The run-up to the general election will be crunch time for the Women’s Assembly Against Austerity, writes Anita Wright
Despite the grim reality faced by many women as a result of these wholly unnecessary austerity policies, women are fighting back — from the health workers who have taken strike action for a decent pay rise to the young E15 Mums campaigning for public housing and against eviction.
This spirit was in evidence at last year’s Women’s Assembly Against Austerity organised by the National Assembly of Women and other leading women from the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.
Over 250 women from a number of anti-cuts campaigns, trade unions, peace and environmental groups came together to discuss the impact of government policies on their families and communities.
We knew women were going to be hit hard because cuts to services and benefits inevitably impact disproportionally on women as they are the majority of service users and benefit claimants.
Women’s unemployment is the highest it has been for decades and the gender pay gap still stands at 17.5 per cent.
Two-thirds of those workers on low pay are women, many parked on part-time and zero-hours contracts.
George Osborne’s claim that we are in economic recovery and the coalition government is building “an economy that works for all” is blatantly untrue when contrasted with the lives of the majority of ordinary people.
And there’s worse to come, following Osborne’s announcement that he plans to cut a further £13.6 billion in public spending in 2015-16.
As Dr Eva Neitzert, deputy CEO of the Fawcett Society, noted: “The public sector is suffering from the deepest cuts enacted in peacetime history and many front-line services have already been devastated.
“Since 2010, 285 children’s centres have closed or merged, 159 community centres have been lost and over one million street lights are now switched off or dimmed for a set period overnight.
“As a result, over a third of women feel more cut off from their community, a third are using local services less and 85 per cent of women report they feel less safe at night.”
The proposed year-long freeze on the universal credit work allowance and the decision to freeze working age benefits for two years will hit women harder than men.
On average, benefits make up twice as much of women’s income as men’s, largely due to their caring responsibilities and relative poverty.
Although the Autumn Statement contained news that £5.9bn would be invested in science and £15bn in road construction, these are unlikely to benefit women, being areas of work predominantly occupied by men.
The decision not to put money into the social infrastructure like nurseries and care services makes it clear that this government is determined to drive women out of the workplace and back into their homes — if they can still afford to have one.
The Ministry of Justice reported that between January and March 2014 there were more than 47,220 applications to evict tenants — over 525 per day — and this will inevitably rise as wages fail to keep up with rents and mortgages and rampant property speculation goes unchecked.
This government has less than five months left in office. We have an important role to play in the run-up to the general election in May and women’s votes could determine the outcome.
We must set out our demands clearly and challenge candidates to show their commitment to progressive policies that will improve women’s lives now and for the future.
This is why we have decided to hold our second Women’s Assembly Against Austerity on Saturday February 14 in London. It is vital that we make voices heard and our votes count.
Anita Wright is secretary of the National Assembly of Women.
For more information visit www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk.