It's been a week of protests; some violent, some peaceful. A few days before student riots took over the headlines, on Monday, a relatively quiet and well-behaved group of people stood outside the High Court in sub-zero temperatures. I was there, joining the protest against the Coalition’s cuts which disproportionately affect women.
The government's budget contains nearly £8bn worth of cuts to tax and welfare; an estimated 70% will come from women.
The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality in the UK, had sought a judicial review of the budget. The court ruled a rejection. However, the government has admitted that it forgot its legal duty to consider whether cuts would disproportionately affect certain groups and the Treasury was unable to provide any evidence that it had carried out an equalities impact assessment.
Families with children will bear the brunt of privatisation and cuts. We already live in an unequal society – this budget is regressive.
The cuts will severely hold back progress towards equality, and I think this is the real concern.
Five, six, seven, eight… women’s rights just won’t wait"
My concern: slower journey towards equality
Note: In the text that follows, I refer to majorities; my statements are therefore referring to averages and general outcomes, not individual cases.
The majority of carers – of children and elderly people – are female. Two thirds of public sector workers are female. The reasons for this are this are manifold and complex, but two main ones are:
- Women have children and working conditions are still not fair enough to allow them to have the same opportunities of men who have children (because they do not physically bear them). The public sector offers better conditions for those who have caring commitments (eg fewer working hours expected).
- Women and men are brought up to believe they are suited to different types of jobs; ie women are more suited to caring jobs. There is, as yet - as far as I can tell - no conclusive evidence that women are born with this tendency.
(In contrast, imagine if there were vast cuts to the private sector. The majority of workers are men, but their whole families would be affected, as most are breadwinners.)
In an ideal world, men and women would be free to work in the public or private sector – it would be their choice. Women wouldn’t be constrained by care commitments, as the sexes would share them equally. People wouldn’t be controlled by stereotypes, which dictate their supposed suitability for one type of job or another.
In this ideal world, these drastic cuts to the public sector would (although, I believe wrong for other reasons), not be so devastating to equality.
As it is, the greater effect on women means that they will be even more dependent on men, less likely to work, more likely to care for children and relatives and less likely to escape from violent relationships.
So, as it is, our hope of achieving an equal society is very much hampered by the unequal cuts.