What to expect from party conference season

By Stuart Bonar, Public Affairs Advisor on 24 September 2021 Labour Party Labour Politics

After a one-year gap because of you-know-what, this autumn sees the return of in-person party conferences. Gone are the speeches delivered over Zoom and calls of “you’re on mute” when someone tries to ask a question; back are lanyard-wearing politicos milling around conference centres and seaside town centres.

I know. I know. The party conferences are not the most uplifting sign of life creeping slowly back to normal, but they have an important role to play in the work that the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) does in reaching out to the politicians who decide so much of what happens in the NHS.

And we will be there. We will be helping to chair a meeting where we will help bring together a number of unions and speak to both Conservative and Labour politicians and party members about the importance of the public service workforce to the local economies of our towns and cities.

We will also be meeting with Members of Parliament, both government and opposition. We will be speaking with them about NHS pay – how you’ve reported to us you feel about the uplift, and about how important it is that next year’s pay rise is a good one for NHS staff. We will also tell them about the reality of the massive midwife shortage across the service. The UK Government has itself admitted that the NHS in England is short of 2,000 midwives; despite this, over the past year the number of midwives in post has only edged up by a few dozen – which works out at about half a midwife extra per trust!

And we will be talking to them about addressing some of the deep and simply unacceptable inequalities faced by so many women in Britain today. There remains, for example, a more than fourfold difference in maternal mortality rates among women from Black ethnic backgrounds and an almost twofold difference among women from Asian ethnic backgrounds compared to white women, according to the 2020 MBRRACE-UK report, Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care.

Added to that, according to a separate MBRRACE-UK report, stillbirth rates for Black and Black British babies were over twice those for white babies, while neonatal death rates were 45 per cent higher; for babies of Asian and Asian British ethnicity, stillbirth and neonatal death rates were both around 60 per cent higher than for babies of white ethnicity. The stillbirth rate was 1 in 295 for white babies, 1 in 188 for Asian babies and 1 in 136 for Black babies.

The party conferences are an excellent opportunity to reach a good number of MPs in quick succession, away from the demands of Parliament – where MPs can be called away at a moment’s notice to vote on this or that amendment. And the RCM will be there, speaking to decisionmakers about the issues affecting midwives, maternity support workers and the service.