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LWD responds to the 2024 Labour Party manifesto

Many of Labour's commitments that relate to women and women's rights are seriously undermined by a lack of clarity about the definition of sex in the law.

The Labour Party launched its Manifesto 2024 on Thursday 13 June, setting out its plans for government if Labour wins the election on 4 July.

The manifesto contains many strong commitments which will profoundly improve women’s lives. Our analysis here centres on those relating to sex and gender, as these areas are the focus of our declaration.

Manifesto PDF

 

The manifesto contains neither a clear statement on the difference between sex and gender, nor a commitment to clarify these terms in government. Many of Labour’s commitments that relate to women and women’s rights are seriously undermined by a lack of clarity about the definition of sex in the law as it stands.

 

 

Labour Women’s Declaration deeply regrets that only some aspects of our detailed policy briefings have been heeded by the party. As a result several manifesto commitments are out of step with new evidence, and contradict and undermine other policy improvements. 

 

Positives

  • Maintenance of single-sex exceptions

  • Implementation of the Cass Review recommendations

  • No return to previous gender self-identification policy

  • Omission of any reference to removing the spousal exit clause

  • Focus on ending male violence against women and girls

Concerns

  • No reference to the need to clarify ‘sex’ in law

  • A ban on so-called ‘conversion practices’, despite Dr Cass’ warnings

  • Making Gender Recognition Certificates easier to obtain and confusing this with access to healthcare.

  • Combining separate protected characteristics into the one acronym “LGBT+” risks poor law and policy making

  • Equalisation” of hate crime, risking unintended consequences

 

Manifesto commitments we welcome

1] Protecting sex-based rights

Labour is proud of our Equality Act and the rights and protections it affords women; we will continue to support the implementation of its single-sex exceptions.

(2024 Labour Party manifesto, page 89)

We are glad that Labour will continue to support the single-sex exceptions, as also outlined in its 2019 election manifesto. However, without clarification that ‘sex’ in the Equality Act 2010 (EA) means ‘biological sex’, the single-sex exceptions that Labour commits to maintaining will continue to fail to protect women and women’s rights in practice. As LWD wrote in our response to Kemi Badenoch’s pledge to clarify sex in the law, Labour’s indication that further guidance on the EA’s exceptions will suffice for service providers is both insufficient and legally incorrect (see also comment from Sonia Sodha, MBM Policy, and Dr Michael Foran).

2] Implementing the Cass Review

We will work to implement the expert recommendations of the Cass Review to ensure that young people presenting to the NHS with gender dysphoria are receiving appropriate and high-quality care.

(2024 Labour Party manifesto, page 98)

We welcome this statement on the Cass Review recommendations, which Keir Starmer has since committed to implementing in full. Dr Cass’ findings and recommendations must be implemented across the new NHS gender services for young people, and throughout all services where safeguarding is important, e.g. education and social services.

The widespread phenomenon of “social transitioning”– which Dr Cass described as “not a neutral act”– has been shown to create extensive problems for the child, for other pupils, their parents and other family members. The new NHS gender identity services must resist the pressures to adopt an affirmative approach (as outlined in the Interim Report of the Cass Review) and the influence of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s guidelines, which the Cass Review found to lack rigour.

The failure of the NHS’ Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) to collect data essential to track health and wellbeing outcomes of young people in the service is indefensible, and must not be repeated. Good health and mental health provision for de-transitioners is also crucial, and LWD wants Labour to commit to this.

3] Tackling male violence against women and girls 

For too long, violence against women and girls has been ignored.

(2024 Labour Party manifesto, page 69-69)

We welcome the serious and wide-ranging approach to tackling male violence against women and girls. The proposals to tackle the crisis in the criminal justice system (which has seen rape effectively decriminalised by a failure to prosecute and convict) by introducing rape courts and rape centres could help to reduce the backlog and better support victims. Access to domestic abuse experts throughout the criminal justice system, from 999 control centres to trial, is vital. However, the addition of courts will need to be tied to the commitment to tackle the already crumbling court system.

We welcome measures to address stalking (including a woman’s right to know the identity of online stalkers), spiking, the protections for co-habiting women and whistle-blowers on issues such as sexual harassment. The proposed professional vetting and decisive action against members of the police force, both accused of or with an existing record of domestic violence or sexual abuse, are welcome, if long overdue.  

However, given the epidemic of male violence against women and girls, both a commitment to secure funding for refuges and support services, and clarity on the right to services by and for women, are essential for it to be effectively tackled. 

We are glad to see that misogyny and consent will be addressed in schools, but combatting the causes of such widespread violence must also include a strategy to tackle the accessibility of violent pornography.

