Cost of Living Crisis: The hidden cost of politics
As part of our blog series on the cost of living crisis, activist and campaigner Laura Moodie explores the hidden costs of participating in politics during the cost of living crisis, and the challenges this creates for achieving equal representation for women at all levels of politics.
For International Women’s Day this year, I had the joy of meeting with a group of fantastic Green women in the amazing Ayrshire Women’s Hub. Despite the dark and chilly night - with snow hinted at by the weather forecast - by the time the meeting started in earnest, we’d had to bring in extra chairs to fit everyone in.
As Co-Convenor of the Scottish Green Party’s National Council – the party body that makes strategic decisions between conferences – I see attending events and activities like this as an essential part of my role. For me, going along involved a prompt finish at work, a four-hour round trip and splashing out on a take-away tea. I got home just before 1 am, about £20 out of pocket.
On the drive there and back, I had the opportunity to consider both what we’d all get out of meeting and what might have stopped us doing so before. One thing that came across clearly from the women I spoke to that night was the limitations of public transport – not just the complete lack of it in many cases but also the expense of using it.
Living in a remote rural area, if I couldn’t afford to run a car, there would be no way I could have attended that event. Many of the women there had the same experience – they’d got a lift, or their attendance relied on bus timetables and, in one case, the ability to change a flat tyre in the dark.
For several of the women there, this was their first in-person meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic and, for some, their first in-person meeting full stop. The increase in unpaid caring work brought on by Covid-19 has diminished, but many women find themselves still caring for family members or home educating due to a lack of suitable provision locally. It continues to be women shouldering the bulk of caring responsibilities and who are most impacted by cuts to essential local services – from libraries to after-school care – while, of course, they still make up a minority of the elected representatives making the financial decisions about whether or not those services receive funding.
The rising cost of living prompted me to swap a part-time third-sector job for a full-time role with much more responsibility. It’s been good for my bank balance, but it’s drastically reduced my spare time and the work I can do to support my local community. It’s not a choice open to everyone, and for some of our members, a lack of funds and time is seeing them step back from political party membership and activism.
For some, the shift back to in-person events means a loss of access but for others operating online made politics difficult. In some cases, they didn’t have the tech or broadband connections to engage. For many more, an increasingly online world means a world that’s increasingly polarised and hostile to women. I’ve noticed a marked increase in online abuse and misogyny, especially directed at young women and women of colour.
As a political volunteer, this worries me. The Greens have made hard-fought progress on engaging women in politics, but we know those gains are precarious. Our branches are selecting candidates for the General Election now, and those candidates will be encouraged to stand again in future, but the window for getting involved and active is narrowing, and while we have some excellent women already selected, I’m concerned we don’t see fresh talent emerging.
The reality of running a political campaign as a member of a smaller party is challenging. Without deep pockets for glossy mailshots, you’re reliant on local campaigners putting in a huge amount of time and effort on your behalf.
From fundraising to leafletting, successful women candidates need capable teams around them, but even then, there are hidden costs that women tend to absorb or just put off. That 1 am home time was only possible because I’d made time earlier in the day to do chores, make a slow-cooker tea for my family and sorted out childcare and lifts to after-school activities.
It’s increasingly clear we’re at an impasse in terms of political engagement. If we truly want to have elected representatives that reflect the breadth of our society, we have to understand the many barriers – financial, personal and structural – that hinder their progress. Political parties need to take seriously the support needs of those they are asking to stand, and we all need to consider who are the real losers when we make difficult political and financial decisions that cut away at basic community and social provisions.
The women I met in Ayr are all more than capable of becoming excellent elected representatives - they just need helping hands along the way.
We know that there are many different aspects to the cost of living crisis, and we’re keen to highlight all of the different ways that it is impacting women in Scotland. We're hosting blogs on a range of issues related to the cost of living and we want to hear from you – if you're interested, please drop us an email at email@example.com letting us know what aspect of the cost of living and its impact on women you’d like to write about.Engender is a non-partisan organisation and guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and we offer a commissioning pot and editorial support to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free. Find out more here.
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