Sunday 1 August 2010

The Fairer Sex?

On Friday, a leading female rights group – the Fawcett Society – filed court papers alleging that the Con-Dems’ budget breached legislation on gender equality. The Fawcett Society contends that the budget acts to increase inequality between men and women and, by not carrying out an equality impact assessment, the government acted illegally. The case will be costly – and probably fruitless – but it’s a case worth making.

According to estimates by the Fawcett Society – backed up by research from the House of Commons library – 72% of cuts will be met by women. That amounts to a staggering £5.8 billion. It is remarkable that women are expected to pay this disproportionate amount yet still earn significantly less than men. I thought we were all in this together?

Many of the policies unevenly affect women – the freezing of child benefit, cutting tax credits, abolishing maternity grants, strangulating Sure Start – whilst, if Iain Duncan-Smith gets his way, the ‘simplification’ of the benefit system will also see the scrapping of Lone Parent Benefit.

The campaign against the public sector and local government also disproportionately affects women because females represent 65% of the work force. Many will lose their job whilst any earning over £21 000pa (and lucky enough to keep their job) will be subject to a two-year pay freeze. Furthermore, because the overwhelming majority of part-time workers are female, many will not be eligible for the nominal pay rise if their pro-rata salary exceeds £21k.

The campaign by the Fawcett Society demonstrates that the Con-Dems’ budget is not just an ideological attack on the state, it is also an ideological attack on women. It is a thinly veiled attempt to curtail the progress made by women in society and to retrench traditional patriarchal structures. It seems fairly obvious that the government think that a woman’s place is in the home – and even then they won’t be given extra help to raise children.

Women may be seen as the ‘fairer’ sex, but where the Con-Dems’ budget is concerned, it’s anything but fair to women.

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