This year’s budget may have been on International Women’s day, but once again with the Government committing to permanent austerity, 86 per cent of the “savings” made have come from women, through tax and benefit changes.
Ahead of the Budget, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women Sarah Champion MP had led demands that the government must publish an analysis of the impact of the budget measures on women; for a Treasury Minister to sit before the Women and Equalities select committee and answer questions on the impact of the budget on women and to publish an equality impact assessment alongside the Spring Budget
That none of these calls has been answered and that women continue to be hardest hit by the policies of this government show that as a country we may currently have a woman Prime Minister but that does not alter the reality of the ongoing austerity assault on women’s collective position in society.
Just as trickle-down economics does not work, neither does trickle-down social justice.
It has necessitated subverting the language of equality by both this government and its coalition predecessor — barriers to accomplishing equality are reduced to the need to overcome individual prejudice rather than inequality being a structural feature of our society, which is why women are being most affected by austerity.
Women shoulder greater caring responsibilities and form the bulk of the public service workforce. They are also the greater users of public services so the cuts, privatisation and running down of these services affect them disproportionately.
Women have increased their participation in the workforce to historic highs, yet form the majority of the lowest-paid. 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.
Women’s Aid has reported that, on a typical day, 155 women have to be turned away from refuges and two women a week continue to die at the hands of their current or ex-partner. We know that 54,000 women a year are forced out of their jobs because of maternity discrimination and the Runnymede Trust has shown that black and Asian women on have been worst affected by this government’s actions.
Cuts levied against in-work and other benefits have left many struggling financially, particularly alongside a decade of lost real pay, but shamefully as of next month women will have to prove their third child is a product of rape if they wish to qualify for child tax credits for that child.
The consequence of continuing to pursue austerity is to create a society in which women’s voices and choices are diminished at every turn. Legal positions can remain unchanged but cuts are having a real and detrimental impact on the exercise of those rights and women’s ability to actively participate in society.
If austerity has hit women six times harder than men, it is also true that women have the most to gain from austerity’s cessation.
Yet It is not enough to end the austerity assault — we need to invest in equality.
Achieving greater economic independence and autonomy for women is not sufficient to achieve women’s equality — but it is necessary. And that means looking at the fundamental structure of our economy.
If you are not going to challenge the fundamental structures of wealth and power in society then you are ultimately not going to challenge women’s position within them.
The overarching commitment to “rebuild and transform” the country by the current Labour leadership is a commitment to do this.
The announcement of Labour’s Economic Equality Bill to ensure that “the money follows the policy” on equality and to prevent the future implementation of economic policies that damage women in the way we have seen in recent years is to be welcomed.
As Jeremy Corbyn highlighted in his response to the Budget that demolished the government’s claims of being on the side of ordinary people, Labour has also called for emergency funding for our NHS and social care; has a policy of investing across our regions to sustainably grow our economy and create decent jobs; a £10 minimum wage; ending the public sector pay cap; ending insecurity in people’s work through stronger employment and trade union rights and ending zero hours contracts and attacked the government for choosing not to focus on the employers who use bogus self-employment to avoid their tax obligations.
There is an alternative to the government’s austerity – and it has continued to be mapped out by the current Labour leadership.
We need to unite behind that vision so we can win a General Election and transform Britain for the better.
Sian Errington is a spokesperson for the Labour Assembly Against Austerity. She will speaking at the event organised by the Labour Assembly Against Austerity on March 14 at 7pm at the Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House, they will host an event on Labour's Alternative to the Tory Austerity Budget with John McDonnell MP, Diane Abbott MP, Richard Burgon MP and many others. You can register in advance at https://bit.ly/mcdonnellonthebudget