The cuts: a disastrous blow for women’s equality

// 20 October 2010

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“Taken apart, many of the measures announced today will dismay women across the UK. Add them together and they’re a disastrous blow for women’s equality.”

This is the early reaction from Ceri Goddard, CEO of the Fawcett Society to today’s cuts.

Probably the full story of the impact of the Spending Review on the most disadvantaged and marginalised in the UK will take a while to unravel. But to begin with, here is Ceri’s take:

“The Comprehensive Spending Review, like the previous emergency budget, hits women hardest. It is women who will be the main losers as jobs are cut, public services are rolled back and benefits are slashed.

“The cuts are so deep and will hit women so hard that they risk more than women’s financial security – they threaten hard fought progress we’ve made on women’s equality. The Chancellor’s plans undermine the status of women as equal partners with men in the world of work, home and society as a whole.

“Of the half a million public sector workers facing unemployment, more than two thirds will be women. This is because 65 per cent of public sector workers are women, and more women work in the low paid, low grade and insecure work most likely to be hit. This comes on top of the 1 million women already unemployed in the UK – last month, 75 per cent more women signed on to unemployment benefit than men.

“The £18 billion a year cuts to the welfare budget, as outlined today and in the recent emergency budget will also see women bear the brunt as benefits typically make up one fifth of women’s income as opposed to one tenth of men’s. Taking Housing Benefit as just one example – a million more women claim this than men, and many of these will be lone parents facing poverty.

“Targeting local government is tantamount to singling out women for the hit – 75 per cent of local government workers are women; cumulative cuts of 28 per cent in the budget for this sector will have a disastrous impact on women as both employees and service users.

“Rolling back public services hits women particularly hard not only because they tend to use services more frequently and more intensively then men, but also because of their sizable caring responsibilities. Slashing at this aspect of the welfare state does more than reduce the support many women rely on, it also increases the burden they carry – many women with caring responsibilities for children and elderly relatives will find it harder to manage as the help they’ve thus far relied on dries up.

“The measures unveiled today seem, as is becoming a theme of the Coalition Government, to see women’s services and benefits as a soft target. But women aren’t starting on an equal footing – women typically earn and own less than men, and are more likely to live in poverty. They do not have the same independence and financial security that men do, and they are underrepresented in boardrooms, in politics and in public life generally. Making women bear the brunt of deficit cutting measures makes a mockery of the government’s claimed commitment to fairness.”

Photo of Chancellor George Osborne by Ewan McIntosh shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

polly // Posted 20 October 2010 at 9:54 pm

Also, after a year incapacity benefit is going to be withdrawn from anyone with a working partner. Which takes away the only independent income of anyone who is unable to work because of illness.

Helen S // Posted 21 October 2010 at 10:10 am

The BBC has an interesting article on this today:

One quote frightens me a lot – ‘…Jill Kirby, director of the influential Conservative think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies. “It may be better news for women not to spend money on childcare any more and to look after their own children and fit jobs into the child’s day,”‘

As a public sector worker expecting my first child in January, I’m frightened by this kind of blinkered ideology. I will have to return to full-time work as soon as I am able as we need 2 wages to keep our roof over our heads, & I’m by no means alone in that situation.

Are the Tories trying to take us back to the ‘women should be in the kitchen’ mentality?

Julian Morrison // Posted 21 October 2010 at 10:30 am

Is it just me or are all the ways women are described above to be worst hit, _already_ sexist situations? Low pay, caring responsibilities (where are the men?!), making ends meet with childcare and welfare. These were not economically healthy places to be even before the cuts.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 21 October 2010 at 11:50 am

It’s hilarious that a party who says it believes marriage is the most stable form of relationship and wants to back it up with tax relief for married couples, at the same time, effectively makes it difficult for the poor to engage in this ‘stable relationship’. Because it seems to me cutting benefits due to a partner’s income will just encourage people to live apart or lie about living apart- and where is the stability in that?

sianushka // Posted 21 October 2010 at 11:52 am

Polly – is that true? i can’t believe it. i actually cannot believe it. i mean, i am sure it is true because nothing this f***ing government does now will surprise me, but that is so ridiculous.

so, what that means, i take it, is that if you are in a violent relationship, and you are on incapacity benefit, you would now be completely financially dependent on your violent partner?

even if you weren’t in a violent relationship, it is still ridiculous to expect someone to be totally financially dependent on your partner! everyone has a right to be financially independent. it was bad enough when i was on JSA and they took my boyfriend’s income into account.

i am so so angry.

i really really hope fawcett force the government to be accountable for their total disregard for equality.

Antonia // Posted 21 October 2010 at 12:44 pm

I am furious at this goverment and what it’s doing, but even more furious at Labour, who had nearly fourteen years in office and a huge mandate to improve things and totally bloody blew it.

