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Together we can win

Grass-roots women's campaigns are mobilising to fight the cuts on the frontline. Red Pepper spoke to women from five organisations, who explained how they are working to combat the impacts of the cutbacks

July 25, 2010
7 min read

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts Women’s Liberation

After six successful months in action, women in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts took the decision to pioneer a newly formed affiliated movement, NCAFC Women’s Liberation, as a logical route to expansion.

The liberation movement is set to tackle imminent threats to women who are studying and working in education. This includes resistance to childcare cuts, with nurseries being swatted like flies at Queen Mary University, University of Westminster, University of the Arts London and elsewhere. We are also highlighting cuts in ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) teaching, which specifically targets and discriminates against immigrant women, making them even more vulnerable.

We are intent on wedging into the National Union of Students (NUS) bureaucracy and lobbying women’s officers to carry out audits on how education cuts will affect women on their campuses – and to build campaigns on top of the research. We will be conducting our own audit and actively encourage students to pass motions at union AGMs in favour of assigning a designated women’s officer where there is not one already. Most of all we are looking to link up with other feminist campaigns to fight the cuts.

NCAFC Women’s Liberation made its first public outing by intervening at the NUS anti-cuts meeting on 29 June. Since then we have been gathering momentum as the gender-biased knock-on effects of the government’s plans become clear. When term starts up again, we will be ready to fight them all the way.

www.anticuts.com

Women in Prison

We have been fighting the inequality experienced by women in a criminal justice system designed for men for over 25 years. We believe that the vast majority of women in prison should not be there. For the few women for whom a custodial sentence may be appropriate, the custodial settings we currently have certainly are not. 

More women than men report a financial motivation for their offending behaviour. An emergency budget that penalises those out of work and devalues mothering (through loss of health in pregnancy grants, freezes in child benefit and the loss of the maternity grant for additional children) will drive many of the women we work with deeper into poverty. 

Concurrently, we risk losing ground gained to massive public spending cuts. Over the last few years there has been increasing recognition that prisons, police and probation need to work in a women-specific way. In 2009, government funding was provided to establish more than 30 new projects working to divert women away from custody through community-based, holistic support services. WomenMATTA, a partnership project between Women in Prison and the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, is one such project. Launched in February, WomenMATTA is providing individual and group support, advice and information, drop-ins and channels for women to engage in campaigning.

Responsibility for sustaining funding for these projects belongs to directors of offender management, regional heads of the National Offender Management Service. This agency is facing budget cuts of 25 per cent and over. Will all of these projects be continued? What will happen to the women who have built up relationships of trust with projects that may vanish? 

 WIP convenes the SWAP (Supporting Women – Against Prison) campaign network, bringing organisations together to challenge inequality in the criminal justice system and reduce the women’s prison population. These public spending cuts only emphasise how much is still to fight for.

www.womeninprison.org.uk

WinVisible

We are a multi-racial group of women with visible and invisible disabilities campaigning for independent living resources. We are united as service users, from Fife to southern England, to challenge care charges and losses.

In an inaccessible world, disability is work. But our workload is scarcely acknowledged, let alone reduced. As women, we are often looking after other people while coping with our own disability. Those of us who are black, immigrant or seeking asylum are judged to deserve even less. 

 Over recent decades charges for council care, rationing and privatisation have brought suffering to disabled and older people, mainly women pensioners. Councils have devolved responsibility for support onto local disability organisations. Created to defend us, many have become council gatekeepers.

Jennyfer Spencer, a wheelchair user and former teacher, was found dead in her inaccessible flat after Camden Council stopped her direct payments. A coalition of friends, disability and anti-racist groups are now demanding a public inquiry. Last year, the same council made an elderly couple choose between humiliating means-testing or paying £13 per hour for care. After we protested, their free service was reinstated.

 But the new round of cuts will put many more at risk. And if the new ‘medical test’ for disability living allowance is similar to examinations carried out by the multinational company Atos, which assesses capability for work, it will exclude two thirds of claimants, including some with terminal cancer.

 The transfer of existing incapacity claimants to back-to-work contractors such as A4e rewards businesses, not claimants. These companies make millions, yet place only 6 per cent of disabled participants in work, compared to 14 per cent at Jobcentres. 

WinVisible is part of the No to Welfare Abolition Network. On the 16 June national day of action, one picketer reflected: ‘People too unwell to work are bullied into work. Others who want jobs are set up to fail.’ Another expressed the general mood: ‘We can’t let them get away with it.’ Together, we can win the support we are all entitled to.

www.winvisible.org

Women’s Budget Group

We are an independent organisation, with around 200 members – researchers, policy experts and activists, working together to promote gender equality through appropriate economic policy.

We have been scrutinising the gender implications of UK budgets since the early 1990s. In all our work, we ask the question: where do resources go, and what impact does resource allocation have on gender equality? The WBG aims to not only encourage but assist the government in using gender analysis to improve its economic policy making. We also advocate specific policies requiring public bodies actively to promote gender equality and combat discrimination.

This has already had an impact. The last government was intending to pay working families tax credit through the pay packet of the main earner (usually a man). Lobbying from the WBG and others led to it being paid as a benefit to the household. There is also an equality duty requiring every government policy to be subject to analysis from the point of view of its impact on women.

Our latest report, A Gender Impact Assessment of the Coalition Government Budget, June 2010, is available on our website.

www.wbg.org.uk

Single Mothers Self Defence

We are a network of single mothers defending our entitlement to income support, the main benefit recognising the work of raising children. We assert the societal value of mothering and other caring work, and the damage caused to children deprived of it.

Emma Harrison, founder of government contractor A4e, herself a single mother, is reputedly ‘worth’ £40 million. But the story is very different for most of the women employed through her work-for-welfare business. Mothers are furious at being forced into US-style ‘workfare’, expected to park our children in battery childcare for the benefit of employers. Once we have been unemployed for 12 months, we’re expected to ‘work for our benefits’ for £1.60 per hour.

SMSD member Kim says: ‘They want companies to employ us so they can bypass the minimum wage, bringing everyone’s wages down. Unions must realise that they can’t defend members’ wages without working with claimants to defend benefits.’

Child benefit is now frozen. More children will be threatened with care because of their mothers’ poverty. We recently defended a single mother threatened with fostering after she asked social services for support. Other mothers are resorting to sex work. Jenny, from Manchester, said: ‘Benefits don’t cover the cost of gas, electricity and water rates. That’s why I go out. If they cut benefits there’ll be more of us out there facing arrest and violence.’

Contact 020 7482 2496 / smsd@allwomencount.net

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