Three years after her parliamentary committee reported on transgender rights, Maria Miller this week accused her own government of mishandling trans issues.
When the Tory chair of the House of Commons women and equalities committee announces publicly that her own government’s priorities are wrong, we must surely be in the last days of this shambolic administration.
While working people suffered under needless austerity and public services were stripped to the bone, transgender people have faced specific detriment.
The focus on changes to legal gender recognition that came out of Miller’s report was mismanaged from the start.
First the government did nothing and then it procrastinated for two years. By the time it finally did consult, the resulting uncertainty had given way to a divisive and sometimes bitter dispute between transgender advocates and feminist campaigners, helping those reactionary forces hostile to to both trans rights and women’s rights.
Meanwhile real and pressing concerns of transgender people went unaddressed. Only now has Miller admitted that access to healthcare has become a problem.
Seven years ago, when gender dysphoria became crippling, my GP referred me for specialist psychiatric support and I was treated within the 18-week target introduced by the previous Labour government.
Since then funding has failed to keep up with the rising demand on services, and the situation has become desperate.
Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, the country’s largest, is now offering appointments to people referred in July 2017.
Elsewhere the situation is worse. The wait time at Exeter is 29 months, with treatment not expected to begin within a further 30 months. That is scandalous even in the context of this government.
Trans people are waiting literally years for treatment, during which time our mental health is put under intense strain, increasing the likelihood of sickness and impinging negatively on our quality of life.
While it was right to consult on how to remove unnecessary hurdles from trans people seeking legal recognition of their gender change, those measures would be relatively cheap to implement.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that improvements that required funding and investment were ignored.
The government cannot claim it was not warned about rising demand. As long ago as 2009, the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (Gires) received Home Office funding for research into the prevalence of transgender people in Britain.
They reported rapid growth in referrals year-on-year and urged policy makers to plan for further growth.
Working people deserve far better than the little that this government is willing to yield. As trade unionists and activists, we need to support transgender people who are facing the brunt of inadequately funded services while facing discrimination in the workplace and wider society.
Transgender rights are at the heart of trade unions. Last November, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unions — and their reps — make a real difference to trans people’s experiences at work, standing up for workers facing discrimination or misunderstandings, and ensuring workplaces are safe and welcoming for everyone.”
With that in mind we need to work together to return a progressive Labour government that will listen to us and work with us, and will invest in the National Health Service so that prompt treatment will be available for all in need.
Debbie Hayton is a member of the TUC LGBT+ Committee.
* This article was first published by The Morning Star on 5 January 2019: The government’s handling of transgender rights has been mismanaged from the start.
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