Politics and (lack of) diversity

June 6, 2023

Image by Leopictures from Pixabay

Stats show politicians literally need to represent us better: Kerrie Portman investigates

We’ve recently had Local Elections across the country, the first election where voter ID was mandatory. Whilst the vote has brought politics to the forefront of many people’s minds, political apathy is nevertheless a big issue, especially among disengaged younger generations.

Many people feel politics is for a certain type of person. Many of the politicians we see certainly propel this image. The 2022 Local Government Association’s ninth National Census of Local Authority Councillors reported on the data of councillors, finding 39.1% of respondents as female, 91.7% self-described as white, 84.1% identifying as heterosexual and 15.5% as having a mental condition or disability.

29% of respondents said they stood to be councillors because they were asked to, showing links to nepotism and prioritisation of social connections. Additionally, 20% spent 10 hours or less a week on council business, 37% spent 11-20 hours, 24% spent 21-30 hours and 19% more than 30 hours.

This ties into the fact that 40% of councillors in 2022 were retired, enabling them to have more time to devote to their work. Three out of five reported additional voluntary or unpaid positions within the community.

All these findings show an overall lack of diversity or acceptance within politics

These results were similar to those of the House of Commons and Parliamentary Digital Service Diversity Monitoring Report 2020, finding 45% of staff as female, 1.6% reporting their gender to be different than their sex assigned at birth, 76.2% as white, 52% identifying as heterosexual and 6.7% as disabled.

Fawcett and Local Government Commission published a report in 2017 titled ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’ finding that none of the six metro mayors were women and only 12% of the devolution cabinet members were women.

33% of female councillors reported experiencing sexist comments from other councillors, only 4% of councils had a formal maternity, paternity or adoption policy in place for councillors and half of the female disabled councillors reported experiencing multiple forms of discrimination.

All these findings show an overall lack of diversity or acceptance within politics. Women account for approximately nearly half the world’s population and yet occupy less than a quarter of political seats globally.

Labour has never had a permanent female leader, with the Liberal Democrats having one and the Conservatives having three

Rwanda is the global leader in female political inclusion, with proportionally more women in power than any other country across the globe. Sweden, Finland, Norway and other Nordic countries with an embedded cultural norm of gender inclusion are noted by National Geographic to rate higher in women’s inclusion in politics.

Returning to Britain, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported in 2019 that 32% of British MPs and 29% of peers in Westminster were women. The same article reported the lack of systematic data collection is one of the barriers to identifying and then addressing the issue.

Looking into the main political parties of the UK, Taylor and Garcia (2019) noted 45% of Labour MPs were female in the 2017 general election, compared to the Conservative’s 21%.

However, Labour has never had a permanent female leader, with the Liberal Democrats having one and the Conservatives having three.

There were 52 (8%) BAME MPs in the 2017 general election, split between 32 Labour MPs, 19 Conservative ones and one Liberal Democrat. The same election brought 45 (6%) openly LGBTQIA+ MPs, evenly split between Labour and the Conservatives with 19 MPs apiece.

People growing more active in politics can lead to bottom-up demands for change

There is no data on the number of politicians who are Care Experienced, though I recently completed a research project as part of my studies with the University of Cambridge on how political parties can be more inclusive of Care Experienced people, using the Labour Party as a case study.

But just because politicians happen to fit a certain mould, doesn’t mean they should. The ancient philosopher, Plato believed the best politicians were the reluctant ones!

So why should younger people engage in politics? Well, there are many reasons! For one, politicians pander to voters to stand a better chance of getting elected. If younger people become a bigger demographic of the electorate, then our needs are more likely to be adapted to.

For another, politics affects every part of our lives, from the quality of education to the standard of housing, to access to healthcare to how regular the buses are. People growing more active in politics can lead to bottom-up demands for change. And, most importantly, politics is for everyone and needs to include every voice, every perspective and every opinion.

For London’s democracy to work for everyone, every voice must be heard.
Greater London Authority has this advice on registering to vote.
Register to vote free here.
Apply for voter ID free here.

Kerrie is an autistic care leaver, her love of writing originating from the desire to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in social care. This led to her main writing accomplishments, including two published articles in The Guardian and co-authoring a chapter of the book: ‘COVID-19 and Co-production in Health and Social Care Research, Policy, and Practice, Volume 2: Co-production Methods and Working Together at a Distance’. As Kerrie’s love of writing grew, it expanded to most topics and she has also guest-written articles for Ambitious About Autism, National Student Pride, iReader, Heroica, Wearewriteous and North Hertfordshire Pride.

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