First published: February 1998
Only eight Labour women MPs voted against the attacks on lone parent benefits, with a handful of others conspicuously abstaining. Despite more than 90 MPs signing the parliamentary motion against the proposals tabled by Audrey Wise MP, outbursts of anger at meetings of the PLP addressed by Harriet Harman, protests and vocal opposition from women Labour Party members and lone parent organisations – even Glenys Kinnock MEP added her name to a petition and letter against the proposals – the new batch of Labour women MPs were largely noticeable by their absence. Of 97 MPs who, by 2 December, had signed Audrey Wise’s Early Day Motion, only 9 were Labour women, and of these only 2 were from the batch of women MPs elected for the first time in May 1997.
There is no clearer test that these women MPs could have failed than this one, involving the fate of the poorest women, and children, in society. Ninety per cent of lone parent families are headed by women. The proposals will have a racist impact, since black women are disproportionately represented as lone mothers. Removal of lone parent benefits will thus also deepen the disproportionate representation of black women and children among the poorest in society.