Monday, 12 October 2009

The Party Experience

During the last two weeks I’ve had The Party Experience – conferences, that is. The WI has travelled to both Brighton and Manchester having been invited to the Labour and Conservative party conferences. We were invited to add our voice to debates on the Equalities Bill and the inappropriate imprisonment of the mentally ill.

At the Labour conference, a crowded room listened to Vera Baird MP and Trevor Phillips from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission as well as a representative of the Fawcett Society (who hosted the event) and Unison extolling the virtues of the Equalities Bill.

I told them that the WI had been waiting since 1921 for successive governments to address many gender inequalities, not least that of pay which the WI raised directly way back in 1943. I could only concur with the sentiment of ‘get on with it’ put by an audience member who reminded us all that in the mid 70s it was decreed that women’s pay from then on would be set at a minimum of 80% of a man’s wage for an identical job!

At the Conservative conference, many of the participants at the round table discussion set up by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health were really encouraged to see the WI there too.

The merits of the Bradley report were acknowledged. It’s implementation is a major undertaking that needs all relevant agencies to work together. When this joint working practice does occur then imprisonment for crimes committed after agency ‘neglect’ from a young age will drastically decrease.

The WI’s involvement in a mentoring pilot project for vulnerable women based at the Ashe Centre in Worcestershire could prove a vital step in helping vulnerable people stay out of prison and the WI’s suggestion of training prison staff, who are right there, to listen when offenders need to talk, is a step forward (incidentally, currently used in Manchester).

However the ghost at the banquet remains the lack of money for diversion services compared to the creation of new prison places. The time for talk is over and everyone must now work together to help the people at risk of slipping through the system.