Women in north east England face sharp end of austerity

The north east of England faces savage austerity measures which will add to the poverty and deprivation afflicting much of the region, and working class women will be at the sharp end. The starting point is already bleak: long-term unemployment, amongst the lowest life expectancy in the UK, and the lowest gross disposable household income in the country, 15% below the national average. The TUC says that the region’s job market is the worst, with high unemployment and falling wages. There are two new food banks opening every day, catering for low-income families unable to put food on the table. This is the context for two recent reports, one by the NEWomen’s Network and the Women’s Resource Centre, and the other by the Fawcett Society. Both reports are damning of the cuts, with their consequences of increasingly entrenched gender roles and show that things are set to worsen, especially for working class women, as the capitalist crisis deepens.

The struggle to meet basic needs is acute. Homelessness has risen by 19% nationally and by 40% in the Northeast, where rows of boarded-up homes sit empty and private rents increase rapidly. Of the homeless households ‘accepted as being in priority housing need’ by the local authorities in the region this year, 47% of them were single female parents with dependent children. Couples with children made up to 20%, and 4% were single men with children. The number of women supporting dependent children living in unsuitable accommodation or unstable circumstances, remains overwhelmingly high. Bearing the brunt of caring responsibilities women face the brutal combination of housing, unemployment and benefit cuts with decreasing support.

In addition, working class women have been amongst the first to lose their jobs in the crisis. The number of women on Jobseeker’s Allowance in the north east is at its highest since 1990. Local authority redundancies are higher than the national rate, with 85.9% of Northumberland’s redundancies being women workers, and 81.5% in Redcar and Cleveland.

Unemployed women are also receiving less support. The closure of the Bridge Women’s Education Project, based in Sunderland and Durham, means a loss of 1,600 learning spaces for women who may struggle to find education elsewhere. A further 600 women face the difficult task of finding alternative specialised support. 100 women lost their jobs. Crucially, the project provided free childcare; its closure is even more appalling when set in the context of spiralling childcare prices and cuts to provision.

With the vast majority of cuts soon to hit unless serious opposition mounts, it is increasingly urgent to place the struggle for women’s interests at the centre of resistance to austerity.

Rachel Francis

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013


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