waste management?

    Bill: It is the government's responsibility to prepare the framework but not to choose the technology used; solutions should be provided by industry. I personally like renewable energy such as wind, solar and tidal power. The government should not pick winners but they should lay out what we need, such as low cost, secure low carbon energy generation. Then it is up to the suppliers to fulfil the criteria. Energy has to be regulated to meet surges in demand. Gas fired stations can be controlled but wind cannot. Hydrogen could be generated at night as a way of storing energy. We must keep innovating and creating markets here, or else the earth will be over the tipping point at which it cannot repair the damage done.

    Q: The recycling of batteries in the UK compared to Europe.

    Bill: Not surprisingly I do not like more regulations, however we can do a far better job at collecting batteries and other electronic and electrical waste. The Government has a lousy record. Remember the Fridge mountains, where we collected old fridges and then found we had no machine to recycle them? There are other European directives signed up to and then once the headlines have been published – forgotten. This is why people lose faith in the Government to do the right thing, even little details like collecting batteries help. As a party we all need to be setting an example and doing our best to support recycling whenever possible.

    C Cllr Kay Twitchen, OBE
    I became a grandmother for the first time a few days ago, and one of my environmentalist colleagues said to me 'The birth of a baby in a family reminds us why we do what we do'. We are setting the scene for future generations and the environment has to be at the forefront of this. The environmental issues are currently a very hot topic and they will continue to be so. I would encourage women aspiring to be candidates to understand environmental issues, and in particular gain some specialist knowledge.

    Policy Review Commissioners
    10 Commissioners pulling together sound, scientific based ideas on a wide range of policy areas which will be presented to the Front Bench for their consideration.

    Local Actions
    18% of damage in the environment may be caused by deforestation (referring to a previous speaker) but it is important to address what the individual can do about the other 72%. Small actions by individuals and communities do have an impact, for example saving water and using low energy light bulbs.

    1. Sustainable Development
    There are proposals from the Government for huge amounts of developments in the South East, but very little talk about the environmental infrastructure for sewage, water, flood risk management or waste management. If we do not include environmental infrastructure in our approach to planning, we will be building the slums of the future. The Environmental Agency has estimated that the real cost of environmental infrastructure in the South East is £20,000 per new home.

    2. Waste Management
    My passion. A fascinating subject because it involves economics, protection of the environment, politics and human behaviour. There is no such place as away. Local Authorities are having to meet the challenge of diverting household waste away from landfill and encourage people to change their behaviour by producing less waste. There is no one ideal collection procedure – each Local Authority has to design the system which best suits their area.

    3. Resource Conservation
    Apart from conserving the earth's resources, recycling is a huge energy saver because by and by less energy is used to manufacture something from recycled material than from virgin materials – the best being aluminium, where the energy saving is 95%. There has to be a global market for recyclables because we manufacture so little in Europe, whereas China and the Far East are hungry for raw materials.

    Questions and Comments from the floor:

    Q: What are your views on the local measures that are being introduced i.e. waste collections fortnightly, spies in rubbish bins?

    Kay: I think the recent publicity is very unfortunate and certainly makes me very uncomfortable. But the fact is Local Authorities do need to encourage people to change their behaviour. I think this is best done by education and by providing recycling services which are good and easy to use. The two weekly waste collection system does generate more recycling and less waste, but it is not appropriate in all areas. I think a conservative view would be that we can change behaviour by offering incentives to people rather than penalising them.

    Q: What about an increase of benefits to Councils who take a long term view on carbon footprints of Boroughs? We need to reduce lighting and what about swapping VAT onto new builds?

    Kay: In Essex a number of Local Authorities are experimenting with reducing their carbon footprint by turning off street lights in some roads between and This saves energy and also avoids unnecessary light pollution. Sometimes these changes can be difficult to achieve, but I would always encourage other Councils to be courageous in their environmental goals.

    Q: What about nuclear power for the future and for waste management?

    Kay: We should be aware of the lack of security of the supply of energy in the UK. We import much of our electricity from France's nuclear power station and that makes us vulnerable. The UK needs to be more localised in energy creation and develop energy sources where they are needed, 'micro generation'.

    Q: The recycling of batteries in the UK compared with Europe.

    Kay: There is not much capacity in the UK to recycle batteries but later this year a new EU directive will come into force and the picture will change.

