Many will be left reeling after the revelations of yesterday’s Spending Review, a long list of savage cuts which threaten 500,000 jobs and the welfare of millions. In announcing this strategy, Chancellor George Osborne claimed to be driven by the demands of fairness; if this is true, it is painfully clear that he has a very distorted concept of what ‘fairness’ entails. Few could describe as fair a budget that impacts disproportionately on the poorest half of the nation, slashing already squeezed social housing provision and reducing care provision whilst allowing the City to emerge unscathed. Even The Telegraph readily admits that this is a political budget, shaped by ideological imperatives as much as economic demands.
Already, the plans have prompted a surge of compelling critiques from think-tanks and charities shocked by their regressive implications. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (hardly a voice of radicalism) has warned that the impact on the poorest tenth will be five times that on the richest, Shelter has expressed fears that homelessness will surge, and the Social Market Foundation has pointed out that protecting the schools budget meant big hits for all-important early years services.
Acknowledging all of this is hugely important, but it is also crucial that we include gender in the picture and recognise the particularly pernicious effects these cuts will have on women. As the Fawcett Society outlines, it is women who will be the main losers as jobs are cut, public services are rolled back and benefits are slashed. Of the 500,000 to be cut from the public sector, two thirds will be women and, as primary carers, it is women who will assume the extra burden of responsibility when provision for children and the elderly is scaled back. We must challenge this: if it goes unrecognised, women’s services and benefits will remain a soft target, vulnerable to a Coalition all-too-often governed by expedience.