03/05/2012 05:24 BST | Updated 02/07/2012 06:12 BST

What About Women in London?

As much of the country goes to the polls, the London Mayoral elections have grabbed most of the limelight. A steady stream of commentators has speculated as to what different results will mean for the different political parties, while the campaign itself has been dominated by the outsized personalities of the core contenders.

But in the midst of the bluster, mudslinging and at times genuine political debate, scant attention has been paid to the sizeable and substantial influence the Mayor's office wields.

Whoever wins this election will be the most powerful directly elected politician in the country (and most of Europe at that), with overarching responsibility for a budget of some £14.6 billion. And it's not all about transport - City Hall's remit spreads far and covers much.

How decisions are made, and how this money is spent can make a real difference to the inequality gap in London - something that demands urgent attention.

The UK has a long way to go before women and men can be said to have true equality; women still typically earn less, have less financial independence and are more likely to live in poverty than men. But our capital city, far from leading the way, lags behind much of the county.

Fawcett's recent report, 'What About Women in London?' found that on many of the key equality yardsticks, London is falling behind.

The capital city's four million women residents are more likely to live in poverty, experience a wider pay gap, and are less likely to work once they have children than women living elsewhere. In fact, London has the lowest level of maternal employment in the country: just over half of the city's mothers with dependent children work - compared to almost two thirds across the UK. Unsurprising, you might say, given the difficulties families face in juggling kids with jobs - there is a dearth of flexible working opportunities, and childcare costs in the city are a third higher than the national average.

Our research also suggests women in London are more likely to experience sexual assault than those living elsewhere - recent records show there are a higher number of sexual offences per capita in London than in any other UK region.

Far from getting better, our analysis suggests the gap between women and men in London is set to widen. The toxic combination of rising women's unemployment. cuts to welfare and the ever increasing cost of living in the capital city means that life for London's women is going to get tougher, with some groups particularly hard hit. More lone parents call London home than anywhere else - and it is this demographic worse affected by recent changes to the welfare system. Lone parents can expect to lose an average month's worth of income by 2015 because of changes to the welfare system.

This is why Fawcett has called on Mayoral candidates to commit to taking action on gender equality. We have asked that all candidates to pledge that, if elected, they will assess the impact of their policies - including the GLA budget - on women and men. Thus far, the Labour, Green and Lib Dem candidates have all committed to taking this vital first step, a sure fire way of improving the way policy decisions are made - and so the lot of women in London. You can read more about the different candidates' policies and how they will affect women on our website.

The political colour of city hall might mean a lot to the different political parties, but it makes a daily, real difference to the lives of millions of Londoners.