All in it together?

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So, how’s the coalition’s austerity programme working out for you then?

Chances are, if you are a woman, that the answer is ‘not well’.

Women have been hit hardest by the austerity measures that have been introduced as a response to the meltdown of our financial institutions and subsequent recession.

Women are most disadvantaged by the continued withdrawal of public services, including fewer refuges and refuge places and reductions in support services.

Changes to benefits and tax credits cost women more than twice as much as they cost men, widening the gap between men and women’s income and pushing more women into poverty

Women in low paid jobs and lone-parents, on the whole lone parents are single mums not single dads, bear the brunt of the government’s welfare reforms. Cuts to childcare and reduction of help with childcare costs may push women out of the labour market while cuts to adult social care will increase the burden on unpaid carers. As with lone parents, these unpaid carers are mainly women.

And, like the poor, some things are always with us. Like the persistance of the gender pay gap. In Scotland it is 14% for full-time workers while women in part-time work will be paid a massive 35% less than men.

Women’s jobs have been lost in increasing numbers, primarily as the public sector continues to shrink. Data published by the Local Government Association earlier this month showed that the number of women working in the sector had fallen by 253,600 to 1.43m, while the number of men in local government has fallen by 104,700 to 452,300. Here in Scotland the level of female unemployment is the highest it has been in 24 years. While there may be early signs that growth is returning to some sectors of the economy the jobs lost in the public sector, largely women’s jobs, are likely gone forever.

The shrinking of the public sector is a double whammy for women as it impacts women as workers, and women as service users.

Let’s take as an example the issue of domestic violence, where services for women facing violence are under threat. The police and crown prosecution service are both facing budget cuts which may reduce the support available to victims and survivors. Cuts in the police service may lead to even fewer successful investigations and prosecutions. The NHS is facing budget cuts which may reduce the level of support available to victims of violence, with more on-going mental, physical and sexual health problems for women. Cuts to legal aid reduce the ability of women suffering violence to get the legal help and support they need. Almost two thirds of all legal aid claims are made by women. Cuts to housing benefit make it harder for some women to move area to get away from their attacker, leaving more women trapped in violent relationships

And women are not benefitting from job creation measures. The proportion of unemployed men is down by 0.5% to 8.2% while the number of women without employment has risen by 0.4% to 7.3% since the coalition government came to power in 2010.

In so many ways the hard won gains for women’s equality are in danger of unravelling. We can argue about the causes of the current economic climate: bankers, hedge funds, reckless lending, but whatever the cause one thing is certain. Women did not cause this crisis but we are paying a disproportionately high price.

Karen Birch is the editor of the3rdimagazine.

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