Why are Women Facing the Brunt of Recent Austerity Measures?

Harriet Whitehead is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.

According to new figures published by the House of Commons, women are bearing 86% of the austerity burden[1]. Labour called out the Conservatives for this catastrophic failing in a recent report.[2] This systematic burden is a long-standing issue, with the previous Tory government being included within these figures. This has prompted outcry, with top figures arguing ‘evidence shows how Philip Hammond and George Osborne’s decisions have systematically disadvantaged women and ethnic minorities, especially ethnic minority women’[3]. The reasons for this failing are varied, but perhaps the most glaring is the lack of women in financial posts in the Conservative Party.

The report was carried out by Sarah Champion (formerly the Shadow Equalities Minister before her resignation[4]) and took into account tax and benefit changes since 2010. The report suggested that these cuts will cost women an amount of £79 billion and men £13 billion. In essence, they are proposals to cut great swaths from the social security system, which will disproportionately affect women. The report suggests that austerity measures especially target women depending on their race, class and disabilities[5]. For example, Black and Asian single mothers are both expected to lose around £4,000 (which accounts for roughly 15% of their average income) while men in the top 10% wealth bracket will actually be £564 richer[6].

These costs are not being returned to women’s services, with a meagre proportion being allotted to confront domestic violence and other issues. In fact, the most recent budget unleashed by the Tories has praised itself for a feeble £30 million pledge[7] towards women’s services. The Tories have given themselves a pat on the back for effectively slashing billions from women.

This is perhaps due to the Tories archaic attitude towards women and finance; although notoriously being the first Party with a female Prime Minister[8], there has never been a female Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor (currently Philip Hammond) holds great sway in British politics and is often considered the most powerful person in British politics after the Prime Minister. The same discrimination is rife within other areas of the political realm. That is, it can also be found in attitudes towards defense and justice, with the positions of Secretary always bestowed to a man[9]. Other areas such as education have seen many women allotted to the post; this suggests that the gender roles prevalent in our society do not transcend political position and consequently heavily influence government policy. The achievement of being the only Party to support a female Prime Minister, is tainted by the Tories inability change the sexist climate in their own Party. Consequently, it might partially explain why men account for less than 15% of cuts attributed with recent austerity measures. The lack of representation must surely account for such unfair austerity measures, yet there are a plurality of other related reasons for this routine partisanship.

The open acceptance of sexism in politics and the media might be a reason for this routine inequality. We are seeing the rise of openly sexist and elitist men in the Conservative Party. Indeed, recently, Jacob Rees Mogg has received praise for his cutthroat and ‘honest’ approach to displaying his views. These include a plethora of misogynistic views on contraception, abortion and other issues[10] that affect women. Such abhorrent prejudice has been accepted through the silence of the Tory government and points to the Party’s unwillingness to accept the discrimination problem within their Party.

We can also see the Establishments backward view on women through the recent treatment of Dianne Abbott. Abbott has been the victim of numerous accounts of sexist and racist abuse. Admittedly, she failed to coherently explain some figures, yet even if we concede that this was problematic, the aftermath is certainly not justifiable. The heavy criticism began to manifest itself online through horrific trolling and irresponsible victimization carried out by the media. Abbott has spoken out about the ‘politics of personal destruction[11]‘ towards women in politics as something that needs to be dealt with.

All these factors point towards an undertone of misogyny in the Conservative Party, which inevitably causes discrimination economically as seen through the effects of the austerity cuts. The normalization of this undertone is perpetuated through the Tories failure to condemn blatantly sexist MPs within their own Party and the wrongful use of media platforms to spread sexist ideals.



[1] Sarah Champion, Shadow Equalities Minister, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/09/women-bearing-86-of-austerity-burden-labour-research-reveals

[2] Ibid

[3]Runnymede Trust Director, Dr Omar Khan http://wbg.org.uk/news/outcry-over-nics-hides-the-biggest-losers-of-government-tax-and-benefit-policy/








[11] https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/14/diane-abbott-misogyny-and-abuse-are-putting-women-off-politics

Picture credit: https://lacuna.org.uk/protest/sisters-uncut-protest/

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