Areas of concern for us in the manifesto

4] An unworkable ban on ‘conversion practices’, which risks furthering the existing chilling effect on professionals

Labour will finally deliver a full trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices, while protecting the freedom for people to explore their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

(2024 Labour Party manifesto, page 89)

We are extremely disappointed to see the inclusion of a so-called ‘conversion practices’ ban. Real conversion practices, where they occur, are, without question, harmful. But no robust evidence has been presented that they are currently happening in the UK. Such performative legislative bans are impossible to draft without introducing unintended negative consequences. Sarah Vine KC’s legal view is that a bar would breach human rights. In addition it would be unprosecutable, not least because the term ‘gender identity’ is a contested concept, based on a belief held by some people but not others, that everyone has a gender identity, and is therefore undefinable in law. This position is shared widely by lawyers working in this area.

The harms and risks of a ban on ‘conversion practices’ to therapeutic services and to gender-questioning young people have been highlighted both by professionals in the field and by legislators. Labour’s proposed exclusions, aimed at protecting the freedom to explore sexual orientation and gender identity, do not resolve these issues. Dr Cass highlighted the existing chilling effect on clinicians and therapeutic services relating to gender and how a ‘conversion practices’ ban could exacerbate this. Crucially, the introduction of a ban would undermine many of the recommendations in the Cass Review, which Labour has committed to implement in full. 

5] Proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004, which confuse a legal and a medical process

We will also modernise, simplify, and reform the intrusive and outdated gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove indignities for trans people who deserve recognition and acceptance; whilst retaining the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a specialist doctor, enabling access to the healthcare pathway.

(2024 Labour Party manifesto, page 89)

Last year, Labour announced it would change the process to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), from requiring evidence from two doctors and final agreement by a judge-led panel, to one doctor and a registrar sign-off. While we are pleased that the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria remains, we are concerned by the implied reduction to one specialist doctor rather than two. 

We note and welcome that previous risky proposals – including the removal of the spousal exit clause, the replacement of living in the “acquired gender” with a reflection period, and of the final agreement of a panel with a single registrar – were not included in the manifesto

The use of the words “indignities” and “intrusive” to describe the current streamlined GRC process should be evidenced ahead of any reform. Currently, the risk remains that Labour’s proposals could introduce de facto gender self-identification (self-ID). Given the current legal instability of the definition of sex and operation of the single-sex exceptions, in particular the ongoing legal case at supreme court level, this is not the time to make obtaining a GRC easier.

The wording of this manifesto proposal (“enabling access to the healthcare pathway”) suggests that a GRC is part of the procedure for accessing medication and surgery, which is not the case. No medical treatment is currently required to obtain a GRC – although a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is. Nor is a GRC application required to be referred for medical treatment for gender dysphoria.

The GRA was never designed to be applied to the range of circumstances it is now addressing. Any reform must be preceded by extensive review and consultation, not least concerning the conflicts between the GRA and the EA.

6] A failure to address the specific needs of lesbians and gay men

Labour will protect LGBT+ and disabled people by making all existing strands of hate crime an aggravated offence.

(2024 Labour Party manifesto, page 89)

The continued use of the LGBT+  acronym – rather than separating the protected characteristics of sexual orientation and gender reassignment – obscures the needs of two very different groups and risks poor law and policy-making.  Also, unlike “gender reassignment”, the term “transgender identity”, is a loose and undefinable term. Therefore, although it is an existing legal term, we still have significant concerns about any further consolidation in law.

On hate crime, LWD have significant concerns about attempts to legislate on the basis of subjective emotions and about the potential diversion of police resource while rape and sexual assault still go unprosecuted. The exposure of absurdities in hate crime legislation in Scotland should act as a warning about the difficulties and contradictions inherent in the failure to include or address sex and non-religious belief as part of any “equalising” process. (See paragraph 4.4 of our assessment of Labour’s National Policy Forum policies for more detail.)

The lack of clarification of sex in law contributes to the erasure of lesbians, gay men and bisexual people as same-sex attracted women and men. The definition of sex as biological in the EA is of particular importance to these groups, who fought for rights, such as association, over many years, as it supports the protected characteristic of sexual orientation to mean same-sex attraction.

Other parties’ stances on sex and gender

Women-led organisations across the country are making it clear that sex and gender issues matter to many and will impact on their vote. 

The manifestos of The Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats (and likely the Scottish National Party when published) commit to pursuing self-ID for people who identify as the opposite sex, as transgender and as non-binary. Details are not forthcoming of how those terms would be defined in law and work in practice, nor is there any reassurance that the conflict with women’s sex-based rights will be taken into consideration, nor how women’s views on these policies will be sought. Voting for these parties will involve accepting a commitment to implement self-ID.

Help us hold the Labour Party to account

Should Labour form the next government, we imagine that its Race Equality Act will rightly take priority in the first term. This potentially allows time for everyone to contribute to consultation and review of the manifesto commitments, such as GRA reform and a ban on conversion practices, which are in tension with the commitment to the Cass Review’s recommendations and to the single-sex exceptions.

We call on all those who, like us, want a Labour government rather than a Tory one, to join us in continuing to hold the party to account on women’s sex-based rights.

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