    See Also: 'A Better Agenda for the Environment' by Bill Wiggin MP

  • Wed 7 Mar 2007: Vision for the G8

    Report on the Panel Session with with His Excellency Wolfgang Ischinger and the Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford

    "Vision for the G8 and EU-Transatlantic Relations"

    HIS EXCELLENCY WOLFGANG ISCHINGER – The German Ambassador to the UK
    & RT HON LORD HOWELL OF GUILDFORD - Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Spokesman for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

    • German and UK Relations
    • European Union
    • Climate Change
    • CO2 Emissions
    • Energy Charter
    • Referred to being made aware of possible negative press upon his arrival to UK ie: Holocaust, WW2, and Hitler. After 11 months found that, there was no problem.
    • Listed 3 possible reasons for the warmth of his reception including:
         1. Germany performing better economically with growth up to par
         2. The change in Government with Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel
         having a positive effect
         3. The football world championship in Germany
    • Stressed Germany's desire for a strong and united EU and pointed that Germany has 9 close neighbours who throughout history had either invaded these neighbouring countries or had in turn been invaded by them. As Germany is perceived as a strong country and there are 82 million Germans compared to 50 million French and 8 million Dutch, it is an important challenge for Germany is how to make their neighbouring countries feel comfortable. It is therefore important to work out differences in the European Council to make sure that the smaller neighbours don't feel dominated.
    • European Summit, of which the UK is a leading member, had special significance. Germany and the UK are trying to be a leading force in tackling climate change and environmental CO2 emissions. Recognition was made to David Cameron and the Conservative active debate as to how CO2 emissions can be reduced and how the German Government can work to achieve desired result. Also felt that it was important to get the other countries to recognise the importance of this issue.
    • Recognised that there had been fluctuations in the relationship with Germany, starting with a low period post war but the last few years have been a good period.
    • The argument over whether Europe could be a counterweight to the power of the USA has made the UK feel torn at times. He stated that superblocks and powers do not necessarily fit in to the grand scheme today, 'big not necessarily being beautiful'.
    • There has been a shift of power because of the microchip to China, India, Korea. The cutting edge is technological power. There has been a resurgence in Russia and other countries like Brazil coming forward. There is a totally different world with a miniaturization of weaponry and power in Asia being dispersed into millions of computers.
    • The Middle East is riven into groups. Big power blocks no longer make sense. The US no longer has the power it once had and can no longer impose its template.
    • What is the Europe that we want?' We are good Europeans but not totally committed to ever closer integration. The UK wants to be a good neighbour with lots of European friends we want to work closely with.
    • UK interested in the broader issues of world stability – Middle East/Iran/Central Asia/ lift Africa out of poverty. This different agenda can be fulfilled through a global network system which ties countries together. In London we have a ready made network to take us into all the leading IT Nations in the world with the Commonwealth of which India especially has colossal opportunities. Feels the Eurocentric view may be out of date. China is well ahead with energy technology and may be able to give us advice.
    Questions & Comments from the Floor

    Tanya Brisby: What progress is Germany making with Russia?

    Sorry to say that Russia says No to the European Energy Charter, as does Norway.
    We are trying to work on Russia/Europe Agreement and incorporate energy into that but unresolved issues are blocking it at the moment. European Union believes that with regards energy and transportation issues, it is important to make Russia feel as Western a country as possible as in the distant future the UK may be energy dependent with Russia perhaps being one of the suppliers. Germany wants to make a strong and stable relationship with Russia as the Germans feel insecure, possibly due the historical and geographical reasons.

    spoke of the West being too dependent on fossil fuels. "We need to look for energy security as the mix is not right now". Russian gas is important to the UK as a net gas importer, with the whole EU being at least 30-40 percent on Russian supplies, of which we need a share. Russia also has energy customers in the East and Western Europe are requiring a much greater percentage that that of the UK. Many countries are dependent on Russian gas and Russia has a lesser need to export to the UK than we do to have its import. It is an uncomfortable situation. We need to diversify to such as Norway and have a more balanced energy mix from imports. The pipe links to Russia were even now 'proving tricky.' The question of Carbon Emission Control Schemes was then referred to, as was the CBI's concern over rising energy costs. He concluded by saying that climate and energy security principles are immensely complicated and recommended the book "The Energy Labyrinth".

    Gabrielle Howartson: What is future of the European Union?

    We need to reform the EU. It is now much bigger with 27 countries. 20 out of the 27 countries have agreed to maintain the current situation in the EU but it will need to be reworked and reformed. But he recognises that the idea of a new Constitution with the need for a referendum is a non-starter. However, he feels that the present situation where there are 6 month changes of presidency is not a good way of handling/running today's Europe with 500 million people. There are many more people at the EU table now and it is more difficulty in communication than when it was smaller.

