Too much glee? Are the cuts only about the economy?

// 29 September 2011

Women Against the Cuts.jpg

Does this government have it in for women and other minorities? Official line, of course, is not – though as a woman with much cause to be cynical once very cynically put it: “they would say that, wouldn’t they”.

There are, of course, already some pretty big signs that the cuts that have scarcely even begun to bite will affect women disproportionately. A range of economic experts, from Labour’s Yvette Cooper, to the TUC, to the BBC’s own Mark Easton all tell much the same story.

Women have benefitted over the last few years from the growth in public sector jobs both because these are focussed more in the caring professions (which formalise the employment of women in traditional roles) and because they were billed, up front, as “family friendly”. Unravel the public sector and of course women will on average feel the pain harder, faster than their male counterparts.

And the pain is there at both ends, as many of the services being cut back or taken away remove things on which many women who are not employed by the public sector have also come to rely on – from child and respite care through to delivery of health services

But is this about targeting women? Or is it, as some economists would argue, a failure on the part of many women to break out of the public sector enclave. After all, in some previous recessions, it has been manufacturing that has suffered, with the effect of cuts and economic shrinkage hitting men harder, at least when it comes to jobs.

The same argument is rehearsed in respect of other cutbacks. Let’s not survey how the LGBT community use services: that’s just “political correctness gone mad”; and supposedly pointless too, in terms of any real change it might make. Or let’s “enable” family members to care for their relatives: after all, they can do it so much more personally.

Personally, yes: and also cloyingly, manipulatively and in ways that not inevitably, but often, can destroy the dignity of the person being cared for. As one individual who employs a personal assistant from her care package put it to me: “if I need something done, I ask. There is never an issue of the assistant turning my needs back on me. Forcing me to beg. Or simply deciding they know better than I what I want”.

And with the best will in the world, that happens with family.

Still, still, still…yes, I can see how this might be presented as a sort of economic “last in, first out” thing. The economy needs some re-adjustment and though you may argue til the cows come home for greater taxation and more redistribution, you just know that a conservative administration will cut public spending first. And if minorities are disproportionately dependent on social systems that is just tough. Isn’t it?

Of course, you know I’m going to say: no! First because, as with Greece, there is a strong argument for looking at the whole and not just the parts. If you take away hope from some sections of the community and put in its place despair, you store up trouble for the future. That’s both the obvious, on the street sort of trouble, and the more invisible damage to the social weave.

Second, though…and it is hard to put a finger on, but its there: I do scent a sort of muffled glee. A sense of “Oh, dear: we have to cut back on toys for women and gays and the disabled and we’re not enjoying it at all. Oh no: not one bit”. Except that far too many are.

It is tragic that cuts need to happen now: even more so that the way they interact structurally with society causes damage to fall unequally. But unforgiveable that some sections of those now cutting probably quite like that fact.

Picture of TUC March for an Alternative to cuts (26th March 2011), Hyde Park. By tomylees, shared under a creative commons licence.

Comments From You

Troika21 // Posted 30 September 2011 at 9:36 am

Its no secret that conservatives want a smaller state, its part of being a conservative. They are in power and now have a reason to cut back the state. That Labour grew state spending to do so much, is a problem – when the money runs out, the state will have to shrink, and if areas are populated more by women then the pain is going to fall on them.

To complain its tory glee, rather than previous Labour policy that’s comming home to roost, is to remain willfully ignorant of the fact that the government cannot keep spending money, doubly so when the taxes the spending is based on are reduced.

And not just that. My employer does not need to know my marital status nor who I love. And dignity comes from many sources, I don’t think it can be defined by how much the government spends on you, that comes across as petty and grasping.

Jane Fae // Posted 30 September 2011 at 12:59 pm

Does this miss the point? The question i am asking is not about whether the state should spend more on particular minority groups – though that is there as sub-text. Rather, my ask has to do with whether, under cover of carrying out “necessary” cuts, there are some in the Tory party who see this as opportunity to roll back rights gained that do not need to be under attack.

The argument thus goes: if we accept the need to reduce state spending, then that will involve cuts at some level.

The fact that structural factors are in play in terms of where women and other minorities sit within the workforce means that even a policy billed as “even-handed” is likely to have disproportionate effects on one or other group (and i do point out that in previous recessions, it has not always been women that have borne the brunt of cuts).

That leads on to two quite separate questions. The first (which i haven’t explored to any great depth) is whether, for the sake of social cohesion, there should be some account of social factors taken in dishing out the cuts: whether some element of protection should be brought into play.

The second is whether some in the Tory party are using the cuts as pretext to do more than just cut. I think the evidence for the latter is sketchy so far (but then, the cuts have only just started): but from reading some of the more reactionary papers, i’d say that a fair few tories would LIKE it if this were happening.


