Mothers and Welfare Reform
At the start of the year I was working on a list of all the benefit cuts announced since the election of the current government. One of the things that struck me at the time was how many of the cuts seemed to be aimed at women; more specifically, how many of the cuts seemed to be targeted at mothers.
Of course, lots of benefit cuts hit men and women equally – such as the shift in uprating from the Retail Price Index to the Consumer Price Index and then the 1% maximum uprating of non-pension benefits for three years from 2013, whatever the CPI rate of inflation. But some of the meanest reforms were either aimed at mothers directly – or at children, which indirectly hits mothers, who still tend to have the main responsibility for the children in many families. Here’s some of the cuts I’m thinking of:
- The abolition of the baby element of Child Tax Credit.
- Abolition of the Child Tax Credit toddler supplement.
- Cutting the proportion of childcare costs covered by Working Tax Credit.
- Freezing Child Benefit.
- The abolition of the Health in Pregnancy Grant.
- Abolition of Sure Start Maternity Grant for second and subsequent children.
And some of the Coalition’s worst cuts, may not be specifically targeted at women, but they’ll hit women much harder than men, and mothers particularly hard. Take the Bedroom Tax, for instance. There’s some grisly nooks and crannies of this policy that particularly affect women (like applying to Bedroom Tax to domestic violence victims’ panic rooms) but it’s the unequal impact of the policy that gets me – and the fact that the government plainly doesn’t get it at all. Their Equality Impact Assessment noted that, of the 660,000 claimants whose benefits they planned to cut, 51% would be women, 24% would be couples and just 24% single men.
The same document blithely claimed that this was OK because it just reflected the fact that women accounted for a high proportion of tenants in the social rented sector. The argument that this was, in fact, the problem seems not to have occurred to the authors. (Figures published last month show that the assessment was correct, the Bedroom Tax is, in fact, hitting women harder than men.)
Or take the Benefit Cap. Again, the government’s Equality Impact Assessment predicted that 60% of the claimants hit by the Benefit Cap would be single women (because lone parents are so badly affected) and just 10% would be single men. Actually, the large majority of those affected aren’t adults of either gender. According to the latest DWP statistics, 73% of the individuals hit by the Benefit Cap are children. But, as I pointed out earlier, an assault on children necessarily means an assault on mothers.
The fact is, women and children are more likely to be poor than men. According to the government’s Households Below Average Income Statistics, of the individuals living in relative poverty:
- 40% are women
- 37% are men
- 23% are children.
Any system that attempts to ameliorate this, like our welfare state, necessarily transfers resources from adult men to women and children. And any government that tries to roll back the welfare state is necessarily bad for women and children.