I attended “Gender and Austerity: The impact of the recession on women” mainly because I spotted that Sylvia Walby was speaking. I have read some of her research on domestic violence and have her book “The Future of Feminism”..
Gender and the Crisis – Sylvia Walby
Walby looked at finance in a way of demystifying it. She gave a brief overview of various understandings of finance from Hayek to David Harvey. Walby explained that finance has distinctive dynamics not reducible to the rest of the economy. Money is a site of struggle over resources. She referred to Ingham, Minsky and Keynes. She argued that the left tends to ignore the role of gender in finance. Even David Harvey says little on gender (with the exception of the “disposal worker” even then without any analysis of gender). Walby looked at the poor governance of finance, institutions being male dominated therefore the argument for democractic controls is critical. One example is more women along with trade union representatives on boards. The first wave of the recession (2007- 2008) hit male dominated work such as construction and car manufacturing. While from 2010, with the emergency budget, with the cuts in the public sector women workers were feeling the impact of these attacks. Walby looked at ways the Labour/ConDems dealt with crisis such as bailing out the banks, cutting public expenditure and creating a deliberately gendered austerity. One area of investigated is cuts to charities and voluntary organisations by local authorities.
The total amount of local authority funding lost to the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector in England recorded by the False Economy data collection project is just under two and a half million pounds (£2,435,061): this represents a 31% funding cut to the sector (from £7,803,307 in 2010/11 to £5,368,247 in 2011/12).
To give an example of what these cuts mean in practice, the report cites data provided by Women’s Aid showing that on a typical day in 2011, 230 women (9%) seeking refuge were turned away due to lack of space. With nowhere else to go, many of those women will be faced with the unenviable choice of returning to their home where their wellbeing or even their life may be in danger, seeking a bed in accident and emergency, or sleeping rough in parks.
Finance, according to Walby, is not just about employment. Everything is interconnected and analysis that includes class must inevitably include gender.
The Future of Feminism (Walby)
Women’s Pay and Poverty – Jackie Longworth (Fair Play South West)
- More than 50% of children in poverty live in households with at least one wage earner
Longworth argued that there’s confusion over the definition of the gender pay gap. Mean = difference between average pay of women and men. Median = difference between the pay of 50% of men compared with 50% of women. Along with confusion of working pattern. Full time women compared with full time men. Part time women compared with part time men. Part time women compared with full time men. All women compared with all men.
Current thinking by government is headlining full time median hourly pay (excluding overtime) is very misleading as few working men are part time (15% in the SW in 2012). Many working women are part time (49% in the SW in 2012).
2012 hourly gender pay gaps, median:
Full time women to full time men – Government’s head line gap (UK) – 9.6%
Gap from Longworth’s analysis of full time ONS data is
All employees (full and part time)
Part time women to full time men
In the SW – 28% of women and 16% of men earn less than the Living Wage per hour (£7.45 per hour outside London)
In the SW – 47% of women and 19% of men earn less than the Living Wage per week
The proportion of women earning less than the living wage per week is higher in the SW than across England (47% cf 42%)
Comparisons 2009 – 2012 – SW
Number of employees
- women up 2% men up 5%
Number of part time employees
- women up 7%
Median hourly pay
- women up 5% men up 2%
- Part time women up 5.6%
Median weekly pay
Women up 2.3% men up 1.9%
Median pay gap (all women all men)
- Hourly, down from 22% to 19%
- Weekly, unchanged at 38%
Slightly more women were earning less than the living wage per week in 2009 (48.5% cf 47%)
Issues which push women into low paid, often low skilled, work (from Fair Play South West)
- Unavailability of conveniently located, conveniently timed, high quality, affordable childcare
- Public transport not tailored to women’s needs
- Uneven geographical availability of well paid jobs
- Unavailability of the options of part time or flexible working
- Undervaluing of work traditionally done by women
- Inadequacy of information, advice and guidance to both girls at school and adult women about career and study options
Paid employment is a not a secure route out of poverty or off benefits
Women’s low weekly earnings are due to both low hourly pay and part time working
Compared with 2009, in 2012 women worked fewer hours per week
Cutting women’s benefits is not going to lift them out of poverty!!!!!
Government policy should be good quality flexible childcare provision, growth of well paid flexible jobs in accessible places for women, raising the minimum wage to at least the living wage and reducing stereotypes in IAG services.
Managing to Survive: Gender and Household Strategies in the Recession – Harriet Bradley
This talk was more of a micro look at austerity and gender.
Case studies: 30 families from 3 areas, 10 of each middle, intermediate and working class. One parent in work, child(ren) of school age.
1.08 million women unemployed – 25 year high
12% rise – since 2010
Increase in long-term unemployment, while men’s rate has decreased.
What these case studies highlighted were how austerity is impacting women on a micro level such as, women cushion redundancy. One of the case studies show a middle class couple where the man loses his job and the woman has to take on more work (she’s a translator) to make ends meet.
September 2011 – 2012 public sector jobs down by 324,000
Private sector jobs rose by 823,000
Process continues in employment (Bell and Blanchflower): rise in underemployment, involuntary p/t wk, risky self-employment, zero-hours contracts etc.
Another of the case studies shows one of the woman trying to find work, which are a “bit more, a bit better”. As in a bit more interesting”.. She is offered a job which she took mainly because she needs the money.
Fawcett Society estimated that 74% of Osborne’s savings in welfare and tax changes come from women
Increased poverty for both unemployed and low-paid working families
7 foodbanks in Bristol, 1000 people a month use them; nationally number of users has tripled in past year.
