Wednesday 11 January 2012

Feminism must be put at heart of welfare state reform and economic growth

By Ivana Bartoletti, Editor of Fabiana

As women bear the brunt of the Tory-led Government’s reckless choices, the development of a fair and equal society for women is under threat. We are now seeing women pushed out of the workforce as their income is driven down, while cuts to legal aid undermine their access to justice and make them more vulnerable to violence.

However, stating the obvious is not enough. As has come increasingly to the fore this week with Ed Miliband’s speech to London Citizens, Labour's challenge is to re-design a welfare state with less money, and with much better control of public spending.

The welfare state has been a key ally of women, enabling them to work, access justice and healthcare and become less dependent on men.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies says that between 1968 and 2009, over a quarter of all growth in household wealth came from women working, compared with 8% from men: this means that women in the UK have been the main driver of the rise in living standards over the last 40 years.

At the same time, the UK is different to how it was 70 years ago; its demographics have evolved, and statistics still show that women have not reached the equality feminists were hoping for in the 1970s. Too often, women's freedom has been at the expense of other women, poorly paid to replace those services the State has been unable to provide effectively: childcare, in the first place.

This indicates that it is not a matter of cuts, as the simplistic but devious agenda of the Tory government dictates, but of ambition: the ambition of putting women at the very heart of a reform of the welfare state, which can and should be really rooted in women's needs and aspirations.

The key concept of a modern welfare state ought to be responsibility: it is not about discouraging people from taking risks or initiative but encouraging them to take control of their life so they can fully contribute to the economy. Responsibility is a concept inherent to feminism, as a women's responsibility generally encompasses responsibility for others, starting from their children.

The second element ought to be long-termism. The Tory-led government is all about reckless cuts dressed up as prudence, not about true rigour and transparency of costs. How much is it really costing to prevent women from working, to make them better off on benefits than in employment, as the Institute of Fiscal Studies revealed last week?

IPPR has shown there is an economic case for universal childcare for preschool-aged children, as this would pay a return to the government of £20,050 over four years in terms of tax revenue minus the cost of childcare for every woman who returns to full employment after one year of maternity leave.

I think it is about time to treat universal childcare as a strategic priority for public services and growth. In times of financial crisis, it is up to a responsible leadership to cut unnecessary expenses, even if that is unpopular, and focus on the strategic ones: the opposite of what the Tories are doing, which are simply random cuts.

You can read the new edition of Fabiana here.

In this edition:

Hilary Cottam makes the case for a more relational welfare, Torbjörn Hållö presents a Swedish perspective, Shadow Innovation Minister Chi Onwurah highlights the untapped ‘potential energy’ of women in the UK. There are also updates on Ed Miliband’s support for Fabiana and you can catch up on our latest Fabian Women’s Network seminar, hosted in partnership with IPPR and Cambridge University on Gender Justice, Society and the State.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Taking into account that New Labour were responsible for the lowering of men's wages to accommodate the disparity with female workers incomes. Can you really stay straight-faced about feminism within the New Labour project?
Surely the issue is the political and economic framework that we all toil within. Capitalism will always create inequalities, that's it's design. Therefore, to argue that certain funding would negate these biases is unrealistic and unachievable.