Ivana Bartoletti, Editor of Fabiana, the Fabian Women's Network magazine, writes on what women need from George Osborne's budget on Wednesday.
The British economy is failing women, and the Government’s plan is not working: unemployment has increased to 2.67 million in the three months to January 2012 and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants increased for the twelfth consecutive month to 1.6 million.
Women are being affected disproportionately by the cuts and failure of the economy. But what are the key priorities the Government should deal with in the Budget to protect women? In my opinion, these should be: a plan for women’s jobs, less ideology and more common sense on welfare policy; and women’s safety.
A plan for women’s jobs
Female unemployment has reached its highest level in two decades; beyond the 1.1 million mark. 65% of public sector workers are women, and that is where the Government has perpetrated the biggest cuts.
Research, published by Aviva last summer, showed that, since the third quarter of 2011, 32,000 women have already left their jobs to look after their children, because they cannot afford to work. And things will get worse. The Social Market Foundation estimates that, by 2015, childcare costs will rise by 62% compared to 2006. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has shown how the gap between the rates of female employment and maternal employment (women with children under the age of fifteen years) is higher in Britain than in other OECD countries.
With the Coalition Government cutting over £7,545 from direct support to children (through cuts to child tax credits, maternity allowance and the child trust fund), it is increasingly more difficult for mothers to work.
We need to stop this slide, not just for women, but for the whole economy. We need a plan to stop women being held back from work.
Less ideology and more common sense
The change to working tax credits means that couples with children, who earn less than £17,700, will need to increase their working hours from 16 to 24, otherwise they will lose their entitlement to £3,870 in tax credits.
In practice, this means that in a period of recession, with businesses forcing their employees to cut back on their working hours, people will have to convince their employers to increase their working hours by 50%. How realistic is this?
The reality is that this measure will, inevitably, push out of the workforce many of those employees who will not obtain the increase in their working hours that they need, to retain their working tax credits.
We must consider the long-term effect of a measure that will cause up to 200,000 working parents to lose almost £4,000 a year in working tax credits, and make parents on the minimum wage, working 16 hours a week, better off out of work, if they are unable to increase their working hours. In fact, I believe, in times of recession, it is crucial that people are supported in keeping the jobs they already have, as this will make it easier to return to full employment when the economic downturn ceases.
This is another example of the Conservative-led lack of long-term vision. Will George Osborne see the light and cancel the change to tax credits?
Globally, women aged 15–44 years die more frequently as the result of gender-based violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. Violence against women should never be underestimated.
Massive cuts to police budgets are affecting women, and making them more vulnerable.
16,000 staff and 1,800 Police Community Officers are being cut. Everywoman Safe Everywhere, Labour’s Commission on Women’s Safety, launched by Yvette Cooper MP and led by Vera Baird QC, has found evidence that specialist domestic abuse officers have also been cut. The Commission’s report also shows how the Government is considering the closure of 675 ticket offices in train stations, which will make women even more vulnerable.
All of the above, together with cuts to local authorities having a dramatic impact on street lighting, as well as on support services for victims of rape and abuse, need to be addressed. Women’s safety needs to be a priority as its long-term consequences are crucial for the well-being of women, their children and their communities.
Two weeks ago, on International Women’s Day, the Prime Minister had positive words with regard to women. He claimed that he wants equality in boardrooms, and even takes Nordic countries as an inspiration.
The facts, however, reveal a complete different picture. Women don't not need a cuddle on Wednesday, but a vision for the economy, with women at its heart.