Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Women v Austerity.. This Time It's Personal!

I like men. I live in a household where I have brought up 4 sons and am married to a very supportive man, so you could say I know a fair bit about men. However, I am devoting this blog post to women and how austerity measures seem to be punishing us. I would go as far to say some of the austerity measures are AIMED at us particularly and want to explore my theory a little further...

I suppose the cutting of Universal Child Benefit was the big one! It didn't matter whether you were Ms Bloggs or Mrs Huntingdon-Smythe, you received child benefit for the children you were raising. Nice and easy - we all knew where we stood. True, while I and many others paid for clothes, shoes, football boots and School Dinners, Mrs Huntingdon-Smythe was buying the odd antique here and there or paying for Junior Huntingdon-Smythe to go ski-ing at half term. It didn't seem to matter too much as we were pretty content with the Universality of the benefit. The real beauty of it was that it was paid directly to Mum. It was paid to us so we could benefit the children we bore. Then the coalition Government decided that fair enough perhaps Mrs Huntingdon-Smythe did not need child benefit as her and her husband both earned in excess of £60k each. But then things got nasty when Ms Bloggs who had raised 2 of her children  given up her career while her partner earned a middle-ish income. Bang! Like a puff of smoke she was also deemed not to need her child benefit and that was cut. There was also sheer bewilderment with an opting in and out of the benefit. If you continue to receive it, HMRC  will then hit Ms Bloggs with a £2k plus tax bill next year. Not all people affected received notification of the change and so have no idea what they are supposed to do. But this child benefit cut has directly taken the money away from the mother to decide how to spend it on her child/children.

The next attack being hurriedly swept in with only 2 months to go until April, is the news that over 10,000 Carers will see their already paltry sum of £58.45 be savagely cut. This is because of the move of disabled people from DLA- PIP. PIP is already being seen as having far too narrow descriptors in order to receive the Enhanced Rate of Care or the Standard Rate; same for mobility. Under DLA if a person receives Middle or High Rate Care they are entitled to a Carer who is then able to claim the Carers Allowance as some small reward for looking after disabled people 35+ hours a week. With the move to PIP thousands of disabled people will be deemed not eligible for the Enhanced Care Rate , thus losing their right to a Carer who can claim Carers Allowance. As a result this will either leave the diabled person without a Carer, or more likely Carers will go on to care 24/7 for the disabled person with no financial benefit however small.

Women make up the majority of Carers in the UK for disabled people - the latest stats indicate 58% of carers are women. By taking away even a small financial award for the excruciating, often mundane, 24/7 with no respite, work of caring for disabled people, this Government are indicating a contempt for women and all carers that beggars belief. The cost in the long run to the NHS and Social Services will increase as Carers break under the pressure and suffer poverty themselves as a result.

Universal Credit is another attack on the independence of women. Couples will receive one payment, once a month to one person in the couple. If the male partner receives the credit, the woman will be forced to ask for money. Research has also indicated children get the most care when the financial affairs are  handled by the major care giver. Although this person can be either male or female, in the majority of cases it is the mother who provides the majority of the care. More worryingly, if the woman is in a controlling or abusive relationship, she will be left financially adrift, and this will have deep effects on any children. If a lone parent mother moves into a relationship, she may well end up losing access to money for her children. Again even in the happiest of relationships, there will be tension in the household over who controls the Universal Credit part of the finances.

Pensions are being reformed. The single tier higher pension will come into being in April 2017.
Some women born between 1952-53 will not be eligible for the single-tier pension since they are due to retire before the new system comes into affect. Men however, because of the difference in retirement ages, will not be effected. Over 430,000 women will be £2,000 worse off than men.

Working mums who also care for a disabled child will be particularly hardest hit. Under plans for Universal Credit, the current disabled child element that is paid under Working Tax Credit, will be cut for all disabled children, other than those children who receive High Rate Care under DLA. This is  currently worth £3015 per yr (£57.89 pw) with an additional severely disabled child element of £1220 per yr.
Under Universal Credit this will be reduced to £30 pw for children who do NOT receive Higher Rate Care. So Mums struggling to juggle work and caring responsibilities could see a double whammy with the disabled child element cuts and Carers Allowance Cuts.

Under Housing Benefit reform and the hated Bedroom Tax women will suffer disproportionately. Many lone parent women will be forced out of their local area and be moving between accomodations. Lone women will be hardest hit by the Bedroom Tax if they are under occupying their homes, and will struggle to access support services that are being cut also. Of course apart from the women it is the children who suffer.

In my local area which has only a small proportion of coastal social housing, the only alternative is private renting. I am already seeing people trying to downsize, but due to the lack of any kind of  affordable property, let alone suitable property it is proving near impossible. A lone parent who has one son only managed to find a 3 bed private rented house in a modest street 3 months ago, now she is at her wits end trying to find a 2 bedroomed property on a Long Let. She does not want her sons schooling to be suffering due to having to move between 6 month lets continuously. Those of us living rurally or by the coast have a real problem with finding suitable property, due to the amount of property available and the high rents involved.

Most worryingly that under Austerity UK, women's refuges are being closed and so there are not nearly enough support services for women fleeing domestic abuse, 401 Sure Start Centres have been closed with more to follow, and Legal Aid is being slashed for women who may need to fight abuse through legal channels.

This Government, more than any previous Government, are directly responsible for moving thousands of women into poverty, towards potentially life-threatening situations, and moving the independence of women back to the 19th century. As the Suffragettes taught us, women are strong and resilient: We must NOT allow this Government to bully us into submission. It would help if the formidable Opposition female MPs spoke out more in the House of Commons consistently on our behalf and forced this Government to look at the impact of its reforms on women in particular. Current soundbites every now and again are not enough. So come on Female Labour MP's- get together and demand action as one voice and badger this Government into a response. We need your help more than ever before. Don't let history tell us, you remained silent while  the UKs women suffered.