Banbury Constituency Labour Party

How women are hit hardest by Osborne’s austerity budgets – Sylvia Howells, Banbury & Bicester Labour Party – February 2016

Age of Austerity cartoonYet again women stand to lose the most, and gain the least. Osborne says he is committed to delivering a budget surplus by 2019/2020, to be achieved largely through unprecedented expenditure cuts. Close examination highlights clearly the unfair impact on women and those on low incomes, such as lone parents and female single pensioners.

The adverse impact on women is not remarkable when his announcements are examined in more detail. It could be argued the decision to reverse the tax credit cuts may have improved the picture for women in the short term but many of the planned savings have merely been postponed rather than abandoned altogether. His offering to offset this pernicious cut did not constitute any U Turn. Instead he remains committed to saving £12Bn by 2019/20 with the most savings made from the freeze on benefits of £4Bn, another £4-5Bn with the introduction of Universal Credit as well as £1.5Bn on Housing Benefit.

Essentially these benefits make up a greater share of women’s incomes than those of men and are a vital safety net, providing security for individuals and families when they are in most need. Of the £82Bn in tax increases and cuts in social security spending announced since 2010 and implemented over this Parliament, astoundingly 81% will come from Women

Nationally, the government has refused and failed to make adequate investments in social care to ensure the security of those in society who are most vulnerable, especially the unwell or frail. In Oxfordshire, our own Tory/Conservative Independent Alliance led administration is now, having implemented the cuts to date without question despite our repeated warnings of the impact, daring to challenge the severity of the current round of cuts. It seems that only late in the day are they becoming fearful of the consequences for those at the frontline of service provision, a fear it seems, even more belatedly shared by the Prime Minister, for once remembering his responsibilities as a local MP! (though with only a tenuous grasp of local authority finance it seems)!

From reports by various national bodies and think tanks, we know that the care sector is in major crisis. Experts agree that we are heading for meltdown since local authority funding is not keeping pace with costs and need. The Spending Review did little to help. It’s estimated that by 2020, additional funding of £8bn will be required in the social care sector, yet Osborne’s announced measures including the 2% increase in Council Tax, will only raise £3.5bn as a maximum. Throughout the country, women continue to be sidelined and ignored and are likely to lose the most from the austerity cuts as they are more likely to be in need of care and to be paid or unpaid carers.

The Chancellor’s clear agenda is to accelerate the cuts to national and particularly local social infrastructure with the result that all public spending, as a share of national income, will continue to significantly fall to its lowest level since before the Second World War. The consequences for, and impact on, the daily lives of countless people will become progressively severe and leave them increasingly insecure. Even though latest analysis suggests that our economy is failing to improve the life chances and incomes of large sections of the population, the Chancellor is so driven by ideological dogma and his own political expediency that he refuses to listen to the legion of eminent economists advising him about the fault-line in his economic strategy. He continues to be blinkered by what he sees as his own party’s (and perhaps his personal?) short term political fortunes and continues down this path with little regard to its impact and long term consequences for society as a whole.

Thatcher Poster Government by the richThe Spending Review announcement also showed a trend of transferring responsibility and risk from the State and society to individuals. Housing policy is to be even more strongly focused on helping those at the margins of home ownership, rather than ensuring there is adequate supply of affordable social housing for those in greatest need. Instead we see the growing use of costly and unsuitable bed and breakfast as temporary accommodation – women and children being the primary sufferers – for people evicted from, or unable to afford, private rents (not including the impact of a Housing Bill which will result in a substantial reduction in local authority and Housing Association social housing stock). The costs to Local Authorities are astronomical. We consign women and their children to these temporary shelters for longer and longer periods and the lives of children are particularly disrupted, the impact on education and family life going almost without saying yet largely ignored by politicians and the media as a whole.

At the same time, in further and higher education yet more grants are replaced with loans for poorer students but in what is perhaps the most perverse illustration for women, Osborne has now decided that proceeds of the ‘tampon tax’ should be allotted for domestic violence and women’s health charities.  Male politicians’ perspective enables them to make decisions oblivious to the fact that tackling domestic violence remains vital to ensure the day-to-day security of women, and that it should be a fundamental responsibility of all in society. Critically, this measure patently demonstrates, both symbolically and literally, that it’s the ‘woman’s responsibility’! It is to be their money that pays for the consequences of violence that, in the vast majority of cases continues to be perpetrated by men. How ill-advised and absurd this may turn out to be.

Many prominent and distinguished economists have repeatedly argued and shown that there is an alternative economic strategy that is both economically sound and lays the foundations for better social outcomes. This alternative advocates large-scale investment in the physical and social infrastructure in health, housing, education, and care systems.

Cathy Come HomeTo understand where we could be going wrong, Shelter recommends that we should revisit the 1960s film which they commissioned – ‘Cathy Come Home’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8fVnXXMw60

Few if any other films can claim to have resulted in a change in the law but ‘Cathy Come Home’ is certainly one of them.

The graphic, not to say harrowing, depiction of a couple made homeless in 60s Britain traces a couple’s decline from prosperity, which although gradual to begin with, accelerates horrifically. Quickly, the characters are no longer architects of their own fate. They make mistakes but become victims of a harsh and unfeeling system. The eviction scene, removal of the children from parental care and the injustice of it all are still powerful today. Most resonant of all are the hostile attitudes of their fellow citizens towards the dispossessed and homeless. Any bells ringing yet?!

We can see the parallels today. Our society has become more uncaring and individualistic, where selfish fears of ‘the other’ are fuelled by a prejudicial media who have become the arbiters for many in deciding who deserves or not. Examples are almost too many to count – immigrants, benefit claimants, the unemployed, disabled – the list of so-called ‘skivers and scroungers’ goes on while the bankers and tax avoiders are ‘okay’ and escape with impunity their responsibilities for the 2008 crash

Today, the prejudices and stigmas of the 1960s are exposed once again, yet this film brought home the reality and showed those at the time that there, but for the grace of God, they could go too. The current lie is that people are being persuaded to believe that it won’t happen to them, a natural result of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy when she announced there is no such thing as society and ‘I’m alright Jack (or Jill) has become pervasive.

At the time, the film gave a huge impetus to Shelter. Their campaign for the homeless had just started and few other campaigns except (later) CND have had such widespread support. Pressure from Shelter eventually led to a change of the law in 1977 which meant that homeless families could no longer be treated this way and the provision of B&B as temporary accommodation was introduced.

Although this law has its place, as we’ve already said, it won’t be enough to cope with the looming housing crisis and the film gives us a glimpse of what the future may hold for our sisters and mothers – a frightening prediction. Surely we should be arguing that investment has the potential to deliver not only employment gains but also investment in our local physical infrastructure, and crucially could deliver on the Tories promise to leave to the next generation a ‘stronger country’. However, this promise is looking emptier by the day and more likely that the next generation will be poorer, with little prospect for many of being able to count on a secure home of any description and build a secure future for themselves and their children, let alone climb the housing ladder. Future generations may rightly ask why we allowed it to happen, just as we did in the 1960s. Perhaps ‘Cathy Come Home’ should be updated for the 2010s!

 

 

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