We’re poorer, have less of a say in the corridors of power and we’re suffering more than men in the face of austerity cuts.
On the Monday after International Women’s Day, Liverpool’s women need to get politicised, or the future looks bleak.
Leanne has four kids. The youngest, Connie, is two and has cataracts. The oldest start secondary school soon. She’s just finished explaining to her local MP Luciana Berger why she had to tell her two older children that they won’t get as many school trips once they graduate to senior school. “The trips are more expensive there, so they’ll have to take it in turns.”
“You feel guilty on your kids,” chimes in Liz who faces losing her job at one of the city’s Children Centres.
School trips is just another of the costs Leanne has to factor into her family budget. There’s childcare, nursery, food and utilities. Yesterday it was one of her children’s birthdays. She bought the other’s little presents so they didn’t feel left out. It all adds up but she doesn’t like having to explain to her children that they have less.
Next to her is her friend, also Leanne. She began volunteering at the same Children’s Centre to learn office and administration skills. A job came up in a nearby centre but the wages wouldn’t have covered the cost of childcare and travelling to and from work, so she couldn’t take it.
“What kind of life is this?” asks Liz. “I work, my husband works. We’ve both got what you’d call good jobs. I’ve worked since I was 16, for 25 years. I’ll be working until I’m 70. But everything’s so expensive. We’re having to stop going on holiday, that was our one luxury. You tell your kids they have to work and get a job so they can have nice things. But you don’t get nothing in return anymore. What kind of a life is that?”
This is a listening event the Liverpool Wavertree MP is holding in the heart of her constituency the day before International Women’s Day. It is post Liverpool city council having swung its axe, albeit reluctantly, and confirming the closure of Children’s Centres and services, libraries, adult social care services and sports centres in Dingle and Everton. Everyone is suffering, but women more so.
“Women are hit twice as hard as men”, says Luciana, “because this government doesn’t have enough women in it, so they’re not making decisions.”
It is the cumulative impact of cuts and a diminishing of power stripping women of their independence, ability to work, to progress as well as have a voice. The Tory/LibDem coalition has almost undone all of the steps towards equality for many women over the last generation.
As a city in the north of England, Liverpool is seeing its women hit disproportionately. There are more women in the public sector but the majority of the jobs cut in the NHS and education will hit them, as well as frontline services (like children’s centres) who advise on benefits and support. There are more women in the labour market but many women are in lower paying jobs with a low pension provision. Over a quarter of young women are unemployed. Let us say that again. A quarter of young women are unemployed.
Training and job development programmes are being cut so even if they wanted to get into work for the first time or retrain it is increasingly more difficult to do so. The damage is happening both at an age when women should be entering the workforce but when they have already worked. Those who have been made redundant and are back in the job’s market are finding it hard to get work that pays. Job seekers are forced to take any job, usually minimum wage which then has the added impact of childcare costs, travelling etc. Black and ethnic minority women, like their male counterparts, are further disenfranchised.
Last summer LJMU conducted research analysing the impact of the austerity cuts. They state the burden of the cuts is being placed on women. Between 2010- 2015, the single mothers saw their disposable incomes drop by 10%, women pensioners say it drop 15.6% compared with male counterparts’ 12.5% drop.
The impact includes cuts to domestic abuse support services, sexual violence support services, mental health care, child care and services for ethnic minority groups.
Women are more stressed, more likely to ask for food bank vouchers than men. How do you get out? With funding programmes to empower women, community initiatives where they can seek advice and guidance as well as support all being cut or withdrawn we are left in a situation where once you’re in the mire it is almost impossible to claw your way out.
“It is very definitely a cumulative impact,” says Maggie O’Carroll (pic) from The Women’s Organisation in Liverpool. “Women are very poorly represented. When women are in the cabinet for example in Culture and the Home Office these are not major spending departments. Politics equals power. Because there is no gender screening there is then no dimension to this policy.”
The cumulative impact of the austerity measures is coupled with an increasing gender imbalance in society that does set apart the struggling of women in this recession to their white male counterparts. Poor white men are facing the same cuts in support, funding, the obliteration of the tax credit system, the difficulty to find a job paying more than minimum wage. But they do not face the same lack of a voice or representation in the corridors of power.
Women and black and ethnic minorities across both genders simply do not have their voices heard. There is a 14-15% representation of women at non-executive roles in the public and private sphere. In the North east and the NW there are 700 – 800,000 women facing redundancy in the public sector. This is an ugly situation that will only get worse.
The LJMU report from last summer concluded that the “spending cuts and other austerity measures are having a devastating impact on women’s equality, safety and well-being.” We are less equal and less able to say why we are less equal.
Back at the listening session with Luciana Berger, the women reflect on what future they are handing to their daughters. “We’re bringing back a class system. We live in a poor area. Our kids are set up to fail.” The only thing they had to re-address the balance was the services they offered at an early age, through projects like SureStart, which will now be almost completely wiped out from communities with Liverpool’s budget cuts.
Even if they wanted to be able to put the number together clearly to offer an idea of how bad it is, they cannot, says Luciana. “The Government has deliberately stopped local councils reporting on issues that they have been able to before; Climate change for example or child mental health. The government scrapped that to save them from embarrassment so there’s no acknowledgement.”
Luciana isn’t sure the statistics make a difference, “I don’t need statistics to tell me. I see the people in my surgery. Women are being hit harder than men.”
There has to be light at the end of the tunnel. There’s not, says Maggie O’Carroll. As Labour MP, Luciana tells the women about the changes the opposition would make in power, for extra free childcare including breakfast clubs some of the women nod. Others shake their heads, “A lot say they’re just all the same”, says one. Women cannot afford to apathetic, says Maggie. “Women’s power is at the ballot box. Women have to vote with their feet they need to say how much the austerity measures are affecting them more then men. The politicians need to be punished. Women need to be empowered and both collectively and individually feel that they have a voice.”
It isn’t just at the ballot box. How women are depicted, the role models they have needs to change. The media needs to accurately reflect women, to talk about them not as a minority group but as what they are, the majority of the population. There needs to be more investment around enabling and empowering women. There needs to be a structural and instructional change about how we talk about women and the challenges they are facing. From wage levels to education, and investment in 52% of the population women need to demand change. The danger is that unless we do, we’re standing at the top of a downward spiral.
Women at the cutting edge. For more informationclick here