The Fawcett society estimates that 70% of the austerity cuts will directly affect women because women disproportionately depend on the welfare state and social programs to meet their basic needs.
Women frequently remain solely responsible for children, disabled or ill dependants and elderly family members.
In our patriarchal society women are more likely to live in poverty, be lone parents, and to experience domestic and sexual violence.
At the same time the gendering of family life and care-giving means that women interact with the Welfare State more frequently than men, having greater contact with hospitals, schools, Sure Start centres, social care centres, counselling, support services for sexual or domestic violence, libraries, sencos, (Special Education Needs Coordinator) GP practices, nurseries, and community centres.
The Fawcett Society estimates that twice as many women as men will lose their jobs in the public sector cuts. 65% of public sector workers are women.
Women and poverty aren’t new to the ConDem austerity cuts. Two thirds of the pensioners already living in poverty are women. Currently women’s average pensions are valued at 62% of men’s pensions. The median annual wage for men who work full time is £25,800, but for women only £20,100. On average, women do twice as much unwaged labour a day as men.
Only two fifths of single parents receive child maintenance from the other parent. 40% of single parents who receive maintenance through the CSA get less than £10 per week. Children living in single parent households already have twice the risk of living in poverty than children from two parent families with just under half of all single parent families classed as “poor.” This is despite the fact that most single parents are in some kind of paid employment and that most children are born into two-parent families.
Poverty isn’t new to women, but the “austerity cuts” will mean that more women and children will wind up living in poverty. This is utterly disgusting in a nation as rich as the UK. The Fawcett Society calls this increased risk “Triple Jeopardy” wherein:
- Women will be hit hardest by job cuts in the public sector.
- Women will be hit hardest as services and benefits they use more are cut.
- Women will be left “filling the gaps” as state services are withdrawn.
This is the palpable reality of the ConDem austerity measures: a deliberate attack on women. This reality is without taking into account the ConDem plans for “Universal Benefit” whose effect is simply to push women out of the work force, leaving them dependent on relationships with men to survive.
If, as Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, put it:
Child poverty and the incomes and services women are able to access are intrinsically linked- then cutting services can only increase child poverty. Our children will be left holding the bill because they are paying for it now; not in some mythical future.
The organization Feminist Fightback puts it equally bluntly:
The austerity measures of the Coalition government will affect every facet of human life and relations; they are attempting to undermine the welfare state and to create a profoundly unequal society, and this will hit women particularly hard, as well as other marginalised and vulnerable groups. Such a disproportionate impact is not an unintended or unforeseen effect of the cuts. Rather, it is endemic to this government's drive to destroy the welfare state, and in particular to restructure existing forms of social reproduction.
In discussing the gendered effects of the cuts, we must remember that we aren’t agitating for a more equitable gendered split of the cuts. We want the cuts to stop. We don’t want the effects split equally between men and women; that would defeat the purpose.
However, the very real effect of cuts to the social care, education, health, benefits and housing budgets is that they will disproportionately affect women: in their roles as mothers, as daughters and as workers, both waged and unwaged.
We need to move outside a dichotomy of women either as SAHM (stay at home mum) or WOHM (working out of the home mum) as most women perform both roles at some point during their life, with many women having no choice in their options at any given moment. Women are equally waged/unwaged and productive/reproductive in their lives and these cuts attack women as women in both the productive and reproductive construction of “woman.”
The ConDems will make this group of women poorer and in larger numbers.
This is not new information. The Fawcett Society has already mounted a legal challenge in June 2010 because the government failed to do its legal duty through a gender assessment of the budget. The government did admit to its failure to do a gender assessment, however the legal challenge ultimately failed with the courts refusing a judicial review. Instead, the court suggested that the Equality and Human Rights Commission were best placed to analyse the budget. Yet we continue to have a budget whose cuts disproportionately affect women, one in which children will ultimately lose out as more end up living in poverty without access to the education, healthcare and social programs which would allow the most vulnerable among us to live with respect and dignity. Instead, we are living in a society that will increase women’s poverty, social exclusion and vulnerability.
For More Information onthe Specific Gendered Nature of the Cuts see the following organisations: