The debate surrounding the elimination of violence against women currently rides high on the political agenda, but talk is cheap from this coalition government, writes Diane Abbott
This coalition government is bad for everybody. But it is particularly bad for women.
This is not surprising — in David Cameron’s male-dominated Cabinet of millionaires there is nobody who knows about ordinary women’s lives.
Coalition austerity is a body blow for women because women and families stand to lose the most from the cutback and closure of services, particularly in health.
It is also true of the big cuts that local government is facing. All too soon the full impact of these cuts is going to make itself felt as local authorities are forced to slash services like social work, Sure Start and youth work.
But the cuts are not the only crisis faced by women. Austerity is falling on public-sector services disproportionately, so it hits women extra hard because women make up a disproportionate number of public-sector workers.
One area where the coalition is inflicting particular damage is domestic violence.
Not so long ago society did not take domestic violence seriously. The police were dismissive of it.
As a result of years of campaigning, we now have much better services for women who are being abused by a partner.
But the coalition is rolling back all the progress of recent years.
The debate surrounding the elimination of violence against women currently rides high on the political agenda.
Yet the truth is that on average two women a week are murdered in England and Wales by current or former partners.
It is clear that talk is cheap. Hundreds of thousands of women are victims of domestic violence up and down the country, while at the same time we are witnessing an alarming deterioration of the situation that reflects the current government’s worrying record on women.
In London alone in 2013 increased incidents of violence against women and girls cost the city over £5.5 billion, a figure made all the more shocking when one considers that it is estimated that fewer than 20 per cent of victims report domestic abuse.
However it was heartening to see Harriet Harman take the coalition government to task during Prime Minister’s questions recently on the question of women, including the lack of female representation on the government front bench.
The data clearly shows that out of all vulnerable groups, women have been hit the hardest by the government’s continued reckless policy of austerity.
For instance, the vast majority of people paying the bedroom tax are women.
Another simple example of this is evident within my own constituency, where women are more predominantly employed than men by the local authority and therefore have been excessively affected by cuts to funding.
Changes to benefits and direct taxes have also disproportionally affected women, and cuts to funding for specialised women’s services at a time when domestic abuse is increasing is unfortunately indicative of the government’s narrow and short-sighted approach that is blighting the lives of women across Britain.
The rise of domestic abuse during a period of austerity is not itself surprising. During my time as shadow public health minister I heard much anecdotal evidence of the pressures on families in crisis.
But it is shocking that the government is cutting funding for local authorities to provide specialised domestic abuse services at a time when incidences of this abuse are rising.
The government is consistently failing these victims of domestic violence.
Budget cuts at local authorities, which have historically been the key funders for refuge provision, ensure that sadly, on an average day in London, 22 women seeking help are turned away.
The crucial problem is that, as refuge provision is not a statutory obligation for local
authorities, funding is not safeguarded.
This is exacerbated by an increased government emphasis on localism that ensures there is no overarching and comprehensive central government assessment of domestic abuse provision.
Further to these cuts, the coalition’s programme of welfare reform has excessively affected women suffering domestic abuse.
The discontinuation of the crisis loan scheme that provided practical support in furnishing a new home has damaged the prospects of women leaving refuges.
A bleak prospect faces the women forced to choose between sleeping Spartan-like with your children on a cold floor in an empty flat and returning to the warm and furnished home of your abuser.
The Labour Party can hold its head high with regard to its record in power.
Among many achievements we improved the law on sexual abuse and drove change through the criminal justice system to bring in a more comprehensive approach to support victims.
But the bottom line is that Britain is sliding back on this issue.
There is a burgeoning crisis of domestic abuse across the country which can be directly attributed to the misguided policies of the current government.
The rhetoric is lofty, but statistics are clear. There is no question that the voices of women are not being heard by this government.
So women increasingly suffer economically and socially.
And, for one unfortunate group of women, they are suffering from violence and abuse in their own homes because of the way the coalition is letting down victims of domestic violence.
Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.