Projected rise in poverty in child poverty of 600,000
Another case study highlighted the importance of benefits. Woman in the study used to have help with mortgage payments because of a disability, and they would pay the interest. She would end up paying the rest. Since the election of the ConDems the help she received has been reduced by half.
“Financially is putting me in a lot of bother”..
The case studies highlighted people living on the edge. One of the women in the studies was told by her doctor she should drink de-caff coffee due to heart problems but she cannot afford it.
“So I come off it cos we can’t afford to do it”…
Also, case studies showing that people are more careful now with their shopping. Along with scrimping and saving…
“In fact, I got a ring that was handed down to me from a grandparent which I really don’t want to get rid of but at the moment I am considering selling it. We do need the money”
Working class people in these case studies showed that the family helps out.
“I am 26 now, I shouldn’t be relying on my parents…they shouldn’t feel like they have to help us because they know we’re struggling”
And in the working class case studies showed children were suffering
“We don’t go on half as many day trips as what we used to. Like before now we’d take them camping for a couple of nights or we would go to Weston for the day, or we’d take them to the zoo, and we just haven’t got the spare money to do that since things have gone up and money’s gone down”…
The impacts of recession:
Accumulated debts and anxiety
- Greater care in managing budgets: more work for women.
- Women are “managers and shock absorbers of poverty”
- Life stripped down to bare minimum
- Class dimensions very strong
- the rich getting richer
- less affluent m/c struggle but are more slightly cushioned
- w/c have had to cut back completely not cushioned
BME Women’s Experience of Unemployment – Florence Nosegbe (The Runnymede Trust)
Percentage of ethnic group in employment
Pakistani/Bangladeshi – Unemployment rates – men 12.8% women 20.5%
White – Unemployment rates – men 8.3% women 6.8%
There was also a concern that Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women would be more likely to be made redundant in other sectors, such as the private sector, in comparison with other women due to discrimination in the work place. A number of witnesses highlighted that there are better anti- discrimination and equality policies in the public sector than in the private sector for example. However, it was not assumed that redundancy in the private sector would necessarily be any worse than in previous recession.
Most strikingly, Professor Anthony Heath stated that, despite being difficult to measure, he and Professor Yaojun Li have calculated that 25% of the ethnic minority unemployment rate could be attributable to prejudice and discrimination.21 The sheer volume of other evidence presented to the inquiry highlighting discrimination as a key cause of unemployment for ethnic minority women reinforces this finding.
Example of this:
Research carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2008 which found that if you have an African or Asian sounding surname you need to send approximately twice as many job applications as those with a traditionally British name even to get an interview.
Problems with accessing childcare
The Daycare Trust also highlighted that whilst all three to four year-old children are entitled to a free early education place, only 72% of Pakistani and 64% of Bangladeshi children take up these places compared to 89% of white children.
Finally, throughout the inquiry witnesses and those interviewed were adamant in stating that racism still exists in the UK, and evidence and personal testimony collected backs up its existence.
List of recommendations can be found at the start of the report.
Gender and Austerity: Can the Equality Act 2010 Help? – Hazel Conley
The emergency budget of 2010 saw 25% cuts to budgets of government departments.
Two year public pay freeze
Changes to public sector pension schemes
Following couple of years have seen attacks on welfare benefits
Attacks on the public sector have shown that women have been disproportionately hit. GMB identified 20 local authorities 100% of the jobs lost since 2010 belonged to women.
Can the Equality Act protect women?
Fawcett Society legally challenged the emergency budget using the gender equality duty. Unfortunately, they failed. Judge who made the decision literally argued that if this challenge was successful it would upset capital, both here and abroad!! ConDems have dismantled many of the legislative protections. The Gender Equality Duty was replaced with section 149 that contains a general duty and requires secondary legislation. ConDems postponed enacting secondary legislation.This means the ConDems have successively weakened the duty.
If the Gender Equality Duty was still in place, it would have been possibly more difficult for 20 local authorities making only women workers carry the job cuts.
“Dismantling this legislation without a plan for replacement measures might be considered itself an act of institutional discrimination”
Overall, I found the day fascinating and gaining an insight on the research done by academics. I was speaking to an academic who worked with homelessness charities and much of her research is around homelessness and gender. She told me that the number of women in work but homeless was increasing due to lack of social housing and priced out of private renting. No doubt this will worsen because what all the speakers were agreed upon is that we have seen nothing yet… the worst is yet to come! I found Walby’s talk interesting along with demystifying finance yet there are flaws with purely a social democratic approach. But I agree with her about the lack of gender analysis in the Marxist approach. Yet it is a starting point of a discussion. The attacks we are seeing is ideological, it is about punishing the powerless in this society yet where is the anger. Some of the discussion was about how society has been more individualised as opposed to collective action. Culture of dependency is about blaming the individual for their inadequacies. Thatcherism/Blairism/neo-liberalism has smashed up much of that fighting spirit and we are left with internalising oppression, alienation and isolation. More dispiriting but also highlights a very fractured, weakened and fragmented labour movement that certainly impacts on feminist action.The powerful language of blame is ever-present yet the real culprits get away with it as it’s about distraction and divide and rule. What should we do? How do we organise? There were different approaches and ideas yet the frustration was palpable to do something to show your rage to this brutal and vicious coalition.
See as well:
Iain Duncan Smith’s assertion that 8,000 claimants had changed behaviour due to benefit cap ‘unsupported by official statistics (see the letter on the website)
Deregulation Bill – introduced in the Queen’s Speech, contains provisions that include reducing qualifying period for Right to Buy from five to three years and removing power from employment tribunals to make wider recommendations in successful discrimination cases.