'Welfare' and women: an update
Last week, George Osborne announced that the Treasury will start publishing annual breakdowns of public tax spend per head, in a move that will apparently increase transparency for taxpayers.
Cue rounds of analysis raising bones of contention online. It is in no way surprising that ‘welfare’ has been at the heart of debate, with many commentators quick to point out that our esteemed HMT has chosen to chunk up the data such that ‘welfare’ spending is represented extremely misleadingly indeed.
Yet again, this fans the flames around common myths relating to social security and frankly despicable notions of the undeserving/ deserving poor. Information presented as objective and factual is, conversely, deeply ideological.
Also unsurprisingly, gender has not featured in the prominent debate online about welfare this week, despite the enormous implications of any such discussion for women and their children.
Stigma around poverty in Scotland is a major issue, and lone mothers are vilified in particular ways in the press and public imagination. This is rooted in class and gender prejudices, and cultural assumptions around women’s reproductive choices, capabilities, ambitions, desires and responsibilities.
The media plays a central role in this (take, for example, this pearl of wisdom from the Sun: “The criminals overwhelmingly come from broken homes - they were brought up by single mothers who couldn't cope”)
So does government. It’s not long at all since politicians openly waged war on single mothers. Remember astonishing lines such as:
- “There’s young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue” from the Social Security Minister, or
- “How do we explain to the young couple who want to wait for a home before they start a family that they cannot be housed ahead of the unmarried teenager expecting her first, probably unplanned child” from the Chief Whip?
The current government has been more subtle about the sexist elements of its decimation of the welfare state. But ‘welfare reform’ is deeply riven with misogyny, class prejudice and ideologically-driven, one-dimensional and wholly outdated conception of ‘family values’.
We set out the the diverse ways in which women and gender relations are impacted by the policy changes under welfare reform in a joint position paper with Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap and Scottish Refugee Council earlier this year. The paper also called on the Scottish Government to integrate gender concerns throughout its ‘welfare reform mitigation’ activities and to proactively target different groups of women struggling to cope with the changes.
Since, we have used the document to lobby MSPs, parliamentary committees, councillors, Scottish Government officials and peer organisations across the third sector, and to raise awareness of gendered poverty with the public. As a result, Engender now sits on the Scottish Government Welfare Reform Scrutiny Group, has participated in sessions on emerging Scottish Government policy approaches and will be presenting the project at a conference on Gender, poverty and social inclusion in Brussels next month.
Nonetheless, we are up against it. No-one has knocked down the door in their rush to implement our recommendations or provide vitally-needed funds to support community projects for women. In the meantime, we are continuing to chip away at the blanket gender-blind approach to ‘welfare reform’ work within Scottish Government and Parliament. This week, we submitted written evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee’s scrutiny of the Draft Budget. For the die-hard policy geeks amongst you, our response the Committee’s call for evidence on the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill can be found here.
Along with Scottish Women’s Aid and Scottish Refugee Council we also recently submitted gender analysis and case studies to the Scottish Government Welfare Division, for inclusion in a training package for local authority Scottish Welfare Fund teams. We’re on the cusp of developing a second phase of this joint work: if you or your organisation would like to be involved please get in touch with us.
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Engender Submission to the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee Inquiry Into Women and Welfare Since 2010, £26 billion worth of cuts have been made to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions.
Gender and 'Welfare Reform': A Joint Position Paper This joint position paper on gender and ‘welfare reform’ draws together the multiple ways in which women are penalised by cuts to the benefits and tax credits system, and describes the gender inequality that accounts for these impacts.
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