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Women and children first

Budget day today, few surprises as leaks are now the standard practice for softening us up, but another opportunity to reflect on how the current Tory government’s espoused principle of “we’re all in this together” seems to have an addendum of “but especially if you are female, poor and/or a single parent”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, the TUC and the Fawcett Society have all independently assessed the cuts and legislative changes made so far in the last ten months and have all come to pretty much this conclusion. The IFS concluded last August that: “Low-income households of working age lose the most from the June 2010 Budget reforms because of the cuts to welfare spending. Those who lose the least are households of working age without children in the upper half of the income distribution.”  Women are the majority of low income households and particularly single parent women. So, as the TUC demonstrated clearlythrough analysing the IFS data even further, women and children are the first to feel the pain and will be taking the most.

The Fawcett Society has already shown up the government’s illegal budget setting by taking them to court and demonstrating clearly that the Tories simply flouted the law on assessing the impact of the cuts.

The Ministry of Justice has announced it will make huge cuts to spending on legal aid andfunding for advice centres. Again, women will lose out the most. Justice denied anywhere is justice denied everywhere. I am not talking about a far away country, I am talking about the UK, an allegedly civilised modern state.  My fellow Labour council candidate Ben Mosley (Cabot; @benmosley) and I made a statement of protest to our local Lib Dem council in March asking them to protest on behalf of the people who rely on our Law Centres for legal redress. We got nowhere.

Many people seem to think that these changes only affect the workshy, the undesirable and the undeserving. First off, see above – in a civilised country there should be justice for everyone, even if we don’t like them. But second off, think again. Working families receive benefits on which they depend – child benefit, tax credits, housing benefits and the like help low paid families top up insufficient wages to levels for decent but hardly extravagant living. People who are out of paid work still work – they are usually bringing up children, caring for elderly relatives or neighbours, contributing as volunteers or simply between jobs. There will be a lot more of us doing this soon, as the public sector cuts bite.

So why are women and children expected to take the burden of the cuts? Is it because they are responsible for the deficit? Did their expensive habits of needing food, housing and a decent education cause the international financial crisis? I think not. Is it because they are in a better position than single, childless, upper income males to take an income cut? That’s too stupid a question to bother answering. We are left with the conclusion that the Tory government, with their Liberal Democrat lackeys, neither liberal nor democratic, are choosing to hurt women and children most.

Men as well as women tell me on the doorstep that they think that this is wrong. They aren’t all diehard paid up Fawcett Society members like me. None of them is wearing the delightful “This is what a Feminist looks like” t shirt which some of us sport as we fall over in the squash court each Saturday, crushed again by a more agile teenager. They are decent human beings who just think it is wrong.

Get ready, un-liberal un-democrats. The people are more angry with you than with the Tories – they never EVER expected you to roll over and play dumb for policies like this.  Mark the 6th May in your diaries. That’s when you will find out it that it’s not just people like me saying so.

An to everyone else, no, everyone including the Liberal Democrats, join the Fawcett Society, gender equality doesn’t mean we are all the same, it just means that things we are working for things to be good for men and women.

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