    The EU Constitution is a difficult concept for the UK but the EU needs a makeover as it was designed for a different age. It will be even more different with the Turks and Croats. Possibly it should be redesigned on a more flexible basis.

    A former Parliamentary Candidate: What do Germans think of the Special Relationship between Blair and Bush and the UK and the USA?

    We do not underestimate the strength of the UK/USA Special Relationship and consider that the EU is blessed with the UK Membership because of the ability of the UK to act as a Bridge Builder between Europe and the USA.

    UK values the relationship with USA but should not necessarily follow them blindly. Blair and Bush have been pulled down by the whole Iraq conflict. He pointed out that Harold Wilson was amicable to the US but didn't get involved in the Vietnam Conflict. There may be a realignment in the relationship when Blair steps down. He pointed out that the British learned at Suez that you cannot package democracy and impose it by force.

  • Wed 24 Jan 2007: International Development

    Report on the Panel Session with Andrew Mitchell MP and Baroness Rawlings

    Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

    International development is increasingly central to British and international politics. 100million children do not attend school, 1billion people live on less than 50p per day, and half the world’s population live on less than £1 per day.

    There are three key parts of international development:
    * Access to international trade
    * Aid
    * Conflict resolution

    1. Access to trade is vital to lifting nations out of poverty and success at the WTO talks at Doha is essential. We only have to look at the success of India and China who have been able to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through trade. A tool that has proved particularly useful to women has been micro-finance which provides small loans for business start-ups. There are many successful projects in Bangladesh and Afghanistan empowering women and giving them the means to provide for their own and their family’s needs.

    2. Aid is effective, especially in eliminating diseases. There was an Aids clinic in Namibia that was been so successful that it was no longer needed. It has closed and moved on to a new problem area. We should commit to meeting the promise of giving 0.7% of GDP by 2013. That means raising the amount of aid from around £5bn now to £15bn by 2013. There are examples of corruption so it is important to ensure that aid reaches those in need. There may be some concern amongst taxpayers as the public expenditure situation becomes more difficult in future years so it is essential that there is proper monitoring of aid. At the moment, DFID does its own monitoring, largely by ticking boxes measuring inputs. The Conservatives would like to set up an Aid Evaluation Agency, independent of Government, to keep track of the effectiveness of aid by increased monitoring of outcomes.

    3. Conflict resolution is probably the most important aspect of international development. If people are bombed out of their homes, or are caught up in violent conflict, then no amount of trade or aid will really help. We need to stop conflict before it starts, stop it if it has already started, and work towards reconciliation of the parties. It is in the interests of the developed countries as well as developing ones to help create stability. The UN is the main way to achieve conflict resolution though it needs to recognise that the nature of conflict has changed from one where disputes cross country borders to situations of conflict within a country. Britain has a capacity to train the leaders of overseas armed forces. Such training has improved the effectiveness of the forces from the African Union.

    Questions & Comments from the floor:

    Q: How can we ensure the protection of a country’s natural resources? In Senegal. Spanish fishermen are scooping up the fish and decimating the local fishing industry.

    Andrew M: It is often the Governments of a country that have agreed to allow other nations to take the stock. In Senegal it will be a deal made with the EU.

    Q: Should taxpayers money be used for development? I’m concerned when debt is just written off.

    Andrew M: In the past, aid was monitored by civil servants but now it is local government of the recipient country that monitors what is happening. We should require them to “open their books” so that UK aid goes to well run, effective projects. I’m a supporter of the idea of matched funding where good projects being run by charities and NGOs can double their effectiveness. In respect of debt forgiveness, I do not think that people should be penalised for past, corrupt, leaders but we do need proper fiscal monitoring.

    Q: How can we get the US & EU to agree to free trade?

    Andrew M: Peter Mandleson negotiates on behalf of the EU and he is constrained by the French holding position on CAP until 2010. There has been some progress made with the US on lowering tariffs and subsidies, and we will continue to press for the engagement of the UK Government.

    Q: What will the Tories do if public opinion hardens against giving aid when the economy declines?

    Andrew M: It will be important to demonstrate the effectiveness of aid programmes which is why we will set up an Aid Evaluation Agency.

    Q: Shouldn’t the African diasporas do something? What a waste of £400,000 being spent by the London Mayor on a second statue of Nelson Mandela when there are poor people dying.

