Continued from page 12
working conditions and diminished services as they try to cover the work of colleagues they no longer have.
Much lauded tax breaks will not benefit low-paid working women but will put £140m in the pockets of higher earners, mostly men. There is still a 16.4 per cent pay gap for full-time women workers and the cuts in the public sector will see this worsen. Figures show that women apprentices earn 21 per cent less than men.
The current proposals for public sector pension schemes will also affect women more, not only in the long term as they are expected to retire later on much lower amounts than expected, but in the immediate term as they are expected to pay more. Retired workers’ pensions are affected because of the change from the Retail Price Index to the generally lower Consumer Prices Index.
In all the debate about the affordability of public sector pensions it is worth remembering that the average woman teacher’s pension is £10,000 a year – hardly gold-plated – but a female NHS worker is likely to get nearer £2,000.
Women will suffer more from cuts to benefits. Grants and tax credits which have enabled people to afford to work and care for their families have been withdrawn. Since 92 per cent of lone parents are women it is easy to see how these cuts affect them more.
Then there’s the impact of cuts for women as service users. Women are much more likely to use, and therefore lose, public services such as sexual and reproductive health services, local libraries, Sure Start children’s centres and further education. An obvious example is the cutting of funding for English courses for women whose first language is not English. Cuts to the police service have already seen reductions of specialist staffing in fields like domestic violence, rape and trafficking. The planned £350m cut to Legal Aid will impact more on vulnerable women’s access to justice.
Neither should we look to the Big Society to ease these burdens. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations reported last September that 91 per cent of its members believed economic conditions in the voluntary sector would be negatively affected in the next 12 months. We have already seen huge cuts to funding for voluntary groups; there is now a funding crisis for many domestic violence charities.
The Equality Act 2010 was meant to ensure that discrimination was challenged, but what the Fawcett Society calls ‘the bonfire of regulations’ could leave it useless. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) established in 2006 is under attack, facing a 65 per cent cut in staffing. The Public and Commercial Services Union believes: “These cuts amount to the closure of the EHRC as we know it and its transformation into little more than a think tank.” It has taken strike action against the cuts.
It is hard to believe that this tide of attacks on women’s equality is done in ignorance or by chance. Indeed, many in the field believe it is an ideological attack, an attempt to turn back the clock on women’s equality. On the evidence available, it is hard not to agree.
Women have not been silent and are at the heart of the many campaigns challenging the Government, including those in the unions, the voluntary sector, charities and pressure groups. Women have found a voice and are making themselves heard. If you haven’t started shouting yet, now’s the time…
Kiri Tunks is a secondary teacher in Tower Hamlets and NUT division equalities officer in east London. She is Vice Chair on the NUT Gender Advisory Committee and on the south east region TUC Women’s Rights Committee.
| Page 2
| Page 3
| Page 4
| Page 5
| Page 6
| Page 7
| Page 8
| Page 9
| Page 10
| Page 11
| Page 12
| Page 13
| Page 14
| Page 15
| Page 16