Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Within hours of the 22 June announcements it was clear that the burden of the regressive emergency budget would fall disproportionately on women. A study published by the House of Commons Library in early July went some way to confirming this. The gender audit of the budget, commissioned by shadow minster for work and pensions Yvette Cooper, concluded that more than 70 per cent of the revenue raised from direct tax and benefit changes is to come from female taxpayers. This research excludes the effects of public service cuts; the full impact on women is set to be much worse.
Hitting the family hard
While all departments (apart from the NHS and overseas aid, they claim) face major cuts in their annual budgets, the immediate pain will be felt most by those with young children and single parents, nine out of 10 of whom are female.
The picture was gloomy even before the cuts: 52 per cent of single parent families are below the government-defined poverty line and in one survey more than half the mothers questioned said they are not adequately prepared to cope financially once the baby arrives. Benefits cuts are set to exacerbate the situation, with the coalition budget attacking women and single parents on several fronts.
First, income support will be cut for all parents – when their children reach school age they will be moved onto jobseeker’s allowance. This will mean that single parents will effectively be forced into work or face their benefits being cut off completely.
Second, the health in pregnancy grant, a £190 payment to all pregnant women beyond their 25th week of pregnancy, will be abolished next April. The government will also restrict eligibility to the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only. The grant is a one-off £500 payment for those on a low income to help towards the costs of a new baby. The new ‘toddler tax credit’, which would have provided an extra £4 a week for families with children aged one or two, is also to be scrapped, along with the child trust fund. Child benefit has been frozen for three years – an effective cut in real terms.
All this means that the lowest income families with new babies will now be £1,293 a year worse off. Those with second children on the way will be hit even harder. And this before you take into account changes to housing benefit: lone parent families are three times as likely to live in rented accommodation as families with two resident parents.
Liz, a mother of two and a part-time NHS worker, told Red Pepper: ‘The impact on women who are lone mothers smacks of total ignorance of the knock-on effects on children. The expectation to work does not take into account the support needed to let this happen, particularly if service cuts will lead to further deterioration in provision. There’s the potential cost of a rise in mental health issues and child protection issues resulting from the lack of support.’
The education sector has already seen cuts that hit women disproportionately hard. Manchester’s Mule reported in June that workers at Manchester City College had described proposed cuts at the college as ‘fairly overt sex discrimination’ after crèche workers faced compulsory redundancies. A source told the paper: ‘It is an undisputed fact that most childcare arrangements fall onto the shoulders of mothers in society. By changing holidays and increasing working hours, the college has not taken childcare needs into account.’ The state was effectively turning back the clock and shifting the burden back on to women.
A similar situation arose last year at Sussex University, which announced cuts of £8 million over two years due to reductions in government funding. Among the 115 redundancies announced were plans to axe the campus nursery and crèche.
Even before the cuts were announced it was obvious that women would bear the brunt of the austerity measures focused on cutting back the public sector. Sixty-five per cent of workers in the public sector are women and around four in ten women work in the public sector, compared with fewer than two in ten men.
Most Whitehall departments face cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent and unions estimate that this will lead to around a million job losses over the next few years.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (see page 13) puts the figure slightly lower at 610,000 by 2016. The analysis by this newly independent body, set up by the Treasury, suggests just 4.92 million people will be working in the public sector in 2015-16, compared to 5.53 million today.
And the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that a majority of the staff likely to lose their jobs will be women in part-time work or on low wages.
Those remaining in work could also find it difficult. The CIPD has warned that there will likely be ‘ongoing real wage cuts in the public sector’, with the government announcing a two-year pay freeze for all but the lowest paid.
Ceri Goddard, the Fawcett Society’s chief executive, says: ‘Against a backdrop of unequal pay – women are still paid 16.4 per cent less for full time work and 35 per cent less for part time work than men – the impact on women will be huge.’
A difficult retirement?
The cuts will also have an impact on women into their retirement. The political blog Left Foot Forward reports that pensioner poverty is already ‘far more prevalent among women than men, with women’s average income in retirement just 62 per cent of the level that the average retired man will have to live on’. Public sector pensions currently improve women’s overall level of pension provision but with the loss of jobs will come loss of pension rights and the gender gap may widen further, plunging more women pensioners into poverty.
The BBC is now trying to close its final salary pensions, a move that could pave the way for similar cuts in the public sector. The corporation has proposed that pensions are based on how much an employee has paid in and that they increase by a maximum of one per cent per year rather than being linked to final incomes. Unions are now worried that this model will be adopted across the public sector, disproportionately affecting women in an area where there are already gross inequalities.
Katie, an NHS worker from Manchester, told Red Pepper: ‘They say the NHS is protected but we know cuts are coming. We’re all worried about our pensions because cuts there will have a huge long-term effect across the public sector.’
More to come
We have yet to see the true extent of the cuts, which could be as deep as 40 per cent for some departments. What we do know is that Osborne aims to cut £99 billion from annual government spending by 2016.
The emergency budget was just one aspect of the recent neoliberal attacks on the state, now dressed up as the ‘Big Society’, the depth of which Thatcher could only have dreamed. But in among the swinging axes and falling debris, there are the green shoots of a grass-roots recovery. Over the page we look at some of the organisations that are starting – or continuing – the fightback.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite