The welfare reforms present a particular challenge to the financial security and autonomy of women. The “reforms” have been strongly influenced by (a particular form of) economic modelling, and do not take into account the lived experiences or the impact of the cuts on those targeted. Conservative ideology also informs the reforms and the Government uses an out-of-date model of households and concern about “dependency” on the state, not within families. The form of modelling depopulates social policy, dehumanises people, and indicates that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects.
We therefore need to ask whose needs the “reforms” are fulfilling.
In 2010 the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the government about its potential failure to meet its legal duties. This followed concerns raised by the Fawcett Society and others, regarding the estimated grossly disproportionate impact of the austerity cuts on women. The Commission recognised the serious concerns about the impact of the deficit reduction measures on vulnerable groups and, in particular, following the House of Commons library report, the impact of the budget on women. The Commission stated:
“We have written to the Treasury to ask for reassurance that they will comply with their equality duties when making decisions about the overall deficit reduction, and in particular in relation to any changes to tax and benefits for which they are directly responsible.”
A more inclusive understanding of the range of impacts on both men and women is essential in the formulation of gender-aware, as opposed to gender-blind, policy responses to recession and recovery. It’s clear that the UK government is not interested in collating information regarding impacts and subsequent implications regarding inequality, yet they do have a legal duty to do so.
The United Nations Committee report on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlights areas where women’s rights in the UK have come to a standstill and appallingly, shamefully, some have been reversed.
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: concluding observations on the UK’s report