Rolling back the state will hit Welsh women hardest

Kirsty Davies reports that the next wave of job losses will be in areas where women make up the majority of the workforce

Public services can be as significant for the average family as wages, with the result that Wales would be hit harder than England by the London government’s spending cuts Professor Hilary Land, of Bristol University’s Family Policy Centre, told a Wales Assembly of Women conference at Chapter last week. With a legacy of ill health and unemployment that is very different from England, she said Wales would be in a much worse position in dealing with the cuts.

Another speaker, the recently ennobled Baroness Eluned Morgan, warned that the impact of the recession and the massive cutbacks has not really hit us yet. She argued that this is literally a man-made disaster and although the initial adverse affects have hit men in the financial, automotive and construction sectors, the next wave will hit women in a far more detrimental way. The next wave of job losses will be in areas where women make up the majority of the workforce such as the public sector and the NHS. This combined with the loss of services to these same affected women will come as a devastating blow.

Professor Land said that when women lose jobs in the public sector, they do not just lose the job but the conditions that come with the job such as flexible working and arrangements around school holidays that are not typically found in the private sector. With the majority of childcare costs coming out of the woman’s wage in a relationship, this can make the difference between being able to afford to work or not.

The TUC report Where the Money Goes predicts a £46 billion loss in services. Single people will be £1,000 worse off a year, with couples losing out by £1,200. A couple with kids will lose £2,800 worth of services with lone parents losing over £3,000.  Single pensioners stand to lose £1,305 in services with pensioner couples losing £1,275.

Professor Land argued there was a pattern in these statistics. Those who are single and can least afford to bear it, will receive the greatest cuts. A single parent earning over £40,000 a year will lose his or her child benefit, no matter how large their financial commitments or how many children she or he has.  A couple who both earn £39,000 totaling £78,000 will keep theirs.  This all adds up to a single woman losing three times the amount lost proportionately by a couple.

Views expressed at the conference were that the depth of the cuts was unnecessary given the scale of the deficit. The Welsh Government would do what it could to safeguard services and the NHS, but given its lack of influence over benefits and taxation this would not be enough to protect the most vulnerable in Wales.

What we were seeing was a roll back of the state. Across the board women and older people and those with a disability are losing out. Those in part time work, mostly women, would be disproportionately hit, as would those in the public sector, again mostly female.

Baroness Morgan argued that businesses should focus more on women in both their marketing and management. Since she has been made Director of Business Development for SWALEC she said she has observed that although women on the whole make the choice between energy providers, most of the sponsorship effort is directed towards male pursuits like rugby and football.

She also declared that Wales will lose out financially unless we makes a commitment to getting more women in company and public sector boards. Norway, which established legislation to ensure women reached board level is reporting the measures as a great success with over 80 per cent of the companies that complied being more profitable.  Spain is apparently set to follow Norway’s example.  Baroness Morgan feels that unless we follow suit we are losing a competitive advantage.

Speaking about her move to the private sector – she said that her children were in the forefront of her mind when she stepped down as a Labour MEP last year – she explained that she wanted to understand the workings of the private sector and how she might influence policy from the other side.

Kirsty Davies is Deputy Director of the IWA.

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