JOANNE SMIT spoke a the rally against the child credit tax cap in Belfast city centre. Here’s what she had to say
I was invited here today by Reclaim the Agenda, WRDA and Women’s Aid to speak on behalf of advice workers, community workers on the ground who are based within the most disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland.
Having been employed as an advice worker within the Village community based at Windsor Women’s Centre over the past 12 years, our organisation has witnessed first-hand the effects of cuts within the community education sector, the drastic effects of welfare reform, the lack of commitment from our politicians to implement a childcare strategy, the lack of commitment from our politicians to commit to fair policies to address the crisis within social housing, the lack of commitment of a human rights charter, the lack of commitment to address poverty and the effects of such within disadvantaged communities.
Having worked with the Northern Ireland anti-poverty movement over the years who have campaigned relentlessly for our politicians to address the needs of disadvantaged communities we are rightly shocked and appalled that we are going backwards in the advancement of challenging poverty directly instead of forwards.
Concentrating on tax credits these policies are going to have a drastic effect on parents and their children. Not being paid for a third child and subsequent children who follow will have catastrophic effects on the most vulnerable in our society: women, children, ethnic minorities.
We have asylum-seekers living on £36 per week, so ask yourselves what happens when they are granted asylum status and are rightly entitled to benefits, are they are going to be penalised with this two children tax credit clause? We believe so, ethnic minorities are statistically bottom of the scale in terms of financial stress.
Due to funding cuts we have women who have had to drop out of courses that could have turned their lives around because there’s no more funding for community education; we have women who will be driven out of the workforce because they can no longer pay for childcare; we have women who have to take out loans just to put a carpet on the floor of their children’s bedrooms when they finally get allocated a house; we have disabled women who are so terrified of changes to their disability benefits they are suicidal; we have women crying out for help, their children are addicted to hard drugs, where is the funding within the health service for rehabilitation?
Recent reports estimate that the health service will have to implement £60 million in cuts. The impact upon the trusts will be catastrophic.
These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves: women will always put the needs of their children before themselves so how in the long term is this going to affect women’s health? Increase in prescription drugs which are already epidemic? Will women stay in abusive and controlling relationships due to financial concerns?
Children are going to suffer in all areas of their development; emotionally, educationally, socially, psychologically. We already have a list of over 4,000 children waiting to be assessed for autism — the system is about to collapse.
As a movement these are the questions we need to ask ourselves and we need to highlight and campaign against the long-term implications of such drastic effects on women and their children.
This government says they want to encourage women back into the workforce, however, opportunities for women to return to the workplace are decreasing given the decimation of community education.
The issue which needs to be addressed is the impact on women long-term as they can no longer access highly accredited courses through community education due to funding cuts.
Women have been telling the British government since the end of the WWII that their opportunities are limited given that there is either no — or exceptionally limited — childcare within mainstream educational establishments. How many times do they have to be told this?
The women who came before my generation fought for peace, community education, childcare, maternity rights, employment rights, equal pay, so we as younger women must continue this fight for the women who come after us.
Perish the thought of where we would be now as women if these brave women had not have taken this fight head on.
The lost generation of young working-class people who have little chance to gain qualifications, employment in the first place because our state schools are grossly underfunded — we cannot truly tell them that their government cares for them because it is a lie.
We need to come together within the women’s movement, community and voluntary sector and trade unions to fight this policy of no tax credit payments for third and subsequent children, we need to mobilise, organise and politicise this policy.
If we don’t then we will all feel the repercussions in future generations, if you do not invest in children which are our future then repent at your peril.
You would almost believe that the Tory government have an agenda of population control of those who are disadvantaged in financial terms.
We have a message for this government: we will resist, desist and mobilise against this draconian policy with all our might because we understand the long-term implications of this tax credit policy on future generation.
The next generation of children will be informed by us, as a movement, what this government tried to do.
What will be our answer? Did we mobilise against or submit to this policy? How will you answer your children, your grandchildren?
Joanne Smit spoke on behalf of the women’s centres and Reclaim the Agenda