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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 March 2012

International Women's Day 2012

Women, capitalism and the cuts

Alicia Blackett
N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson

N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson

International Women's Day 2012 falls against the backdrop of ever more cuts being imposed by the coalition. Last year saw a major wave of government attacks on jobs, benefits and services realised, with working class women disproportionately affected in all of these areas.

In particular, the brutal cull in public sector jobs combined with pay freezes and pay caps will have a devastating effect on women, who continue to make up two-thirds of the public sector workforce. Thousands of teachers, nurses and social workers will face the brunt of the Con-Dem assault on the public sector.

Vicious cuts

N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson

N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

There have also been recent government announcements of up to 18 billion of cuts to social security and welfare. Access to domestic and sexual violence services will be increasingly limited as 31% of funding for these vital services has been slashed.

Cuts to working tax credits and child tax credits will hit women particularly hard, just as the closure of care services and day care centres will mean that more women are expected to 'pick up the slack' and take over care responsibilities from these important services.

The Con-Dems' cuts package will hit working class women the hardest, not because it is a conscious policy choice because Tories hate women - although some of them do - but because women are already disadvantaged in society to begin with.

Despite advances in the economic and social position, women in Britain continue to be paid an average of 15.5% less than men, even after 40 years of the Equal Pay Act. Young women will therefore be affected by the rise in tuition fees and the scrapping of education maintenance allowance (EMA), as a whole generation of young people are priced out of higher education. And women are still expected to be the main providers of care within the family.

The oppression of women is rooted in class society, and came about through the development of the patriarchal family as an economic and social unit.

When ordinary people talk about 'family' they mean real individuals - parents, children, partners. But for the ruling class, the institution of the family plays a vital role in reinforcing their own ideals and values throughout society, as well as being a means to pass on wealth and private property.

Welfare state

N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson

N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Furthermore, big business shareholders and their representatives in government want to maximise profits by keeping their costs to a minimum. This applies not only to actual wages but also to what is known as the 'social wage' - the tax cost of health, housing and education for a new generation of workers. They do this by off loading these costs as much as possible onto individual families, and women particularly.

The family also serves to reinforce hierarchy widely in society, and is presented as a reflection of the 'natural order' of things. But the patriarchal family as we know it has only existed for around 10,000 years. Before this, for the majority of human history, nomadic hunter-gatherer societies, based on shared resources and shared responsibility for the upbringing of children, were the predominant form of organisation. Although a division of labour based on sex existed, women's work was valued equally by the group.

It was the development of private ownership and concentration of wealth by an elite, as well as the concept of inheritance and the oppression of women's sexuality, that led to a loss of status and freedom for women.


Nevertheless, women, especially working class women, in Britain have fought hard for advances in their position in society, and have won many rights and freedoms that they were previously denied.

The overwhelming majority of people would now accept that men and women should be equal and support the many rights that have been won over the years such as domestic violence and marital rape being recognised as crimes. There is a general view that women should have some fertility rights. The Socialist Party fights for all women to have the right to decide when and whether to have children.

The struggles of women have made clear that any attacks on these hard-fought for rights will be fiercely resisted. The most successful movements for women's rights in the past have taken place at times of increased struggle of the working class in general.

We have already begun to see resistance to the Con-Dems' savage austerity package in both the magnificent 30 June and 30 November public sector strikes, where a majority of strikers were women. Also the fantastic student protests in 2010 involved many young women from university and college campuses.

London slutwalk June 2011, photo Sarah Wrack

London slutwalk June 2011, photo Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

This struggle against the cuts is encouraging women to campaign on other issues too. The successful 'slutwalk' marches held around the country helped expose myths about rape and questioned why sexism and discrimination exist in society.

Attacks on women's rights more generally have been seen, through plans to erode abortion and fertility rights, as well as Nadine Dorries' 'Abstinence for Girls' bill, that aimed to promote the teaching of abstinence to female students in sex education lessons. Protests were organised around these proposals, leading directly to the defeat of both and victory for women across the country. It can certainly be said that faced with these attacks women are fighting back.

Stop Dorries protest against Nadine Dorries' 'Abstinence for Girls' bill, that aimed to promote the teaching of abstinence to female students in sex education lessons, photo Suzanne Beishon

Stop Dorries protest, photo Suzanne Beishon   (Click to enlarge)

The Socialist Party has been involved with all of these campaigns, and fights to link the struggles of women to the struggle against capitalism more widely.

We have already seen how the government has attempted to divide workers - young and old, unemployed and working, private and public sector. There is no question they are also prepared to use sexism to divide the movement against austerity. It is clear that any successful movement must be united and involve both men and women.

