Thursday, 11 December 2014

Working Poor Women: Over the breadline, but under the radar

Working Poor women, those technically who are living an inch over the breadline, are a forgotten army, but one of the most targeted groups by this sexist, anti-women, coalition government. These women (and I am one of them myself) go about their daily lives in a perpetual state of struggle and fight. Many are juggling low paid, part time work with caring duties. Since time began, and we have not moved very far forward in reality, women have been the carers. Whether that involves bringing up children and abandoning careers to take part time work, or giving birth to a disabled child and knowing your own life has changed forever in order to become a full time carer; or having the career then turning into a carer to look after elderly parents whilst juggling a less well paid job to fit it all in, women have had to face up to caring realities that can often choke their own lives.

It often feels since 2010 that Cameron and co have got round the table and discussed budget cuts and then decided they will fall on the working poor woman's shoulders. Take school lunches for example. If a woman takes a part time job and has a few kids, then free school lunches are stopped completely. If like me, who had  four children at school together, this equated to a whopping £2.50-£3 per day per child totalling at its least £10 per day. Hence why you will find many children of working poor parents taking sandwiches or even missing lunch altogether when times are hard.  Likewise the school uniform grant in many areas is reserved for those on income support only. I have often envied poorer families having access to a school uniform grant, especially as our high school has a blazer as part of its uniform. Finding the full costs of uniform in my household used to start in May before the September return to school date. It is the working poor families in this situation who fall through the gap. Once your part time nose lifts over the breadline of poverty, it is soon shoved back down as you become liable for a host of new costs that you didn't have when you were technically too poor.

Many women with caring duties for a disabled child are invisible. The £61.35pw Carers Allowance is a total insult and a stubborn scar on the face of what is supposed to be a compassionate society where the vulnerable and their carers are looked after. No Government feels the need to tackle the injustice of it. Carers are so way down on the target voters list beloved of spin doctors, no party feels a desperate urge to change the plight of carers. Carers exist in this invisible sphere of caring duties that save our social services and NHS millions of pounds every year. I often fantasise of a 1 day carers strike that would bring this country to a grinding halt, but Governments know the bulk of carers are women who would never abandon their caring duties and they rely on this to keep us in our place. Again the working poor carer who feels desperate enough to supplement the £61.35pw with a part time job,is immediately punished by one of the most pernicious rules that states if you earn a penny over £102 per week your entire carers allowance is stopped. How the hell can any government say this is fair?  This rule is deliberately targeted at keeping women "in their place" subdued and in poverty. You can't start a Carers Revolution when you are constantly stressed, juggling caring and work, and wondering where the next meal is coming from! In my case when my autistic son was a baby I yearned to be able to stand for political office and change the narrative, but caring and poverty held me back. Politics and outside interests became flickers of light within me, but they were never extinguished. Paradoxically, this ConDem government have fanned the flames within me, and now my son is older I am able to speak out on behalf of the legions of women who are in this "locked down" position of caring and low paid work. We deserve a voice and it must come from someone who has experienced being a carer for many years. Shouting from the rooftops and screaming for change at every turn, is something I take very seriously.

Freezing child benefit and freezing working tax credits have to be two of the biggest targeted policies towards women in general ,but especially hard on the shoulders of working poor women. This government shows a callous indifference to whether they actually want working class women to vote for them at all! It is this show of disregard by the Bullingdon Boys on the Tory front bench that is punishing the "hardworking families" this government rants on about on a weekly basis. Is there anyone more hard working than a woman with children working on a zero hours contract, agency employed, not knowing how many hours she will work from week to week or what her take home pay will be?! Answer me that  David Cameron! I can think of no one more deserving than  struggling working poor women for whom life may just be a bit easier if child benefit and working tax credits were increased every year as they should be. Thatcher froze child benefit for 3 successive years and was given the boot! I'm no fan of John Major but he recognised just how much damage had been done to women and children by this cruel policy and immediately increased child benefit.  Working tax credits are necessary due to the years employers have been aided and abetted by government to pay poverty wages. Minimum wage has come to mean the wage at which all working class part time workers need to be paid at. This has had a huge impact on women, who may be the sole breadwinner in a family. By freezing working tax credits this rancid government have laughed in the faces of the working poor. Duncan-Smiths policies at the DWP openly imply those on working tax credits simply are not working enough hours and need to work longer and harder to somehow "lift themselves out of poverty wages". A blind eye is turned to employers and an open door to exploit women especially who will keep quiet on zero hours contracts, desperate to hold onto any job.

This government in particular have an appalling attitude to women, the like of which we have never seen before. They rely on us working poor women to be compliant, subservient, fearful and obedient. The fightback starts here. Whose joining me?