    Andrew M: Many people will conclude it as an outrageous waste of money but it is the Mayor’s decision. Sending remittances overseas does help many people, in many countries. We need to look at the bank charges for processing these transfers. UK aid goes to the poorest countries whilst EU aid goes to those better off.

    Q: Should there be better tax breaks for giving?

    Andrew M: We can look at further improving the tax breaks. There are huge flows of private funds that make an enormous difference. Aid does not only come from the taxpayer.

    Q: How can we improve the monitoring in recipient countries? I know of a hospital that remains unfinished because the grant stopped being paid.

    Andrew M: The Government is obsessed with inputs instead of looking at outcomes which is more important.

    Opposition Spokesman for Foreign & Commonwealth Office; International Development

    I have always felt strongly about this topic. I’ve visited hospice and palliative care centres in South African townships, and know the DeBeers’ programme which for the past 6 years has been effective in combating AIDS. I share the scepticism of some regarding debt cancellation because there are many other developing countries that struggled hard to repay their debts. In the future countries might not feel the need to bother with repayments. There are many small scale projects that make an enormous difference to communities. For example, providing water has a big impact by releasing women and children to care for their families and attend school. It’s also very easy to monitor.

    Comments & Questions from the Floor

    Q: There are many abuses of the EU overseas aid budget. I’ve seen a chart showing that much of the promised aid to Ethiopia never arrived.

    Baroness Rawlings: The trouble lies in poor monitoring and when sums are very large it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a track of it. That’s why I support the smaller projects.

    Q: The Chinese and Indians are moving into Africa and running their own projects. If Britain did this we would be accused of colonialism. The Chinese and Indian projects also tend to be resource driven and I’m concerned that the projects are more about taking resources away from Africa than long term development.

    Q: I worry that unmonitored, resource driven aid into Africa by China & India really acts as a way of subsidising business.

    Baroness Rawlings: The Chinese are certainly in Africa in large numbers and they don’t have to worry about perceptions of colonialism. In respect of India, it receives the largest donation from the DFID aid budget. The Indians are working on projects in Africa instead of assisting the poor in their own country. All countries need to look at where they direct their aid. For example, EU countries could assist Albania. It has tremendous poverty and a tiny population. A lot could be done for comparatively little money.

    Q: Isn’t match-funding only going to mean that Governments don’t take responsibility?

    Baroness Rawlings: There needs to be balance. Smaller projects that educate women empowers them and is vital for improvement.

    Q: How can the intellectual property of developing nations be protected? For example, Brazil has many natural remedies which are being exploited by other countries.

    Baroness Rawlings: International property rights are complex and the drug companies are very powerful. It’s important not only to protect intellectual rights but land and property rights as well. A good example is the way the EU has assisted with the transition of the new, poorer members.

    Q: Is there not also a "brain drain" from poorer nations to wealthy ones?

    Baroness Rawlings: There will always be people from poorer countries migrating to richer ones for work. Freedom of movement of people enriches society and the money sent home is important.

    Suggested Further Reading

    White Man's Burden by Professor Easterly

    Liz St Clair
    24 Jan 07
  • Fri 10 Nov 2006: Local Government

    Report on the Panel Session with Caroline Spelman MP, Shadow Minister for Communities & Local Government

    • Decentralise local government - Return housing and planning decisions to local authorities
    • Re-generate inner suburbs
    • Identify genuine brownfield sites for building affordable homes
    • Create more shared ownership schemes
    • End ring-fencing of local authority funds and give discretion over how money is to be spent back to the local authority
    • Abolish Regional Assemblies
    • RDAs take the R out and make Development Agencies accountable to local authorities not central Government
    • Develop new "garden suburbs" around town & city centres

    Caroline Spelman MP

    Council Tax rises affect everyone directly. It's one of those issues that act as litmus paper in terms of public opinion. It's hurting. The rises have been enormous at 84% for the band D average – way above inflation – and it is particularly hard for people, such as pensions, on fixed incomes. Some pensioners have become so badly affected that they have been prepared to go to jail over the issue.

    There are no easy answers as to alternatives but we are looking at research by Michael Lyons which is to be published soon. We are also using Parliamentary Questions to get information about the Government's proposals and plans. For example we have discovered that householders in Northern Ireland are to be fined £1,000 if they don't allow Council inspectors into their homes and now the Government has purchased a computer system which could allow them to do this in England and Wales as well. The Government also wants to charge people higher tax if they live in nice areas. To cap it all, we found out that the man supposed to be in charge of it all, John Prescott, hadn't paid his own Council Tax bill.