Troika21 // Posted 30 September 2011 at 1:25 pm

@ Jane Fae; so your point is that women should have protected jobs? Or that the state is there to correct inbalances in the demography of work by providing jobs?

If you can claim that some in the Tory party are happy to divest the government of women, not something that I think can be substantiated. Then could that be because Labour used government hiring policy to court women voters?

I do see this as a call that some jobs should be protected because of the gender (or other characteristic) of who is in the position, rather than because they can do the job. Is that what your asking for?

Michelle // Posted 30 September 2011 at 6:29 pm

I think this is a really important article. I also think there is evidence that the governments agenda is to undo some of the progress made in terms of equality. The obvious example is the married couples tax breaks clearly favouring married couples at a time of mass cuts, this decision sent a clear message as to what ‘lifestyle choices’ are deemed ‘the right ones’ . Also we would not have a government talking about cutting the 50% tax rate when things like childcare tax credits are being cut. If we have a government that genuinely believes the priority is to get Britains to work then childcare you would think would be a cut too far and ultimately counter productive.

Valuing the provision of care and placing an, admittedly low price on its provision, is not a way of buying women. It is a case of valuing the ‘enterprise’ of looking after and caring for other human beings. This has to be in the benefit of society including men. Instead we face returning to family members (read women) providing these public services for nothing. We have to make this government responsible for the outcomes of their policies. They cannot claim they are unfortunate unintended side effects.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 1 October 2011 at 11:13 am

A somewhat muddled article because women are not ‘the minority’ we are the majority of human species. However since we all live in a male supremacist system this means women continue to be defined as either a ‘special case’ or else we are ‘the minority!’ Tory cuts are designed to eliminate the tiny rights feminists have achieved and ensure greater profits are accorded the male dominated private business sector.

Ask the question who will benefit from these cuts? Answer is multi-national corporations because businesses must never be subject to regulation and control – free market enterprise is the god of Tories as well as ensuring male domination over all women is reasserted and enforced.

Big Society is supposed to take over from state responsibility but as always it will be women doing the unpaid work with men awarding themselves profitable managerial jobs. After all someone has to manage all those unpaid female volunteers and that is a job for the boys.

So too with the elimination of the NHS by turning it to a huge private business corporation whereby private multi-national companies will earn huge profits whilst poor women and men will not be able to access adequate health care.

The reason why public sector is disproportionately administered by women is because public sector work is considered to be ‘women’s work’ not ‘men’s work.’ Furthermore it is not male managers and male chief executives who are being made redundant but women whose jobs are low level and hence can easily supposedly be discarded. Telling women it is their fault for not entering private businesses is a neat male supremacist method commonly used to blame women whilst ensuring economic male control is not made visible. Private sector companies continue to enforce sex discrimination against women because men are supposedly ‘far more work orientated than women!’ Ignoring how economics operate whereby work is defined as either ‘male’ and therefore is of high value or else is ‘female’ and hence is of low value ensures the economic system continues to be one wherein it is men not women who are the ones benefiting.

Likewise Cameron and his cronies are rescinding legal aid because it is essential multi national corporations and smaller private businesses must never be held accountable for mal practice/fraud etc. Legal aid is also being taken away from women who seek legal redress in order to safeguard themselves from intimate male terrorism. Again who benefits from cuts in legal aid? Male supremacist system and men as a group. So yes the economic cuts are not ‘gender neutral’ because it is women Cameron and his minion Clegg who are targetting women and once again women are seen as disposable because so-called ‘feminine work’ is not of high value. The numbers of unemployed women is the worst for decades but never mind with so many women unemployed the Tory government can force them into undertaking ‘voluntary work’ in order to earn their miserly Jobseekers allowance and thereby save the state vast sums of money which would have been spent on ensuring public services were being maintained.

See below for analysis of how and why the economic cuts are being targetted at women not men and also why withdrawal of legal aid benefits multi-national corporations and male dominated private businesses not women.

Holly Combe // Posted 2 October 2011 at 11:33 am

@Jennifer. I very much agree with what you say about the low value ascribed to work seen as “female” and the protection and de-regulation of business at the cost of human rights. This is spot-on too:

The numbers of unemployed women is the worst for decades but never mind with so many women unemployed the Tory government can force them into undertaking ‘voluntary work’ in order to earn their miserly Jobseekers allowance and thereby save the state vast sums of money which would have been spent on ensuring public services were being maintained.

One thing I would add is that, while it’s a fair to say women are actually a majority, I don’t think this negates the points Jane is making or renders the piece “muddled”. Surely all oppressed groups deserve equality, regardless of whether or not they are a minority in terms of actual numbers?

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