The ConDem War on Women

Posted on 3 July 2012 by

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This is a guest post is from Hannah Ryan. 

As the ConDem agenda pushes into overdrive, women are in the frontline of ‘austerity measures’.
The Government tell us deficit reduction is essential to keep us afloat, achievable only through cutting spending and increasing taxes (though not for the rich or corporate sector). Labour would have it that austerity measures, cutting too far and too fast, have damaged growth and led to increased borrowing in the short term, sending us further up the proverbial creek. But amongst this war of words, another war has been raging. This is the war on women in Britain.
This war is not new, and the fact that so little attention is paid to it by the media is testament to the degree gender disadvantage is entrenched in our society. Indeed, key to the success of the backlash against feminism and other equality movements of the late 20th century is the illusion that equality has been achieved now that women can vote, work and die for their country. The result is that feminists spend more time justifying our existence rather than working on ways to change the status quo.
So how bad are things for women? Quoting directly from the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading gender equality campaign:
• Women experience a full-time pay gap of 14.9%
• 40% of ethnic minority women live in poverty
• Women’s average personal pensions are only 62% of the average for men
This is despite over 40 years of gender equality legislation, which should make it illegal to pay women less than men, and 15 years of a Labour government who promised to make it easier for single parents to go back to work and reduce child poverty. The bottom line: we all tacitly accept that women are disadvantaged, and it has become a non-issue to the main political parties.
How are austerity measures compounding gender disadvantage?
This year Fawcett have published a full report on the impact of the austerity measures on women. The report unpacks each part of the austerity agenda and demonstrates how women are being systematically disadvantaged by this Government. Some highlights…
Public sector job cuts hit women hardest, as we make up 64% of public sector workers, who represent 40% of the total number of women in employment. The level of women’s unemployment has risen by 19.1% since the end of the 2009 recession period to a 25-year high of 1.13 million, while men’s has remained practically static, rising by only 0.32%. This is the result of heavy job losses in the public sector, notably in local councils where 76-100% of those losing their jobs have been women, and the NHS whose 77%-female workforce is planned to sustain yet more losses in the coming months.
Women are more likely to work in part-time or low-paid jobs than men, and women also perform the overwhelming majority of unpaid caring roles, looking after children, the elderly and the sick. This means that women are the principal beneficiaries of tax credit and benefits – on average, 20% of women’s income comes from welfare and tax credit compared with 10% of men’s. The House of Commons’ analysis of last year’s budget estimated that 70% of the £18.9 billion cuts to benefits, tax credit, pensions and pay come out of women’s pockets. Lone parents (92% of whom are women) are being hit the hardest, and are set to lose 18.5% of their net income per year.
Despite Conservative rhetoric about ‘making work pay’ for low-income families, changes to the Working Tax Credit and the introduction of the Universal Credit next year have worsened the double-bind for women and their families. Changes to the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit mean that fewer families will qualify for support and the amount of childcare covered has also been cut. Working Mums have found that 24% of mothers surveyed have had to give up work as a result of the changes, and children’s charities such as Barnardo’s have written to the Chancellor, warning that there could be a ‘surge in child poverty’. The structure of the Universal Credit is underpinned with Conservative ideology favouring the ‘traditional’ family, with increased entitlement for those doing ‘mini-jobs’ but cuts to childcare support for second earners (most often working mothers) and (again) lone parents. This will lead to many working mothers being forced to stay at home and depend on the male breadwinner or take a substantial cut in family income. Save the Children estimate that a quarter of a million children living below the poverty line will be even worse off under Universal Credit. Cuts to local government and the removal of ring-fencing for children’s centres mean that dozens of Sure Start centres are threatened with closure across the country, further decreasing the availability of good-quality childcare for working mothers.
Amongst the most vulnerable services are those for victims of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). After decades of insecure funding and rape crisis centres being run on a shoestring by dedicated volunteers, cuts to local authority budgets have seen funding docked to these essential services. The 3 million women and girls who are victims of sexual or domestic violence each year have seen a 31% cut to their services this year, a disproportionate share of the 27% cut to local authorities. Women’s Aid reported having to turn away 230 women a day in 2011 due to lack of space. Once again, VAWG is not taken seriously, and women’s lives are being put at risk by these cuts.
Fawcett conclude that these cuts taken together could be a ‘tipping point’ for gender equality, with the gradual gains for women over the last few decades being put into sharp reverse. The Conservatives may try to seduce the female voter with their glamorous set of new ‘Iron Ladies’, but British women should not be misled by some glossy new faces who are all too ready to ridicule the feminist movements that fought for their opportunity to sit in Government. This is a Government that wants to see women back at the kitchen sink, mutely tolerating poverty and the epidemic of violence against them. I only hope Cameron’s ‘problem with women’ grows and grows.
What can you do?
• Join the Fawcett Society and support the excellent work they do on gender equality.
• Join a local women’s group and raise awareness about gender disadvantage, or get some women together and start your own!
• Lobby your MP and local council on issues that affect women – cuts to services are happening NOW, but needn’t be inevitable – every council has to have a consultation process on key changes.
• Join a union or see what yours is doing to address the impact on women workers.
Hannah Ryan

Hannah is a doctor who works in Liverpool, and helps to run Merseyside Women’s Movement, which is part of the Liverpool Women’s Network. Please see the website for more information, and details of how to join us. http://www.merseysidewomen.org.uk

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Posted in: Patriarchy, The Cuts