    Local government finance is complex, but for most people, local government is about levels of council tax, recycling and rubbish collections, planning, communities and social cohesion. We've seen a breakdown in community cohesion. There is an increase in gang culture, gun crime, racial tensions and ethnic segregation.

    I'm an Essex girl and I can remember travelling on the train from my village into the City. First I'd see the pleasant landscape but as we approached the inner suburbs there was an increase in high density, tenement housing in run down areas. There is a 10 year difference in life expectancy between those people living in such areas and the leafy villages further out of town. We need to try to do something about it. We need to regenerate our inner suburbs.

    To make the big changes, we need to be in Government. We have been successful locally, where we fight elections every year, and on my team, we have Eric Pickles who has actually run a council. We are in the process of producing a paper on how we will devolve more power to local authorities. This contrasts with Labour's centralisation.

    Questions & Comments from the Floor

    Philippa: I'm concerned about the proposal to increase the powers of Ken Livingstone. He's pushing for too many new homes in Stretham and is not listening to the local community.
    Caroline Spelman: I think it's important to remove individual personalities from the equation and think about the structure. The powers given to the Mayor must be acceptable to voters regardless of the individual holding the Office. Often it is important to have a strong leader to drive through change. However, what we have in London is messy – the Assembly lacks the power to scrutinise the Mayor, and local authorities lose their voice. I believe we should return housing and planning decisions to local authorities. Local councillors are better placed to make local decisions.

    Richmond Councillor: Richmond is a nice place to live, but people are now building large extensions to their homes and are building on gardens.
    Caroline Spelman: Labour didn't set out to do this but it's a consequence of not building enough affordable housing. They have designated back gardens as brownfield sites, given brownfield sites priority for planning permission, and housing density has therefore doubled. Large, leafy gardens are usually found in the most expensive areas and when this land is developed, the new homes prove to be too expensive for the people who need them. We need to identify genuine brownfield sites and to look at building affordable homes and offer more shared ownership schemes.

    Nick: My local authority loses 10% of its funding because of ring-fencing. What can we do about this? I also don't like Regional Assemblies – they are too remote.
    Caroline Spelman: We will put a stop to ring-fencing so that local authorities can see more clearly what money they have for their area. They will be given discretion on how the money should be spent.

    We will abolish regional assemblies. They are unelected and where voters have been asked if they'd like elected ones, the proposal has been rejected by 80%. Regional Development Agencies on the other hand have been more successful and where local business and residents want them we will keep them in place. However, we would take the R out of it so they become Development Agencies, accountable to their local authority and not to central Government.

    Fiona: Should the congestion charge be extended?
    Caroline Spelman: Other cities besides London are now looking at congestion charging. The trouble with it is that it penalises people who cannot afford to pay it. In London it has gone up from £5 to £8 overnight – another rise above the rate of inflation. There has been a big impact on retail businesses and now London's tubes are overcrowded. It's a crude method of taxing people who have few choices.

    Liz: What can we do about the increase in gang culture and crime in our communities?
    Caroline Spelman: The best way to police our streets is to have people using the streets. We now have a situation where people either stay indoors or, where they can, they leave. We need to redevelop areas to bring more people back in. We need to pay attention to the way we design our cities and ensure there is the right infrastructure eg enough doctors' surgeries, schools and sports centres. Most cities have a thriving centre which quickly declines as we move out to the "doughnut ring" of areas of now redundant, urban manufacturing. These areas need to be regenerated and replaced with carefully planned, affordable homes which includes parks and gardens. A new form of "garden suburb" around town and city centres.

    Susan: Isn't the root cause of such crime the lack of stable father figures?
    Caroline Spelman: You can't pass laws to make people stay together. We do live in an era where many adults are selfish and don't want to take responsibility. We should not stigmatise the children but should teach them about relationships. There are some good pilot schemes in schools teaching year 6 pupils communication skills and how to resolve conflict

    Harriet: Do housing allocation policies encourage girls to become single mothers?
    Caroline Spelman: In most local authorities, housing priority will be given to families with children. In my area, teenage mothers are not given flats by themselves but they are offered shared accommodation with support for at least the first 18 months. We need to understand teenage pregnancy. Some girls believe having a baby is the best thing they ever did, and I know of one girl who said her own mother was more interested in her once she had the baby. Many of the teenage mothers are not interested in the "unsocialised" father – they just want their own child.