A united working class struggle against austerity and the rotten capitalist system must take place. Only with the construction of a socialist society - one which has freed the family from its role as a social and economic institution and where economic resources are owned and controlled collectively through a democratically planned economy - will the true emancipation of women be fully realised.

Housing cuts hit women hard

Helen Pattison
A housing protest on the Seven Stars estate in Wrekenton, Gateshead, photo Elaine Brunskill

A housing protest on the Seven Stars estate in Wrekenton, Gateshead, photo Elaine Brunskill   (Click to enlarge)

Changes to housing benefits, and funding cuts to services women rely on to escape problems such as domestic violence, will result in more women being forced to live in dangerous conditions.

The government has increased from 25 to 35 the age at which people can claim enough housing benefit to live on their own, meaning single claimants up to 35 can only afford a room in a shared house.

Renting in this way can be dangerous for women who are vulnerable to being attacked by other people sharing the accommodation - 70% of sexual attacks on women are by people they know. 17% of rape within the home is perpetrated by landlords.

The only way to achieve safe housing for all women is through affordable publicly owned housing. Housing associations are not the answer.

They are run like businesses and often by organisations with separate agendas than providing housing for those in need.

It is legal for housing associations to ask for 'proof' that women have been suffering domestic violence before giving them priority status.

One association has been down-grading the applications of women suffering from non-physical forms of abuse.

All this comes at a time when emergency shelters for women trying to escape violence are being closed because of cuts, resulting in many having no alternative but to remain in abusive situations.

Women are more likely to be in receipt of housing benefit, because of the wage gap that still persists despite equal pay legislation, so will be hit hardest by any changes made.

Women are also more likely to have dependents (children or other relatives they care for) so will be hit by the stricter rules being imposed on how many bedrooms a family can claim housing benefit for.

Coupled with other cuts to services women rely on to be able to work and the benefits cap the government is attempting to impose, more women and families will be left in overcrowded and possibly dangerous homes. The housing market is out of control with private rents sky rocketing.

High quality affordable housing should be available to all, giving women the chance to live in safety and the ability to leave violent relationships and keep their families safe.

Stop benefit cuts!

Eleanor Donne

David Cameron claimed in 2010 that he would make his government the most 'family friendly' ever. Not surprisingly, in a recent survey of new mothers, only 6% believed this statement.

The Con-Dems have cut, in a most 'unfriendly' way, the very benefits which were there to provide help for pregnant women and new mothers.

The government has frozen child benefit and intends to means test it from 2013, so that households with a higher rate tax payer (earning around 35,000 or more) will not get it.

However, for many women, no matter what their partner earns, child benefit is the only guaranteed income they have.

This independent income, although small, can be vital if they are in an abusive relationship.

Maximum help with childcare costs, via Working Tax Credits, has been reduced from 80% to 70%, leaving many families on low incomes with an extra 546 a year added to their childcare bill.

Given the rising costs and reduction in help available, it's not surprising that, in one recent Mumsnet survey, 16% of women with families had been forced to quit work because they didn't make enough money to cover childcare costs.

Some nurseries are exploiting the shortage and increasing their fees. The Day Care Trust estimates that in the south of England those with two children are likely to be paying a similar amount or more than their mortgage in nursery fees.

Government cuts have made it harder for women, especially lone parents, to work. Yet they are continuing down New Labour's path, forcing lone parents off Income Support when their youngest child is five.

With close to three million already unemployed (over one million of them women), how exactly are they to find work?

The Con-Dems aim to cut at least 18 billion off their social security and welfare budget. The Fawcett Society estimates that lone mothers can expect to lose the equivalent of one months' income every year by 2015.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 7 March 2012:

Fighting the government's attacks

On 28 March: Strike back against the Con-Dems

Trade unions must build mass party

NHS: Axe Lansley's bill!

International Women's Day

International Women's Day 2012

Socialist Party International Women's Day schools

Socialist Party youth and students


No cuts, No fees, Bring back EMA

NUS elections - Vote Socialist Students for a fighting student leadership

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Kirklees marches to save child centres

Leeds Tenants Federation opposes Welfare Reform Bill

Become Coventry deputy mayor? Thanks, but no thanks!

Attack on pay defeated at Manchester's NHS Trust

Stop prison guards housing asylum seekers - stop G4S!

Party/campaigns news in brief

Socialist Party workplace news

MMP workers step up action

Unison: Delegates gagged

Anti-blacklisting battle continues on building sites

London election candidate named in employers' blacklist

Workplace news in brief

International socialist news and analysis

Quebec: Students engage in 'indefinite' general strike action

Spain: Thousands in student protests against education cuts

Revolution through Arab eyes - the Factory

Socialist Party news and analysis

A4e - The inside story

Cops and big business robbers

Them & Us


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