Elena // Posted 21 October 2010 at 1:56 pm

It’s contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance that will be taken away after a year; Incapacity Benefit is already being phased out. Households on low incomes will still be able to claim income-based benefits and tax credits.

I don’t have the same sort of outrage about this because, realistically speaking, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to the income of partners when assessing means-tested benefits. Benefits money should be targetted at those households in the most need.

What really appals me is the idea of a benefits cap and the reduction in Housing Benefit for Jobseekers Allowance claimants that was announced earlier this year. That really is going to hit people who are already on the bones of their arse.

Also, as a former civil servant I am alarmed at the scale of the job cuts, and know from bitter experience these always bite those at the bottom of the pyramid first. Most public sector workers are already on low incomes, they already face a pay freeze and many only survive through additional benefits and tax credits; this is only going to mean more poverty, particular for women.

HarpyMarx // Posted 21 October 2010 at 4:58 pm

That is why it is important to organise against these savage and disgusting cuts. Organisations, individuals and anyone out there who wants to protest against these unfair cuts then should get organised, there are anti-cuts groups springing up over the country.

ConDems are indulging in ideological class warfare against the public sector and welfare state. We also need to argue constantly that these cuts aren’t inevitable or necessary as this is what is being spun by the media and politcians.

An alternative to the cuts:

Every year £70 bn is lost through tax evasion and a further £25 bn in avoidance. Close up the legal loopholes and tax the rich.

Troops out of Afghanistan and stop persuing useless imperialist and futile wars.

Scrap Trident (save £78 bn over 30 years).

Shut down tax havens

Unvest in public services. Creating jobs would boost the economy and tax revenue. Increase welfare benefits, simplify the prodcedure (and certainly not what’s argued by the ConDems).

Privatisation should be reversed.

There are ways and means in dealing with the deficit. But the ConDems want to make us all pay for a crisis we didn’t create (and that includes the casino capitalism and neoliberalism of New Labour…. I mean, Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor…. Basil Brush could do a better job!!)

Finally, many women workers are trade unionists, activists and so on. Women will bear the brunt of the cuts and so it is imperative that any woman worker should get stuck in her union and fight against these austerity measures.

A woman’s home is in her trade union! Viva sisterhood! Viva resistance!

sianushka // Posted 21 October 2010 at 5:13 pm

Harpymax – yes!

elena – i agree with most your post but i still think basing benefits on your partner’s income can be risky for the reasons i mention above. it is important that people have financial independence.

polly // Posted 21 October 2010 at 10:31 pm

My colleague was absolutely furious about that Jill Kirby quote at work today. Apparently women with children are all meant to be stay at home mothers (dependent on husbands of course!) and go and run everything as volunteers in the big society.

It’s the capitalist dream. Women as unpaid carers/workers filling the gaps in everything, dependent on males in a nuclear family unit.

Yes Sian, it is true about incapacity benefit, it was reported in the Guardian.

I’m really hoping I’ll wake up soon and discover this was all a nightmare.

Liz Wise // Posted 22 October 2010 at 2:49 pm

Polly, can you please point me towards an actual source that says about the withdrawl of incapacity benefit for those with working partners? I don’t mean a news report, I mean the actual government wording. It really concerns me and I want to make sure the facts are really there before I say anything about it.

Elena // Posted 22 October 2010 at 4:58 pm

Liz – please see “Welfare Measures on page 12 of the document published by the treasury here:

Contributory ESA is being limited to one year for those in the “Work Related Activity” category (i.e. the vast majority). That means that after a year people claiming contributory ESA will have to claim income-related ESA instead; most people who have partners bringing in an income will not be eligible.

The people hit by this will be those in couples with one person working, and the other partner someone who is:

– long-term sick or disabled

– who has worked in the past and paid National Insurance contributions (hence satisfying the contributions qualification) but

– who is now no longer able to work, and

– who is not considered to be sick or disabled enough to be in the “support” group of ESA.

If you search the document for “Employment and Support Allowance” there are several other mentions.

Incapacity Benefit is being phased out with all claimants migrated to ESA anyway.

Liz Wise // Posted 22 October 2010 at 7:32 pm

Thanks for the thorough explanation Elena, it’s very hard to get at the truth these days via the media. This was a useful blog too:

Sarah AB // Posted 22 October 2010 at 9:51 pm

I strongly agree about the Jill Kirby comment (which I hadn’t noticed previously). I am reminded of a quote from Frank Field (interview with the Times last month) which seemed outrageous to me but hardly got reported.

‘There are some mums who know that they are not good mums and they want to work. We shouldn’t try to build up a culture where we start blaming them. But if we say that breast-feeding is really important for all the reasons for the child’s health and their life outcomes, we should surely make it easier for mums to stay at home to do it.’

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