    Alice: How did you get involved in politics?
    Caroline Spelman: I saw the squalid conditions in the inner suburbs and wanted to do something about it. I had good life chances myself and attended a good grammar school and then university. I didn't join the Party there though because I found the style of politics "laddish" and off-putting to women. You need to persevere if you want to achieve in politics. It's a long path to selection and election, and we've still got some way to go in countering the macho culture.

    Zoe: How can I develop my skills?
    Caroline Spelman: Getting involved locally and becoming a local councillor is excellent training. Also, as a teacher, you are able to speak from real experience which is invaluable.

    Suggested Further Reading
    • The Road to Wigan Pier – George Orwell
    • Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – John Gray
    • Labour's Garden Grab Campaign (Conservative Website)
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  • Tue 31 Oct 2006: Health

    Report on the Panel Session with Andrew Lansley CBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health

    The NHS is the number one priority for us, and for the general public. It's not just about the amount of money spent in the NHS but how that money is spent. We now face a situation where patients are being forced to pay for health services they expected to be there for them. To get the most from the money, there needs to be more competition and choice – from GP surgery to the hospital. Government must do its job and allow health professionals to do theirs. Patients need information and consultation as well as clean hospitals and good treatment. We should develop a relationship where "the patient will see you now, doctor". We should have:
    • More competition to drive up service improvements

    • An independent regulatory structure

    • An equitable allocation of provision across the country – local priorities but equal opportunities

    • A structure of choice and commissioning of services

    The debate is not just about the National Health Service but the general health of the people in the nation. This means taking account of levels of deprivation, poor housing, environment, smoking, diet and exercise. It is not only Government's responsibility but up to individuals as well.

    QUESTIONS & VIEWS FROM THE FLOOR (Answers from Andrew Lansley MP)

    Q: Why is it so difficult to get a home visit from my own GP out of hours?
    A: Labour abolished GP out of hours responsibility entirely in the new GP contracts. There is little incentive for GPs to provide Out-of-Hours care and the current out of hours service costs twice as much as before.

    Q: How would an independent NHS regulator work?
    A: The NHS is both a commissioning and providing body. The independent regulator would be responsible for commissioning of:
    • GPs - accountable to their patients

    • PCTs - accountable to Local Authorities

    • Service planning

    • Appeals process

    We would also need to ensure patients, as consumers, have a voice through 'HealthWatch' because at the moment they are not involved.

    Q: The NHS is overrun by waste. What do you think about managers having a clinical background?
    A: I'm in favour of managers having a clinical background. It gives them authority to get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy. Since 1997 it is good to see 33,000 more doctors and 83,000 more nurses, but there has also been an increase of 107,000 administrators. Currently, there are too many committees and not enough responsibility. We need to strip out the bureaucracy and put senior medical staff in charge from the ward level to the whole hospital.

    Q: What can we do about medical tourism soaking up NHS resources?
    A: According to a recent report in the Sunday Telegraph, there is a large proportion of overseas patient who should be paying for treatment but they don't get billed. It is not the job of doctors and nurses to check eligibility for free treatment but administrators could.

    Q: I'm a London GP and I spend hours each day, filling in forms. We have 3 factions at war – primary care, secondary care and patients. There is a merry-go-round of GP referral to hospital for tests and the patient being referred back to the GP to refer for more tests because it is then the GPs who pay. Also, how do we persuade individuals to take more responsibility for their own health?
    A: The family doctor service is an essential priority for the NHS because GPs are in constant contact with patients. Not only are they excellent at making clinical decisions, they were also extremely successful in directing patients to appropriate hospitals and managing their budgets under the Conservative Fundholding system. Now, Labour is trying to stop GPs making referrals to hospitals. London hospitals have been told that a GP referral is not authority to treat the patient. We've also seen a fall in the numbers of health visitors and community midwives. The whole situation is condemnation of political interference. The system is over-controlled and distorted.

    Q: We need more of an internal market. Health services should not be completely provided by the State and we should have a positive attitude to the private sector.
    A: We need a system that includes private provision and some competition especially if the private sector can provide operations more cheaply. There is a good example with home dialysis which is being delivered in the community but is actually contracted to the hospital.

    Q: I'm very worried about the long-term debts arising from PFIs and the lack of operational flexibility the schemes.
    A: Unfortunately, a Conservative Government would not be able to cancel PFI contracts although there may be some scope, in some cases, for full or partial buy-outs.

    Q: Clinical experience is important for managers but they need management training.
    A: Agreed. It may be that we could look at some sort of staff college or leadership courses for NHS staff. At the moment there are some anomalies when people undergo new training – because of the Working Time Directive, some individuals are hit by significant cuts in salary when they change from one training position to another.

    Q: What can we do about the situation in rural areas where I know of one patient who is being treated in 3 different hospitals for his different illnesses?
    A: It is GPs who decides on the best place for treatment and they will usually want to select the lead specialist.

    Q: I'm concerned about school health services. Why are children no longer weighed by school nurses, and why are vaccinations against TB no longer given – especially as TB seems to be on the rise?
    A: We are seeing an increase in TB which is being imported from overseas. Unfortunately, these are new strains of the disease so the traditional school vaccines are not effective. There is a need to focus special effort in particular areas of the country. By the way, children are weighed in schools – but the school is not allowed to give the result the parents!

    Suggested Further Reading:
    • House of Commons Hansard, 11 Oct 06 (Health debate)
    • House of Commons Hansard, 23 April 04 (Working Time Directive debate)
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  • Wed 28 Jun 2006: Education & Inspection Bill

    Panel Session - Education & Inspection Bill

    Add your own view on our Blog

    Last night the Shadow Ministers for Education, Nick Gibb MP, and Vocational Education, John Hayes MP, joined the CWO Forum Panel Session to discuss the Education & Inspection Bill. The Panel is part of a series enabling women with an interest in politics, or a particular issue, to talk directly to the Conservative Frontbench in Parliament responsible for the Bills.

    Nick Gibb MP said that whilst the Conservative Party was generally supportive of the Bill there were still issues of concern which will be raised in Committee. He said “There has been an obsession with the structure of the education system which has led to a huge waste of human potential.”

    He highlighted the widening gap in standards between independent schools and State schools with standards in State schools slipping further and further down the scale, and blamed much of the slippage to the attachment to the old ideologies, for example, hanging on to mixed ability classes when it has become clear that “setting” by ability brings better results. .

    Nick Gibb said “There is a need for a simplified curriculum. For example, for a subject as obvious as teaching a child to read, progress is measured against about 12 different strands such as listening and drama. The Conservatives want the curriculum guidelines focus on reading outcomes and allow teachers to use their skill and judgement in attaining those outcomes.”

    John Hayes MP joined the debate saying “Many schools are just coasting or worse, and they are not adding value – even some schools in so-called ‘good’ areas. We need factual information that has not been falsified in order to see what works and what isn’t so good. Of course, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue adding value and we need to recognise that there will be different levels of added value at different stages. There should be no distortion of the data and anyone found doing so should be sacked.

    Every culture in history reveres its educators. I think we should too. Educators are important to our lives and civilisation. We need to highlight and praise their successes.”

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  • Thu 18 May 2006: Violent Crime Bill

    Panel Session - Violent Crime Bill

    Add your own view on our Blog

    The Baroness Anelay of St. Johns, DBE, the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs in the House of Lords, hosted the Conservative Women’s Forum Panel Session on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill in the House of Lords on 15th May. Also on the panel were Edward Garnier QC MP, the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs in the House of Commons and Oliver Sells, a top criminal QC.

    The Panel is part of a series enabling women with an interest in politics, or a particular issue, to come and listen Conservative Frontbench spokespeople talking about the Bills that they are taking through Parliament and then to have the chance to discuss the issues.

    Edward Garnier explained that the Bill dealt with alcohol related crime and also about weapons. It raises the age from 17 to 18 to buy or hire an airgun, and also deals with imitation firearms. He said that he felt that the Bill was a headline grabber rather than something that would be effective at reducing crime.

    Baroness Anelay then talked about some of the ‘small print’ in the bill – the fact that there had to be allowances so that people could continue to take part in paintballing activities and also airsoft, which re-enacts fights and in which 10,000 people take part today. Baroness Anelay told us that she had tabled an amendment to make provision in the bill to deal with ‘happy slapping’, the process of taking pictures on mobile phones of people in distress and showing them to others for amusement.

    Oliver Sells then told the panel that in his opinion all the Government provisions in the Bill could be dealt with by existing legislation although he supported the Tory proposals for new offences.

    The meeting, which was well attended, then had a discussion about crime in Britain today and its causes. There was concern expressed at the binge drinking culture that seems to be prevalent among many young people of all socio-economic groups.

    The Conservative Women’s Organisation would like to express their gratitude to the Baroness Anelay for arranging the Forum in the House of Lords.

