Women: hardest hit by the cuts

Women are experiencing the brunt of the public sector cuts. Benefit cuts will hit women doubly hard as on average they account for twice as much of women’s income as men’s. More women will lose their jobs in the public sector as they make up the majority of the workforce. The already limited public services that women rely on most will be cut further. Driven out of employment and education back into the home, women will be expected to care for children and for those for those for whom the state will no longer provide. If left unopposed, the next round of cuts will force more women to provide this unpaid, largely unrecognised, isolating domestic work and care for longer hours, all with less support.

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement announced the extension of a 1% cap on public sector pay rises for a further two years. This is a pay cut for 4.6 million women and 2.6 million men. He also announced cuts to child tax credits costing women £908m. 73% of the combined cost of these measures will be borne by women. 94% of child benefit recipients are women; this is to be frozen for three years.

710,000 jobs will be lost from the public sector alone by 2017. Sectors which face heavy cuts mainly employ women. 77% of the NHS workforce and 80% of adult social care workers are women: 50,000 jobs in the NHS are being cut. 70,000 were lost in the voluntary (not-for-profit) sector in 2011, of which 56,000 belonged to women. Those who are cared for by the sector and who have already been failed by the state – vulnerable women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, those facing homelessness – face yet more reductions in basic and necessary support.

Raising the costs of local services, for example of nursery places as many councils are proposing, add to the burden. The Institute of Public Policy Research have shown how high child-care costs keep women out of work. However, their proposed solution of universal childcare, however laudable, does not answer the simple question, what full-time jobs could these women so readily return to after maternity leave? It will be the same for single parents forced to look for jobs once their youngest child is five under the Welfare Reform Bill.

60% of sexual and domestic violence refuge services, and 72% of outreach services, have had no agreed funding since April 2011. Domestic violence is increasing as support decreases; it is expected that, this year, over 70,000 women will not get the support they need. The health in pregnancy grant has been stopped, meaning women on low incomes are now no longer given support to buy healthy food during pregnancy. This goes against all maternal health research and policy, but this is of no concern to the ruling class.

David Cameron’s plans to ‘celebrate and encourage’ marriage through tax breaks are consistent with capitalism’s need to maintain the family as an economic unit: ‘traditional’ relationships are promoted and cemented at every opportunity, whilst those who break with this are punished. Single mothers face the most savage combination of cuts. Policy that endorses oppressive gender roles determines sexual health policy. In May 2011, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a counselling service, was removed from the central forum advising the government and replaced by Life, an anti-abortion, pro-abstinence group, which offers no sexual health services. Alongside other pro-abstinence groups, Life is now central to a new Sex and Relationships Council which will lead sex education in schools.

The current legal aid bill will also disproportionately affect women, removing legal aid from civil cases such as clinical negligence, debt, housing, welfare, employment and family disputes. It narrows the definition of domestic violence whilst the government hypocritically organised a consultation on widening this definition. As Lenin noted, ‘bourgeois democracy is the democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, lavish promises and high-sounding slogans about freedom and equality, but in practice all this cloaks the lack of freedom and the inequality of women, the lack of freedom and the inequality for the working class and exploited people’.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has called this the ‘biggest attack on women in a generation’. Of course this is true – but it has not stopped him from saying some cuts are necessary, nor has it stopped Labour councils from wielding the axe. It is vital that we defend every service and benefit, and that we organise and resist. In challenging the cuts, we begin to challenge increasing repression – in challenging capitalism, the cause of the crisis and the cuts, we begin to challenge the very root and driving force of women’s oppression.

Rachel Francis

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012