Why the cuts are a feminist issue
“While women represent half of the world’s population, they work nearly two-thirds of all working hours, butreceive only one-tenth of the world’s income and own less than one percent of the world’s property.” These statistics alone demonstrate the extent of the gender inequality that women face every day, and such inequality is set to worsen under the government’s plans to cut the budget deficit as part of their austerity measures. The Conservative party strongly believes in leaving the people to their own devices, with minimal state intervention, and, as such, they are shrinking the size of the public sector. On the other hand, they are increasing the rate of quantitative easing to £75bn in order to boost the private sector.
The Fawcett Society, an organization that campaigns for women’s rights, has branded the way in which the cuts will affect women more “the triple jeopardy”, the first being the issue of public sector jobs. The government estimates that 330,000 jobs will be gotten rid of in the public sector over the next few years. However, women rely heavily on jobs within the public sector, as they offer the most flexible types of employment so that women are able to balance work with looking after their family. Since women contribute to sixty-five percent of the public sector workforce and seventy-five percent of women account for the local government workforce, it is inevitable that women will be hit the hardest by job cuts. In fact, twice as many women than men will lose their public sector jobs.
The evidence points out that women are already bearing the brunt of public sector cuts, since female unemployment is rising, as is the number of women claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance. The government has argued that although the public sector is shrinking, the growing private sector should provide employment for those who lost their public sector jobs. However, the government has failed to consider that private sector employment typically has not adapted to women’s needs regarding maternity or care needs. In fact, the full time pay gap in the private sector is almost double that in the public sector –twenty point eight per cent versus eleven point six per cent.Therefore, the pay gap will continue to widen, causing further inequality between men and women. Although the government has announced it plans to increase the number of apprenticeships available to young people, these are unlikely to resolve the problem of youth unemployment and the risk of a generation of wasted potential.
The second factor that contributes to the “triple jeopardy” is that benefit and service cuts will affect more women. Women usually require access to state benefits and services more than men due to a multitude of reasons, including that women have maternity needs, women live longer, women are poorer, women are more likely to be primary carers and are more likely to be single parents. Given that women use more services than men, it is clear women will bear the brunt of provision cuts. The coalition is also planning to axe Sure Start centers, which women, including my own mother, rely on to take their babies and toddlers to “stay and play” sessions, which is an invaluable resource for not only socializing with other mothers, but also accessing help and advice when it comes to bringing up a child. In fact, since May 2010, twenty centers have already been shut down. Social care services, which are vital for disadvantaged children have also been threatened to be reduced under the government’s budget cuts. Alarmingly enough, domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking services have also been cut.
Due to their relative economic inequality, women rely on benefits more, so much so that one-fifth of their income constitute of welfare payments, compared with one-tenth of men’s incomes. The 2010 budget and spending review outlined a variety of cuts and caps to housing benefits. Women are more likely to be single mothers, and consequently, fifty-three percent of the recipients of housing benefits are women. The abolition of the universal Health in Pregnancy Grant, a one-off grant to promote maternal nutrition and engagement with health services, will leave all women worse off.The freeze in child benefits will impact upon the poorest mothers the most.
The government announced earlier this year that benefits, tax credits, and public sector pensions are to undergo change in the way that they are indexed. They were traditionally indexed to the Retail Price Index (RPI), but will now be indexed to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) instead. CPI is currently 5.2 percent, whilst RPI is currently 5.6 percent. The change in indexation means that the real value of benefits and pensions will fall over time.
The third aspect of the “triple jeopardy” is that women will be forced to fill in the gaps as state services are withdrawn. Women still do the majority of care work, as they do two hours’ more unpaid work every day than men. Three quarters of the claimants of Carer’s allowance are women and consequently any cut to this vital service will effect the large amount of women caring for elderly or infirm members of society.
The Fawcett society said: “Withdrawing vital state support risks further entrenching the already unequal distribution of labour as women take on ever increasing levels of unpaid and informal care work. In turn, this limits women’s opportunities to undertake paid work and to fully engage in public and political life – including in positions of power and influence.”
Written by: Noorulann Shahid