If I were Prime Minister: I would put a cap on the maximum wage

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the director of Women for Refugee Women

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The Independent Online

If I were Prime Minister, I wouldn’t stay Prime Minister very long. I don’t believe that our current political system, which is organised around competition rather than co-operation and around hierarchy rather than mutual support, is the right way to run anything at all. What I’d want to do if I found myself parachuted into such a position is start working for the demise of the current system, in the hope of building something better.

But pragmatically, right here and now, if I had any power in the current system in May 2015, there are some immediate changes I’d like to make.

I’ve spent the last 20 years working for greater equality and freedom for women, so that’s where I’d start taking action if I were Prime Minister. Too many women and men are being driven into poverty by current policies on wages and benefits, so I’d want to see those reforms enacted that those working at the frontline on this issue are calling for.

I’d want benefits increased so that no one is in the situation that they cannot feed their kids or play a full part in society; I’d want to see a hike to the minimum wage and caps on maximum wages and bonuses. This would help everyone: inequality doesn’t just hurt those who go hungry and cold, but also those who lock themselves in those silver towers by the Thames and close their minds to the need for a kinder society.

And I’d want to start turning around the way we in the UK think about refugees and asylum. I work every day with women who have come to the UK not out of choice, but because they are fleeing their countries for safety. They are women who have already survived the terrible toll of human cruelty; from rape used against them as a weapon of war or religious or ethnic persecution; from torture in state jails or by rebel armies; from forced marriage to forced prostitution. Sometimes they have to leave their children behind as they flee for their lives. Just listening to their stories day in day out has become almost unbearable to me; just this week I was listening to a woman telling me how her children were being tortured back home because she had abandoned Islam and converted to Christianity.

I want us as a country to approach these women – and the men in similar situations – not with the punitive and dismissive approach we have now, but with compassion. Yes, these people would be wonderful additions to our society and economy; refugees tend to be well educated and highly motivated and to make net contributions to their host society. But that isn’t the main reason why we should treat them with respect. We do ourselves and our own society immense damage if we whip up hatred rather than understanding of those who are fleeing such abuse.

At the moment about a third of women seeking asylum in the UK are locked up for no reason, detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre for indefinite periods. I want this pointless detention to be ended and for such women to be treated with fairness as their requests for protection are considered. These women are human too, and those in power in this country should reach out to them in mutual humanity.

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