We all know that the Coalition Government’s cuts are unfairly loaded to the poorest in Society, while they give tax cuts to millionaires. But the way in which women have been affected is shocking. According to the analysis from the House of Commons library, women will be hit four times harder by the new direct tax, tax credit and benefit changes announced in the Autumn Statement, bearing £867 million of the £1.1 billion raised.
Women are now paying three times as much as men to bring down the deficit: of the £16bn raised in 2014/15 through additional net direct tax, benefit, pay and pension changes raised since the General Election £12.1 bn – approximately 76% - will come from women and £3.9 bn from men.
The cuts have hit women across the board:
Axing the Health in Pregnancy Grant and the higher rate of tax credit for families with babies under one, means that low-paid new mothers are losing £1,300 during pregnancy and the baby’s first year. A further £180 in real terms will be forfeited by new mothers by 2015 from the restriction of the Surestart Maternity Allowance and the Chancellor’s “mummy tax”.
Cuts to public services and to local authority funding were always going to hit women, who represent 65% of the workforce in this area. Therefore, it is not surprising that female unemployment is the highest for a generation and that women’s unemployment has risen much higher than men’s since the election. Long-term unemployment has increased by nearly 100,000 since May 2010 and a shocking 88% of that figure is among women. Older women have seen an 18.5% in unemployment, compared to 0.1% for everyone else.
32,000 women have chosen to remain out of the workplace as support for childcare is cut and work becomes increasing uneconomical.
This is not a good time for professional women, many of whom are the major earners in their families. The recent report Sex and Power, 2013 Who Runs Britain? shows “evidence of the shocking erasure from public life – including at senior levels in the judiciary, education, the arts, finance, the civil service, the City, media and government.” (The Observer, 24.02.2013). Out of 190 countries, only Ireland and Italy have a lower percentage of women in government than the UK. The Coalition Government has only 4 women in a Cabinet of 25 and 5 departments, including the Treasury, have no female Ministers. Of the 25 Lib-Dem Ministers, only 6 are women.
If you add to all of this, the fact that there has been a 31% cut for refuges and specialist advice, cuts in real terms to the NHS and unaffordable tuition fees, it is not surprising that women are unimpressed by a government led by “posh boys who don’t know the price of milk.”
It is easy to point out the faults of the Government but we also need to answer the question “What would the Labour Party do that is different?” and to counteract the idea that all political parties are the same. The Labour Party has an excellent record on women’s issues. When Tony Blair became Prime Minister, only 40 women had ever held ministerial office. By the start of his third term, that figure rose to 80. Women held about a third of government posts during the Blair years.
he situation continued to improve under Gordon Brown. According to Claire Annesley, Professor of Politics at Manchester University, 2008 marked the peak of women in senior political positions , when Brown appointed Jacqui Smith as first woman Home Secretary and promoted several women in the government.
The increase in the number of women Ministers was reflected in the legislation passed by the Labour Governments: The introduction of the minimum wage in 1999 benefitted a million low-paid workers, two thirds of whom were women;They opened 3,500 Sure Start Centres, providing support for parents and children in every community. Many of these are now closing, thanks to the cuts.To support parents balance work and family life, the Labour Government increased paid maternity leave to 9 months and increased total maternity leave to 1 year. They also doubled statutory maternity pay. From May 2009, parents with children under 16 years of age gained the right to request flexible working.
Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit were introduced in 2003 to help low-income households. Measures to tackle domestic violence through the Domestic Crime and Victims Act (2004) had real impact; there was a 58% drop in domestic violence. During the time that Labour Governments were in power, from 1997 and 2010 rape convictions rose by 45%.
In opposition, the Labour Party has continued to fight for women’s rights. They have: Led the campaign in Parliament, calling for stalking to be made a criminal offence;Backed Clare’s Law and Jane’s Law, giving more information and protection for women at risk of domestic violence; (now on statute book)Worked with Trades Unions and others to force the Government to back down on its extremely unfair plans to equalise the State pension two years early by introducing an 18-month cap. This will gain six months respite for women to prepare for retirement.
For the future, the Labour Party has: Set up Child Care Commission, to draw up plans for our next manifesto, to make childcare more flexible and affordable.Recently launched our new Older Women’s Commission, chaired by Harriet Harman, to look into the pressures faced by a new generation of older women.
When challenged in the House of Commons about the effect of the Government’s policies on women, the Lib-Dem Minister for Equalities failed to answer, blaming the general situation on the previous Government and claiming it was “extremely patronising to lump together 31 million women as the prime victims of the deficit reduction.” The figures would appear to prove her wrong.
Women's Officer, Bath CLP
Sources: House of Commons Library; Hansard (debate 8 June 2011); Sex and Power2013: Who Runs Britain? (Counting Women In, summarised in The Observer, 24.02.2013)