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  • Tue 9 May 2006: Childcare Bill

    Panel Session - Childcare Bill

    Add your own view on our Blog

    Paul Goodman MP, the Shadow Minister for Childcare, and The Baroness Morris of Bolton, the Shadow Minister in the Lords for Children, Education & Health - took part in the CWO Forum Panel Session to discuss the Childcare Bill on 2nd May.

    The Panel is part of a series enabling women with an interest in politics, or a particular issue, to talk directly to the Conservative Frontbench in Parliament responsible for the Bills.

    Opening the debate, Paul Goodman MP highlighted some of the options facing the country on Childcare and emphasized that he thought “Flexibility and choice are key”.

    Baroness Morris said that the Parliamentary team were working to try to put “parents” back into the Bill. She said that she thought the Bill is too focussed on registration and regulation. The Bill also threatens private provision of childcare and sets stringent targets for Local Authorities to provide it.

    The Shadow Frontbench team were joined by Andrea Leadsom from the Oxford Parent Infant Project (OXPIP). OXPIP is a charity focussing on the needs of children under five and particularly those under a year old. They are concerned with developing ' attachment '

    About 35 women attended the panel session and a very lively and interesting discussion followed with many strong opinions being voiced. It demonstrated the complexity of the issue and highlighted the need for flexibility and choice for parents.

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  • Thu 16 Mar 2006: Work & Families Bill

    Panel Session - Work & Families Bill

    Add your own view on our Blog

    The Work and Families Bill currently going through the House of Commons, was the topic of discussion for a group of women in London on 15th March.

    This was the second in a series of Panel Sessions run by the Conservative Women’s Forum. Eleanor Laing MP opened the session, describing the bill as a “political milestone”. The difference in attitudes towards the woman’s vote, women in the workplace and women in the home running a family has changed massively since the 2005 General Election.

    Flexibility in the workplace and maternity and paternity pay are at last being discussed.
    Carers of small children, carers of the elderly and sick relatives will have the “right to request” flexible working.
    If a family chooses that the man should stay at home, we should support that choice.

    A wide range of questions were asked including “What incentive is there for employers?” It was suggested that tax or national insurance benefits should be considered. Another questioner said that women’s pensions could be affected and this should be looked into very carefully.

    Baroness Miller, Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry said that the utilities, energy and small businesses were a large part of her portfolio. She went on to say that much of the bill actually said nothing. She was concerned about the use of phrases such as “the Secretary of State may ...” leaving a great deal of room for him/her to make decisions without consultation.

    There are many good things in the bill such as extending maternity leave from 26 to 52 weeks but small businesses of under 50 employees will find the regulations difficult and there is a danger of more work being done “off-shore” or people being employed on short term contracts.

    Baroness Miller ended by saying that we need a healthy economy if we are going to help businesses and have good public services, but warned that this is a luxurious bill that most businesses can’t afford.

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  • Wed 8 Feb 2006: Company Law Reform Bill

    Inaugural CWO Forum Panel Session

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    On Tuesday 7th February the CWO hosted the first in a series of meetings of the newly formed Conservative Women’s Forum. The Forum enables women with an interest in politics, or in a particular issue, to talk directly to those Parliamentarians who are steering legislation through Parliament.

    The first meeting kicked off with an examination of the Company Law Reform Bill, a massive piece of legislation covering 885 clauses which has been some 8 years in preparation. Though large parts are uncontentious there are several areas of concern to the Conservative Party including the power, for the first time, to make primary legislation by regulation.

    Lord Hodgson (Shadow Minister for Home Affairs & Trade & Industry) and Jonathan Djanogly MP., (Shadow Solicitor General & Shadow Minister for Trade & Industry) spoke with approximately thirty five women; an audience largely made up of City Lawyers, Company Directors and PPCs to discuss the Bill and its' implications, and their own specific concerns. They took part in a debate and a Question & Answer session about the Bill and their own specific concerns.

    Eleanor Laing MP., (Shadow Minister for Women & Equality) also took time to speak with the guests.

    The event was chaired by the Chairman of the Conservative Women's Organisation - Lady Fiona Hodgson, assisted by Deputy Chairman June Seager, and Margot James - Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for Women.

    The attendees much appreciated the effort the Conservative Women's Organisation had made to give them this opportunity and agreed that it had sparked an interest to know more about legislation in progress.

    The next meeting of the Forum is on 15th March and will focus on the Work & Families Bill.

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