Banbury Constituency Labour Party

Sylvia’s Womens Conference Blog – ‘AUSTERITY IS SEXIST’

Sylvia Howells 01 colour extract

 For the last 5 years this Tory Government has been telling us that austerity would ‘wipe the slate clean’ following the economic crash of 2008 and lead to the sunny uplands of everlasting economic growth and prosperity for all. Chancellor Osborne said slashing taxes for the rich and benefits for the working (and non-working) poor would be a price worth paying! I’m tempted to say ‘there goes another flying pig’…… but that would be tasteless so I won’t.

What we’ve actually got is a deficit slightly more than half that he ‘inherited’ in 2010; a national debt standing at over £1.5Tn – twice what he ‘inherited’ and on a scale unprecedented in peace time; the slowest recovery ever recorded and a balance of trade which keeps getting worse. Is this the way to get UK on its feet Gideon?

There’s no doubt that globalisation has created losers. Unequal societies have become increasingly unstable (think Greece) and we are brain washed into believing that refugees, migrants and the poor are the problem. As comedian Mark Steel asked at the War on the Poor fringe meeting on Sunday, ‘When and why did the war on poverty become a war on the poor?’ Whole layers of society are being targeted and wealth has been transferred in greater volume from the poorest people to the richest 1%, who appear to run the world for their own benefit rather than ours.

Following the day that shook the Labour Party – the 19th September 2015 – it’s tempting to ask, as many are, how come a 200-1 outsider romped home to become leader with an even bigger majority than Tony Blair in 1994, topping the first ballot with 59.5% of the vote? It’s historic in any terms and a reflection perhaps that people are starting to realise that a better way is needed. None of us really expected a change as significant as this on May 8th did we?

So, standing in the queue at Women’s Conference last Saturday, I asked many women about who they voted for and why? I couldn’t find anyone who had not either voted for him in the first instance or supported him as leader now. It left me wondering why his campaign had been so successful and it became clear from my discussions with delegates at Women’s Conference that it was mainly about his principled opposition and stand against Austerity. They argued that the country risks a widening gender and equality gap because of Tory Austerity and thought its implementation and impact sexist since it clearly affects women and those they care for disproportionately and deleteriously.

For example, a coalition of charities – A Fair Deal for Women – argued that cuts to social and public services, and legal aid will continue to downgrade the role of women in society at every level. But how? They highlighted a few things to start with – the benefits cap reduction, emasculation of Sure Start which continues to be cut, housing benefits cuts for the 18-21s forcing many into homelessness. But who caused the crash? Well, listening to Osborne and the Tory press the problem of course lies with all the immigrants and the poor because they have all the money and yes, the cheek of it, live in doorways thus saving money on rent, heat and council tax!

Tories steaming ahead with welfare cuts

Tories steaming ahead with welfare cuts

But the serious point that the delegates were making is that Austerity is Sexist. Most carers and public sector workers, where the cuts hit hardest, are women. In 90% of families the primary carers are women and its women who take the emotional and financial strain that austerity continues to impose on families. In contrast, the 5 year tax lock will likely benefit men more, since they currently earn 19% more than their female colleagues or counterparts.

The Tories say women have to make tough choices. But what’s shameful is just how tough it is, with women using food banks to feed their families and even going without food themselves so their kids can eat. Now we know that 3M working families will be £1300pa worse off from the next round of benefits cuts and of these, 2.7M are likely to be women with children. It’s predominantly women, who are also the low waged, who are left to carry the greater burden of paying off the deficit. It seems the ‘War on the Poor’ will continue only because of the need to build even more wealth for the 1%! And we know from DWP’s own statistics that between December 2011 and February 2014, 90 people a month after their ESA claim ended following a WCA which found them ‘fit for work’.

Conservatives - profit over people

Conservatives – profit over people

So who should pay for our Austerity? According to the IFS, the rise in child poverty from the Chancellor’s new round of welfare cuts will be half a million, OBR states that the   British people are being taken on roller coaster ride and the OECD confirms that UK will have lower growth than otherwise as a result of the austerity measures. Austerity causes poverty, and poverty kills, forcing the poor to pay back the greater share of the deficit which was caused, not by them, but by banks who continue making lots of money for each other and the 1%.

From his speech to conference, Jeremy Corbyn clearly recognises and values women’s caring [unpaid] work, which is perhaps why so many young women have joined the campaign, feeling enthused about a party that will be more inclusive. It’s interesting that 62% of women voted Jeremy as their first choice against 48% men [YouGov]. And Tom Watson said we should be in NO doubt, Labour is an anti-austerity party, will speak for the voiceless and reject the Tory narrative.

Thinking back to Chris Mullins drama ‘A Very British Coup’, the working class PM Harry Perkins looks at a senior civil servant and asks why he was so scared of an ex- steel worker. It’s tempting to ask why the establishment and right wing media is so afraid of Jeremy Corbyn today. How can these powerful institutions be so scared by a vegan cyclist from Islington who spends his free time on an allotment growing (and photographed holding) large marrows? Given their paranoia, we can only wait and prepare for next preposterous newspaper headline ‘Corbyn Bad Laden forces your pets to become Muslims’?

The media even has the temerity to accuse Corbyn of having problems with women just by suggesting a possible debate on women only train carriages as well as his selection of the shadow cabinet. In fact, the shadow cabinet has 16 women and 15 men, as opposed to Cameron’s cabinet of 7 women and 14 men. Female representation is at an all-time high – Labour has the highest proportion of women in parliament at 43% – and Angela Eagle is both shadow business secretary and first shadow secretary of state. Who’s really got the Problem?

Does this really matter? Could it be that Corbyn’s anti-austerity, pro welfare/labour rights, pro council house building and environmental programme resonates, especially with women who have been so badly and unfairly affected by austerity policies? If we think about it, a large proportion of many local and national campaigns are headed and supported by women, from saving hospitals to support for refugees, and now in Oxfordshire, trying to save our own Childrens Centres. Labour Women will always find a way of re-engaging in public debate, public life and public service without being branded as extreme feminists.

So the message from this blog is, yes Austerity is sexist, but women will continue to win for labour. We now have twice as many women members as are in the women’s institute this is an amazing historical achievement. Let’s mobilise and fight the Tory assault on our welfare state.

Tories are crippling the state's economy

Tories are crippling the state’s economy

Sylvia Howells
Womens Conference Delegate 2015

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