“The majority of Universal Credit claimants are women, and there is a toxic storm coming this autumn, with the brutal cut of the Universal Credit uplift, the ending of the furlough scheme, and rapidly rising prices.”
By Ruth Hayes, Labour Women Leading activist and Unite EC member.
Already fighting lower pay, higher levels of unpaid work, and appalling levels of harassment and domestic violence, women across the globe have seen equality pushed even further away by the impact of the Covid pandemic.
Many have faced huge risks at work due to inadequate PPE, with tragic loss of life for front line workers across the world.
Women in Britain have taken on the bulk of the responsibility for supporting children and young people learning at home, which often made it impossible to remain in paid work.
There has been a significant increase in the number of people providing unpaid care and support during the pandemic – Carers UK estimated last year that more than 4.5 million people took on caring roles last year as a result of the closure of other services.
The majority of Universal Credit claimants are women, and there is a toxic storm coming this autumn, with the brutal cut of the Universal Credit uplift, the ending of the furlough scheme, and rapidly rising prices.
The Trussell Trust gave out more than 2.5 million food parcels last year – in the fifth largest economy in the world.
The climate emergency is exacerbating underlying gender inequality, and affecting those on the lowest incomes most.
And yet in the midst of all of this, we have seen women at the forefront of many community responses during the last 18 months – organising Mutual Aid networks, running food banks, and ensuring support for neighbourhoods. We have seen TU membership rise for the 4th year in a row, driven by an increase in women being unionised. Women have spoken out against sexual harassment and the massive increase in violence in the home, and taken to the streets to demand action. Many women have also been leading campaigns on the environment, against racism, for the rights of disabled people and for LGBTQ+ equality. The Labour Party needs to engage with the range of women taking action in their communities by providing a clear strategy to end inequality and having creative and dynamic women’s structures.
The Tories have no solutions – they are offering our NHS workers a real term pay cut, their plans for health and social care ”reform” will pay dividends to their cronies whilst doing nothing to deliver the Independent Living Service that so many disabled people need, and they are not investing in our public sector infrastructure. There will be no “levelling up” – just the use of public funds to enrich the wealthiest. Analysis undertaken for the Sunday Times Rich List showed that wealth among billionaires had increased by 21.7% over the first year of the pandemic, rising by £106.5 billion to £597.2 billion. At the same time, poverty in the UK rose to 15 million people – 46% of children from black and minority ethnic families now grow up in poverty.
Labour has to set out a bold vision for women which will address the long term impacts of the pandemic and work towards genuine equality. It also has to take action to address issues of democracy in the party so that women from diverse backgrounds can be active at every level. This is not only about the number of women MPs (though that is of course vitally important), but about Cllrs, CLP Officers and ward activists. Our members are the face of the Labour Party at a local level and their skills and commitment need to be valued and celebrated.
We need to revitalise our women’s structures and it is very welcome that the newly elected Women’s Committee will be setting up a working group to support the implementation of Women’s Branches.
At a policy level, Labour needs to commit to real action, such as:
- Investing in our social infrastructure, as well as our physical infrastructure. The Women’s Budget Group has published research showing that an investment in support/care would create 2.7 times as many jobs as the same amount invested in numerous other industries. Services need to be based around the needs of disabled people of working age as well as older people, and to be designed by service users, not by those seeking to make a profit.
- Legislating for a genuine living wage of £15 per hour, increasing women’s economic wellbeing and independence.
- Reforming our social security system so that there is a decent income guarantee, including for those who currently have no recourse to public funds.
- Developing a radical vision for childcare and for children and young people’s wellbeing which is informed by the trauma that many children have experienced during the pandemic. Free, universal early years provision and quality play and a statutory youth service would be an investment in our future.
- Building council housing to give security of tenure and affordable rents.
- Investing in public and community services and ensuring eg adequate refuge provision and legal advice for women.
- Involving all workers in developing plans which would achieve a just transition to a sustainable economy.
Our last 2 manifestos included a range of popular policies which would form a solid basis for transforming lives.
Women’s interests cut across all areas of the economy and many actions which would improve life for women would improve everyone’s lives. We are at a crossroads, and need a radical change away from the austerity and privatisation of the last decades towards genuine transformation.
- Ruth Hayes is an activist for Labour Women Leading and a member of Unite the Union’s Executive Committee.
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