Concern as just a third of candidates in English local elections are women

More needs to be done to encourage women into politics, the UK’s leading charity for gender equality has said, as data reveals that just one-third of candidates in this week’s English council elections are women.

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Photograph: Paul Warburton/Alamy

Research by the Fawcett Society charity and the Democracy Club also found that less than one in four police and crime commissioner candidates in England and Wales are women, and one in four mayoral candidates.


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The Fawcett Society said: “We know that women are already chronically under-represented in local government, and it’s clear that without concerted effort we simply won’t see gender equality and women will continue to be an unheard majority.”

Women make up 42% of the Green party’s candidates, 39% of Labour’s, 30% of the Liberal Democrats’ and 25% of the Conservatives’, the report says. The Reform party has the lowest proportion of female candidates, at 11%, followed by Ukip at 20%.

The Fawcett Society is calling for the government to require parties to collect comprehensive, accurate election candidate diversity data, for councils to provide comprehensive support for childcare and adult care costs, and for councils to use technology to enable councillors to attend meetings remotely.

© Photograph: Paul Warburton/Alamy
The Fawcett Society said: ‘Without concerted effort we simply won’t see gender equality and women will continue to be an unheard majority.’

The charity’s chief executive, Felicia Willow, said: “This data is concerning and clearly shows a lack of women in local government. We need to see more women encouraged to get into politics. For many this begins at the local level.

“We need to see all forms of government embrace modernisation. Remote working technology has been used to keep local government and parliament running during the pandemic and, as we build back, flexible working must continue for those who need it.

“We need to see lasting changes to make being a councillor more accessible for everyone – including those with childcare responsibilities and disabled people. This will lead to better policy and decision-making with a wider range of voices being heard.”

In recent years the number of women standing for election to local government has been slowly rising, owing to significant efforts by campaigners. But the Fawcett Society said the most recent data “shows we are now going backwards on gender equality, and this is likely to mean we will see fewer women MPs in the future, as many women begin their political careers in local government. This must change”.

The charity wants councils to introduce codes of conduct against sexism, and effective standards committees to enforce it. Fawcett research found that a third of female councillors said they had received sexist comments from colleagues.

In addition, it wants councils to set out reasonable adjustment policies to support disabled women and men to be councillors, and parties to set out targets for increasing women’s representation and a clear action plan to achieve them – and to commit to legislating for quotas if progress is not made.

Councils should commit to gender-balanced leadership in their cabinet or committee chair posts, and eradicate “girl jobs and boy jobs” in those roles, it said.

Sym Roe, the chief executive of Democracy Club, said: “The findings emphasise the importance of keeping good data on elections: at present, data on candidates is not collected officially and centrally by the UK state.

“Democracy Club believes that information about elections and candidates should be easily accessible to everyone, from voters wishing to find out about their ballot paper to researchers like the Fawcett Society. With better information we can have more informed debates around the kind of democracy we want to live in.”

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