Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Don’t Let The Cuts Turn Back Time On Women’s Equality

From the monochrome silhouettes of Mad Men to the scandals and seductions of Downton Abbey, vintage style offers some nostalgic escapism at this time of austerity. Yet beneath the veneer of glamour and gentility, the bygone decades harbored a raft of gendered double-standards and institutional sexism. Unfortunately for Britain’s women, the world of yesteryear is rearing its head again as evidence emerges that coalition cuts are literally turning back time on women’s equality.

The coalition strategy for reducing the deficit is hitting women disproportionately hard. Hardly surprising considering that the cabinet is dominated more by millionaires than by female voices.

Women face a unique ‘triple jeopardy’: cuts to their jobs, since two-thirds of public sector workers are women; cuts to state services and benefits that women rely on more than men – such as childcare assistance and support for victims of sexual and domestic violence; and, as reduced state services and benefits increase levels of unpaid labour and decrease financial autonomy, women face being pushed back into dependent roles as ‘homemakers’.

Women’s unemployment is at a record high. Soaring childcare costs and cuts to childcare support are forcing over half of working mothers to ‘stop work or significantly reduce their working hours’; 124 Sure Start children’s centres have closed down, with many more set to follow unless urgent action is taken; organisations that provide specialist services for women, such as for victims of sexual and domestic violence or for lone parents, are being hit hard by local authority funding cuts with some having to close their doors for good; legal aid support is becoming a rare privilege. And these are just some of the impacts.

Welcome to the past. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Or your child benefit. Or your working tax credits. Or your equality.

The Fawcett Society, along with a coalition of charities, unions and academics, recently unveiled a manifesto of policies to lessen the disproportionate impact of the cuts on women. We are asking for proposals in this ‘Life Raft for Women’s Equality’ report, which cover work, pensions, families and violence prevention, to be implemented before or at the next budget in March 2012. These would include a U-turn on cuts to childcare support, safeguarded funding for specialist violence against women support services, and ring-fencing money for Sure Start centres. These requests are tangible, workable solutions, and vital for safeguarding hard-fought women’s rights and opportunities.

There has been much rhetoric from the coalition about connecting with women voters. No wonder women are turning their backs on Cameron and Clegg in their droves!

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