Don’t Turn Back Time on Women’s Equality

As part of the Fawcett Society’s Don’t Turn Back Time on Women’s Equality campaign, a vocal march was held through Bournemouth Town Centre with many wearing 1950’s attire, ending with a picnic at the Town Hall and signing of a petition.

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For a generation, we have come to expect a gradual march forward towards equality between women and men – a narrowing gender pay gap, more women in the workforce, women having greater choice or a stronger voice. However, the government’s current approach to reduce the deficit has created a ‘triple jeopardy’ for women

1. Women will be hit hardest by job cuts in the public sector
The Government estimates that up to half a million public sector jobs will be axed during this Parliament. Women make up two-thirds of the public sector work force and account for even higher numbers of workers in certain sectors such as the NHS. It will be women who are hardest hit by job cuts. In fact, we can expect twice as many women as men to lose their jobs in the public sector.

2. Women will be hit hardest as the services and benefits they use more are cut
Women typically use state services and benefits more than men for a number of reasons: they are more likely to live in poverty, especially in old age; they have pregnancy and maternity needs; they live longer; they more likely to be the primary carers for children and older, sick and disabled people; they are far more likely to be lone parents; and they are more likely to be the victims of domestic and sexual violence. Given women rely more on both public services (such as sure start children’s centres, social care services and counselling and support services for victims of sexual and domestic violence) and benefits (such as housing benefits, tax credits and maternity benefits) now that provision is being cut, women are bearing the brunt.

3. Women will be left ‘filling the gaps’ as state services are withdrawn
Women still do the majority of caring and domestic work at home, so they are more likely to be the ones left ‘filling the gaps’ – picking up unpaid and informal care responsibilities as services and benefits are slashed. Withdrawing state support risks further entrenching the already unequal distribution of labour as women take on ever increasing levels of unpaid and informal work. Current reforms to the welfare system also undermine women’s ability to undertake paid work. The recently announced ‘universal credit’ will actively discourage mothers in couples from seeking paid employment where their partner is already in work/is seeking work.

This triple jeopardy is turning back time on women’s equality. It means:

* rising female unemployment – women’s unemployment is now at its highest for more than 20 years. Many redundancies have come from women losing their jobs in the public sector.

* a possible widening of the pay gap – as increasing numbers of women seek jobs in the private sector, where the pay gap is around double that in the public sector, the 15.5% pay gap looks set to widen.

* a reduction in women’s incomes – benefit cuts will reduce the income of many women, particularly those on low incomes. Lone parents face a hole in their pocket equivalent to one month’s income a year.

* increasing numbers of women being forced to give up paid work – as cuts to childcare support lead to rising costs, meaning it no longer makes financial sense to work.

* a reduction in women’s independence – as benefits that provide financial autonomy for women are rolled back and incentives to work are reduced.

* women’s access to vital support services undermined – as funding for services such as those that provide childcare, social care, legal aid and support for victims of sexual and domestic violence is reduced.

Women on average earn less, own less, and are more likely to work and retire in poverty than men. They can ill afford to bear the brunt of cuts. It is those who have least to lose – women who are unemployed or on low incomes, families, single women pensioners, victims of sexual and domestic violence – who will lose most.

What the Fawcett society are campaigning for:

– Protect Sure Start centres by ring-fencing funding

– Restore child benefit to its previous level and increase it in line with inflation

– Protect violence against women services from local authority cuts

– Increase support for childcare costs to what it was before April 2011

– Develop an adequate level of support for childcare costs in the long-term

– Ensure nurses, social workers, teachers, and other public sector workers receive a fair income in retirement

Details of the march in London