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.
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself