The UK has been going through some years of continuous economic cuts. Since the 2010 campaign of budget cutting by the current government, a wave of austerity has spread through the country, with continuous reductions in social welfare programmes, especially in social care. We have seen how less and less money has been spent in unemployment, housing and social exclusion projects. This trend has produced terrible effects on the population. But sadly, as all too often is the case, women have again been the most affected.
Public policies are not usually thought of in terms of women and men. But these policies are not neutral, they have a gendered impact that make women more vulnerable to their effects. One main example of this is the case of cuts to welfare. Cuts to welfare, as a result of austerity, has meant that women have been required to prioritise care responsibilities, such as care for the young, elderly or disabled, which can prevent them from entering employment, or facing in work poverty as they are only able to undertake part-time, low paid jobs. Changes to Universal Credit, and other benefit changes will only further enhance this issue for women.
However, policy makers rarely, if ever adopt a feminist perspective to try to correct this issue. And this has been no different in the past few years in the UK or, at least, the effort to support women has not been strong enough. As a recent study proves, women are holding 86% of the burden of the austerity measures approved by the current government. By 2020, predictions show that tax and benefit changes since 2010 will have hit women’s incomes twice as hard as men. And, as always, less affluent women are expected to be the worst affected.
A significant case where economic cuts have had devastating effects on women has been in programmes directed to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Between 2010 and 2012, local authorities reduced 31% of the funding in the sector, from £7.8m to £5.4m. Many local organisations dedicated to provide assistance to women and girls suffering from violence have been forced to close many of their refuges due to economic constraints. As a result, they have been forced to deny assistance to many women in vulnerable positions, leaving them in dangerous situations and fearing for their lives.
But among all women, those from minority ethnic groups have been the ones experiencing the greatest loss during the years of austerity. BAME women from all income groups have been the hardest hit by these measures, and they are expected to lose another 11.5% of their incomes by 2020, a study says. In the last few years, these women have experienced a double discrimination when trying to get a job in the labour market. While already being marginalised for belonging to minority communities, cuts made in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) funding has further impeded their full integration in society and their chances of getting paid employment.
Women from minority communities are the most vulnerable of all and are therefore in need of greater protection from the state. Politicians and policy makers should be reminded of this if they want to prevent women’s marginalisation from the economy and from society, which would result in incredible loses for the country as a whole.
At JAN Trust, we believe that women and men should have equal opportunities in society. We support the idea that a feminist approach should be taken when treating important issues concerning the population, such as when designing public policies, so that women’s discrimination is not further entrenched. At our women’s centre, we provide free services for the most vulnerable women, including English, ICT and numeracy classes. With these, we try to help them increase their chances of having a better life and becoming active and empowered citizens.
If you want to know more about the work we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.