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Maternity support planned for councillors in Suffolk to address gender imbalance

PUBLISHED: 07:30 30 May 2019

Council leader Matthew Hicks said Suffolk needed a council that was representative of the population. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Council leader Matthew Hicks said Suffolk needed a council that was representative of the population. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Measures to provide maternity support for councillors are being explored by one of Suffolk's authorities as part of a bid to improve the take-up of women in politics.

Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw said a gender balance would not be reached for more than 30 years at the current level of recruitment for female councillors. Picture: SARAH ADAMSElfrede Brambley-Crawshaw said a gender balance would not be reached for more than 30 years at the current level of recruitment for female councillors. Picture: SARAH ADAMS

A motion put forward by Conservative leader Matthew Hicks at a recent Suffolk County Council meeting gained unanimous approval, and will see work begin on addressing barriers for women.

Data presented to the council suggested fewer than one in three councillors were women, with a third of all child-bearing age female councillors stating a lack of maternity leave or support was a barrier to fulfilling their role.

The motion's approval now means that work will start to look at amendments needed which could provide similar maternity leave or parental rights that members of staff enjoy - but which are not currently available to councillors.

Mr Hicks said: "Women make up 51% of the population so they should be properly represented in decision making positions.

Labour councillor Sarah Adams described it as a step in the right direction. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLabour councillor Sarah Adams described it as a step in the right direction. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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"All councils should be ensuring they remove barriers to this.

"Suffolk County Council needs to review its policies with a view to prospective people coming forward who may be interested.

"The role of a county councillor should be open to all and ensuring this council has a parental policy in place, I think this is a worthwhile motion."

Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: "3,000 extra women are needed to become local councillors across the country to create a gender balance, and it's estimated that will take 32 years if we carry on as we are.

"We want a council that is representative of the population it serves, so that it actually goes beyond gender balance and includes young people, different backgrounds, so that when we walk into this chamber it looks like Suffolk."

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said it was a "step in the right direction" and called for additional information for councillors when they were out electioneering to help encourage women who feel there may be barriers.

The work will include assessments of whether new policies or amendments to the council's constitution are needed, although a time frame for that work has not yet been outlined.

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