A Labour government would create a "national champion" for victims of rape and domestic violence, Yvette Cooper reveals today, as she claims that women are less safe under the coalition government because of police and local authority cuts.
The shadow Home Secretary unveiled figures showing a 33 per cent drop in rape prosecutions since 2010, despite the overall number of recorded incidents rising.
A Miliband government would create a dedicated Commissioner for Domestic and Sexual Violence, modelled on the Children's Commissioner set up under the previous Labour administration, to ensure police, prosecutors and local authorities co-ordinate the fight against attacks on women.
The proposal is one of a number of policies unveiled by Labour at its annual conference in Brighton, which starts today under the cloud of the Damian McBride memoirs. Speaking in the seaside resort yesterday, the Labour leader announced plans to boost the national minimum wage for builders, and workers in computing and finance sectors, including cleaners who work for City firms. These sectors, which sources said were key to growing the economy, could receive a living wage of £7.45 an hour rather than the basic minimum of £6.19. It would mean one million workers receiving a pay rise. The details will be included in Labour's review of the national minimum wage, to be conducted by the KPMG deputy chairman Alan Buckle.
Mr Miliband said that under the coalition, the minimum wage had failed to keep pace with inflation, with a low-paid worker on almost £20 less a week under David Cameron's premiership. "Of course, many businesses are facing tough times," Mr Miliband said. "But does anyone here really believe that a big bank can't afford to pay their cleaners a little bit more?"
In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Ms Cooper said the domestic and sexual violence commissioner would implement national standards for tackling rape and domestic violence, as well as overseeing prosecutions for female genital mutilation. There have been no prosecutions for FGM in the UK, despite the practice being criminalised almost 30 years ago and efforts by police to tackle the abuse.
The commissioner could also look at wider issues such as the rape threats made to women users on Twitter, and would have powers to launch inquiries into cases where the system has failed victims and to conduct inspections and reports to ensure the different agencies involved, from local authorities to police, were working together across the criminal justice system. Ms Cooper said the commissioner would also act for male victims of rape and domestic abuse.
Ms Cooper said cuts to specialist police units and prosecutors were clearly "having an impact", with a 33 per cent fall in rape prosecutions, adding: "There is evidence across the board of corners being cut... Overall there are 27,000 fewer crimes being solved a year since the election.
"Fewer police are making fewer referrals... In addition to resource cuts there's a sense that Theresa May and the Government have just turned their backs on what's happening. The consequences are that you can see... women in particular being let down and betrayed by this. People can also feel less safe as well. "
Labour claims progress on violence against women and girls has stalled, with domestic violence convictions falling by nearly 10 per cent. The number of cases handed to the Crown Prosecution Service has also dropped by 13 per cent since David Cameron entered Downing Street.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, which runs a network of 350 domestic and sexual violence services across the UK, said: "I would welcome this in the strongest terms. It shows that domestic and sexual violence is being taken seriously as a major social problem."
The feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, who received rape and death threats on Twitter earlier this year, said: "On the face of it a commissioner would be great. It was clear from [my] experience that it required a lot of pressure on the police to take action [on rape threats]. It was awful that the pressure had to come from me and the media; if there was someone at government level it might mean more... Victims don't have to be the ones making the police take action."
Erin Pizzey, founder of the first women's refuge in 1971, was sceptical about the new policy. She said: "I don't think a commissioner would make any difference unless they addressed the root of the problem. We should be intervening with children in violent families and looking at the roots of family violence."
Charlie Woodworth of the Fawcett Society said: "Plans for a champion are welcome, but we also need to see funding for violence-against-women services ring-fenced, and a commitment to working with voluntary sector organisations providing a lifeline to women experiencing violence."
In a further overture to women voters, Labour also pledged yesterday that it would provide universal childcare for primary-school pupils between 8am and 6pm, although parents would still have to pay for the cover.
Women melt away from the Tories
The coalition's record on issues affecting women is reflected in the dwindling number of women who say they would vote Conservative. An Ipsos/Mori survey for Mumsnet last week showed only 29 per cent of women support the Tories, as opposed to 42 per cent for Labour. Just three years ago 36 per cent supported the Tories and 31 per cent Labour.
Decisions that have had a particularly bad impact on women include David Cameron's broken pledge to protect Sure Start, on which many families depended, curbs on child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers and the abolition of baby bonds.
Perhaps the most damaging coalition legacy for women is female unemployment. Cuts to the public sector disproportionately affected women, who make up two-thirds of its workforce. Although female unemployment has recently fallen to 1.05 million, under this government it soared to a record high of 1.07 million. From the end of the recession in 2010 to April this year, the number of out-of-work men fell by more than 7 cent; the women's jobless total rose by nearly 12 per cent, from 962,000.
The rhetoric of the Prime Minister, right, has not helped – especially the time when he told the Labour shadow minister Angela Eagle to "calm down, dear".
Family man Ed Miliband arrives in Brighton...
Almost a year to the day since Ed Miliband set out his vision for "One Nation Labour", half of voters are not sure what the phrase means.
As Mr Miliband and his wife, Justine, took their boys Daniel, four, and Sam, nearly three, for a walk on the Brighton seafront, a new poll for The Independent on Sunday found that one in four have a good idea of what One Nation Labour means, but 47 per cent do not.
The ComRes survey puts Labour on 36 per cent, eight points clear of the Conservatives. Ukip are on 17 per cent, while the Lib Dems have had a minor "bounce" of two points since their Glasgow conference, but still trail on 10 per cent.
Encouragingly for Mr Miliband, more people think they will be better off under a Labour government than under the Tories – 30 per cent against 22 per cent – and 51 per cent back Labour's scrapping of the "bedroom tax".
Just 25 per cent say Mr Miliband is too closely associated with Gordon Brown, with 40 per cent saying this is not the case. Fifty-two per cent think he lacks the qualities needed to be an effective Prime Minister.
Video: Parents share their views about Labour's pledges on childcare