Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Time for OWLs to hoot

Older women are facing down unfairness 

I was proud to be secretary of Labour’s Older Women’s Commission, chaired by Harriet Harman. Founded in 2012, we involved a diverse group of women who went around the country to listen to women aged over 50 and talk about what policies would help them to manage their complicated lives. The initiative sparked others to act. The Trades Union Congress produced an excellent report, Age Immaterial, and groups like the Soroptimists and the Royal College of Nursing debated their members’ experience of getting older. We helped people to think about how to help older women to balance work and care: not only for children but also for frail relatives.

Women face a greater burden of age discrimination in the workplace than men. As one of my constituents put it, ‘We are first in the queue for redundancy but last in the queue for a job interview’.

The Conservative government is currently demonstrating its disregard for older women by refusing to offer transitional relief to any of the women affected by the 2011 accelerated increase in the pension age. Women Against State Pension Inequality, the aptly named campaign, led by women affected shows that women born in the 1950s, who helped to win the Equal Pay Act, who broke many glass ceilings, are not going to be silent when their interests are abused.

They feel especially let down too by the Tories, because older women were particularly likely to vote Conservative in 2015. It is time for our party to stand up for these women. As a follow-up to the work we did during the last parliament I am working with local voluntary groups and Labour party members to create OWLs – Older Women’s Lobbies. These are a cross-party alliance of older women who can make their voice heard on the issues that affect them, whether it is discrimination they face at work, and as carers, or the lack of play facilities for their grandchildren.

OWLs will be owned by the women who are fed up with facing unfair barriers. Labour, when we wrote the Equality Act, included a provision to outlaw discrimination based on both age and gender; unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have not implemented that provision. Let’s get out and link up with older women from all parties and none to remedy this and the other discriminations we face. I have organised a number of these meetings, and they are always popular; participants have lots to say, and want to work together to end the unfairness they face.


Fiona Mactaggart MP was secretary of the Older Women’s Commission



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Fiona Mactaggart MP

is MP for Slough

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