Turn on the TV or open any newspaper and reports of attacks on women worldwide keep on coming. The numerous high profile rape and paedophile cases here in the UK, the gang rape cases in India, the recent shooting of Reeva Steenkamp in Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius’ home in South Africa, the continued use of rape as a weapon in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rochdale and Rotherham sexual abuse scandals… sadly, the list could go on and on. This International Women’s Day, the need to tackle violence against women all over the world is as great as it ever has been.
But in the UK, it is violence against women support organisations that have been first in line for hits to funding: services closed, experienced staff lost, services teetering on the brink of closing their doors just waiting for the next round of funding cuts to finish them off.The death toll taken by domestic violence in the UK is already disgracefully high – two women are killed every single week by current or former partners. How far will this figure rise as the cuts continue to bite? Yet it seems that women and children’s lives are disregarded in the dogged pursuit of deficit reduction.
Of course, the Government’s whole austerity programme has lost all credibility with even the International Monetary Fund fretting that cuts are self defeating. Cuts have choked off demand, there is no growth in sight and the debt is actually rising. The closure of domestic violence services is just one very stark example of how women and children are taking the brunt of the coalition government’s austerity measures.
That is why the TUC will be rallying in Westminster next Wednesday 13th March, one week before the Chancellor delivers his budget, to say enough, no more. We want to tell him in no uncertain terms that this country needs an alternative. An alternative to falling living standards, to services slashed to the bone and to benefit cuts that are plunging families into poverty – all whilst the richest get a nice big tax cut. This country needs a budget for jobs, for growth and for families – in all their diversity.
The government claims that unemployment is falling. But with reductions in hours and creeping casualisation, many women are disappearing into the ranks of the so- called ‘under employed’ or into bogus self- employment. Women are also more likely to lose their jobs through public sector cuts as they make up the majority of the public sector workforce.
When social care services are trimmed to the bone, too often it’s assumed women will pick up the pieces. Too many women face the Hobson’s choice of handing over an ever larger share of hard earned cash to pay for family care or quitting jobs to join Britain’s growing army of unpaid carers.
And just this week we have learnt that the coalition’s plans to cut maternity pay in real terms means that 1.2 million women will see their finances further squeezed, with poorest mothers hit hardest. Recent reports show that over 400 Sure Start Centres, providing affordable childcare and family support services, have been closed. And it’s not as if the government are offering viable alternatives. The coalition’s solution to improve ‘productivity’ in toddler care has been rounded on by professionals and campaign groups as the wrong answer to a very complex problem
It seems that barely a week goes by without another Government announcement that means more bad news for women. In addition to the plethora of cuts to tax credits and benefits disproportionately affecting women and lone parents that have been introduced since 2010, from the bedroom tax to the recent capping of benefit and tax credit rises at 1%, the value of money in women’s purses is shrinking. Choosing between heating and eating may sound like something dreamed up by a modern day Marie Antoinette but for many it is a real daily choice forced upon them by the Government, as evidenced by the shameful and exponential rise in food banks in Britain.
And while cuts in real pay are the order of the day, there are no caps on supermarket transport or energy prices. Yet – and herein lies the rub – a growing body of economists agree that the economy cannot even begin to recover until people have more money in their pockets to spend.
The Government needs to wake up. Britain needs a pay rise. And that includes women workers too. Our challenge to government is to reverse austerity and tackle the crisis in living standards through boosting wages and incomes for the majority. That is the only route to sustainable growth.
So, this International Women’s Day, please commit to join us at our pre- budget rally next week and call a halt to this assault on women and families. And let’s give David Cameron and the coalition even more of a problem with women.