This March for International Women’s Day I wrote an article that was hopeful in reflecting from a perspective of advancing women’s liberation that the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership had brought the politics of a vision of a more positive future, with social justice as it goal, into the heart of the political debate.
Central to the Labour leadership’s vision is a recognition that an economic policy that rejects austerity is necessary to deliver that goal.
The deep structural problems in our economy, and a politics that has increasingly alienated people, have survived successive governments since Thatcher's election who have remained essentially wedded to neo-liberalism. It meant stagnating and falling wages and yawning inequality.
Austerity has exacerbated these problems, with wages still not recovering to their pre-crisis levels.
Indeed, in recent years, the current government has consistently failed on the economic indicators that should be the only ones that really matters –whether sustainable growth and better living standards for the overwhelming majority and a more equitable society are being achieved. And it has failed for women in particular – because falls in living standards, wages and rights have not happened from an equal starting position.
The Women’s Budget Group has found that between 2010 and 2020, 86% of government tax and welfare ‘savings’ measures will come at the expense of women. Women have increased their participation in the labour market to historical highs, yet form the majority of the lowest paid. Over half of those on the minimum wage are women.
One in four women are in low paid and insecure work and women are concentrated in the sectors most scarred by the rise in precarious and insecure work. It has led the TUC to estimate that at the current rate of progress it will take 50 years to achieve equal pay and that women earn on average £8,500 less a year than men by the time they reach their fifties.
The trade unions that are a force for equality - Government own figures show that compared to non-organised workplaces, a substantially higher percentage of unionised workplaces and employers have better flexible working policies, enhanced maternity pay and other equality policies – have been subject to further attacks through the Trade Union Act.
And this was the situation before Brexit appeared on the horizon. Since then the outlook has become somewhat bleaker.
With the Government signalling its support for a ‘hard Brexit’ there is the risk to our workplace rights underpinned by EU legislation, threats to jobs and the spectre of deeper austerity as the country must “live within its means.”
An economic slowdown that will hit the lowest paid hardest will further drive back women in the advance towards equality and liberation. It is women who will be hardest hit by the economic shockwaves that will hit because of Brexit – and it will be women collectively who are hardest hit by those shockwaves being used as an excuse for further austerity.
Since Jeremy Corbyn first won the Labour leadership last summer he has drawn the clear links between an economic policy that invests to transform our economy and society, and the need to democratise our public life and deliver stronger rights that people can enforce,
Those policies were reaffirmed this summer –and in the wake of Brexit they have become even more urgently necessary.
Because just as it is women who have been worst affected by austerity, it is women, collectively, who have the most to gain from Labour’s alternative policies to austerity and winning the political fights and elections ahead of us to get a Labour government to implement them.
Sian Errington will be speaking on women and austerity at the Labour Assembly Against Austerity conference on Winning with Jeremy — Labour’s Alternative to Tory austerity on this Saturday October 22 at Student Central, Malet Street, London WC1E. Other speakers include John McDonnell MP, Diane Abbott MP and Cat Smith MP. For information and tickets see here or register on the door from 9.30am.
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