Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Women and the cuts

Women's hour on Radio Four today was good about the effect of Britain's absurdly sado-masochistic austerity programme on women. It's clear that they will bear the brunt of the cuts - one reason why the Coalition failed to carry out a gender and equality impact assessment of the Budget.

This disparity between men and women arises for a number of reasons.

Firstly, many of the spending reductions now in the pipeline will fall most heavily among local authority services - all the better to hide them away from the national media, and to blame someone else for them, one would think. These, of course, will fall on services that many working women with children rely on to support their multi-dimensional lives - after-school care and clubs, for one thing.

Secondly, more women work in the public sector than do men - especially in support roles (the so-called 'back office staff' so disingenuously singled out for job losses by Ministers) that will be disproportionately culled as the state shrinks back.

Thirdly, many family-friendly revenue streams - Child Benefit and Working Family Tax Credits, as well as the Child Trust Fund 'baby bonds' - are among the most high-profile casualties of Labour (and New Labour) welfarism. These either went to the woman in a family unit, or were popularly perceived to be 'owed' or 'owing' to her. Now they're caput if you earn above certain levels - and entirely, in the case of cash payments at birth.

Jill Kirby from the Centre for Policy Studies made a rather pitiful attempt to claim that the Women's Budget Group, who've published a report on this today, were 'igniting warfare' between men and women. Yawn.

By the way, Kirby claimed that present fiscal policy was not a massive retrenchment, but only took us back to 2009 levels of spending. This for one thing is not true - next year will be much more like the 2007-2008 fiscal year - but also misses a fundamental point about non-discretionary and discretionary spending. State welfare rolls are bloated by recession and unemployment; if spending falls back to below what it was two years ago, even with all this money pouring out of the Exchequer to pay for economic failure, services are going to be hit very, very hard.

So women are going to suffer disproportionately because of policies pursued in Westminster and Whitehall over the next four years and five months. Wonderful.

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