|David Cameron’s coalition government has cut many social services for families and society’s most vulnerable [EPA]|
Women in Britain today are fed up and that really isn’t good news for the government. The economy is declining, yet the cost of living is rising. And it’s women who are feeling the pinch become tighter and tighter in the rise in household bills, food prices, and increases for those that use public transport and petrol for those that drive.
The “boys” don’t seem to care, as they ruthlessly cut and cull vital services, benefits, grants and support networks in Britain desperately needed by women and their families. And on the subject of the boys: could there be a more male-dominated government in Britain? A group of privileged public schoolboys running the country without a clue what matters to women. Do they honestly think tripling university fees and making women work harder and longer for their pensions is going to get our vote? But what makes me feel sick to my stomach is the cuts in social support for women’s welfare. These men are disregarding and devaluing issues such as abortion, rape and domestic violence. Abhorrent behaviour from a party that I presume is still hoping to win an election at some point.
The irony is women in Britain actually used to like Prime Minister David Cameron. Last year, 45 per cent of women backed the Conservatives, according to YouGov, against just 34 per cent of men. Today it’s a very different story and the government knows it. A leaked Whitehall memo acknowledges fears over supporting policies “pursued as a government which are seen as having hit women, or their interests, disproportionately”.
The hypocrisy of the Conservative Party is totally and utterly staggering. In their Manifesto on Family, they state: “We need to make our society more family friendly.” This from the party that plans to cut child benefits, slash child tax credits, and has already stopped a £190 ($300) Health in Pregnancy Grant and a £500 ($785) means tested maternity grant for low-income families. The “family friendly” Tories are also planning to shut 50 per cent of Sure Start children’s centres. They have reduced housing benefit and are cutting breakfast and after school clubs.
As a new mother, I can’t stress how important it is to know there’s support and help available if you need it. As a totally clueless first time parent, I was overwhelmed with practical things such as how to feed my baby, what to do when he just won’t stop crying, anxiety over illnesses, temperatures and sleep problems. Everything and anything – I worried about it!
I’m so grateful I can now enjoy my wonderful seven-month-old son as much as I do. And that is, without a doubt, because of the help and support I’ve received from my local children’s centre. I’ve met mothers who have been saved from postnatal depression, unhappiness and illness because of that lifeline – a lifeline the Tories want to brutally cut.
It’s not just the parents’ cries for help the Tories are ignoring. The Fawcett Society, backed by 20 unions, charities and academics, has pleaded with David Cameron to, among other things, “ring fence funding for Sure Start children’s centres”. In the Fawcett Society’s report, that ever-so-familiar topic of childcare is also brought up. I’m not sure if the male-dominated British government actually realises how expensive childcare is. Childcare in Britain costs more than any other country in the world, according to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Maybe, in this instance, the UK would like to look to Europe and learn a thing or two from Belgium and Portugal’s example, as, in Britain, 33 per cent of a family’s net income is spent on childcare. This has resulted in a situation where it actually doesn’t make sense for thousands of parents to return to work because they are financially worse off – I know, it took me a while to get my head around that one too. The fact that thousands are not able to go back to work has contributed to 1.07 million women out of work – the highest level for 23 years. Guess who was in power then, too?
I should point out that the Tories are in my firing line because, until deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg finds the strength to stand up to Cameron, the Liberal Democrats just can’t be taken seriously. Anyway, it’s vividly clear who’s wearing the trousers in this Con – venient marriage.
One of the key players in this marriage, responsible for inflicting six more years of pain for families in Britain, is Chancellor George Osborne. Osborne presented his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons last week. The Chancellor said the Government would “do whatever it takes” to protect Britain from the “debt storm of Europe”, but admitted we could plunge into a double-dip recession if the turmoil in Europe continues. I wonder if he knows that many families feel stuck in a never-ending recession, judging by our current deficit. Despite the Office for Budget Responsibility downgrading the growth forecast for 2012 to 0.7 per cent – a rather more dismal outlook than the 2.5 per cent it originally estimated – Osborne will still bulldoze ahead, slashing £8bn from public spending in 2015-16 and £7bn in 2016-17.
A leading think-tank, The Institute For Fiscal Studies, has predicted standards of living for Britons will not increase for more than a decade, stating: “Real median household incomes will be no higher in 2015-16 than they were in 2002-03.” They go on to say: “We are running out of superlatives to describe just how extraordinary are some of those changes.” The IFS also concluded in its analysis of the Autumn Statement that “Britain is living through the worst period for changes in measures of average living standards since consistent records began in mid-50s/early 60s”.
And finally, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, there’s more devastation for those that need help the most in Britain. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has cleared the House of Commons with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke cheerfully turning his back on the most vulnerable in society. Legal aid for dealing with custody cases, relationship breakdowns, school expulsions, immigration and victims of clinical negligence will no longer be available. That’s despite widespread concerns – even from the government-funded Civil Justice Council.
The British government obviously couldn’t give a toss that desperate people living in fear and terror will be left without access to justice. Moreover, The Citizens Advice Bureau has produced a report warning “those worst affected will be women with dependent children”. Does anyone else notice a familiar theme here?
One of the most devastating repercussions of the government wanting to save £350m a year is for the victims of domestic abuse. I find it totally deplorable that the British government is not making victims of domestic violence one of its most important priorities. However, we seem to have an outlandish situation where the government is in fact causing more harm to those that need support the most. The Family Law Bar Association, the Bar Council, the Children’s Commissioner, Gingerbread, Liberty and Women’s Aid are among the groups launching a manifesto calling for the government to re-think its “disturbing” changes.
It’s a sad time for women living in Britain today with the British government doing all it can to make life as difficult as possible for us. I do worry for our wonderful future generations, and whether they will find happiness in employment after leaving university with debts that once could have bought them their first home. Whether that first home will ever become a reality and whether they will be living in a country that does really support and care about them is an uncertainty. Unfortunately, the Conservatives’ nauseating slogan “We’re all in this together” couldn’t be further from the truth. In Britain today, it is them and us.
Siobhan Courtney is a British freelance broadcast journalist and writer. She is a former BBC World News presenter and BBC News reporter, and is embarking on a brand new chapter in life called motherhood.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.