a special guest post by Kathy Taylor
History shows us that in times of austerity women have always been hit the hardest and this is certainly true in the current crisis.
Sixty-five per cent of public sector workers are women and the TUC predicts that of the 500,000 people who will lose their jobs as a result of the government’s public sector cuts, 350,000 (70%) will be women.
As a woman trade unionist and public sector worker, I am appalled by this continuum of inequality and injustice. Whilst the Government’s cuts are having devastating effects on all workers, women are being disproportionately affected in every sector, including my own sector of post-16 education.
In the past two years, three-fifths of further education colleges have cut courses and two-thirds have reported a reduction in student enrolments, citing the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance as one of the main causes. In addition to removing the crucial financial support of the EMA, the government’s programme of cuts included the axing of the Care to Learn entitlement – an allowance specifically designed to support teenage parents, in the main young women, back into education by funding childcare.
The government recently published plans to remove all public funding from advanced level courses for people aged over 24 and force them to take out student loans instead. Even by the government’s own estimates we are likely to see over 100,000 fewer college places, almost two-thirds of them women, taken up. A massive campaign by the education unions and the National Union of Students resulted in some government concessions, but the fact remains that opportunities for adults returning to learning or training will be severely restricted.
In higher education, the government’s axing of state funding for arts and humanities courses will once again rebound most upon women. There are more women than men studying the at-risk courses, while the courses that are dominated by men, (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have had their funding protected.
In April 2011, ministers significantly reduced funding to UKRC, the leading body in the UK offering advice and services to address the under-representation of women in science and technology.
And, shamefully, 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women who do make it through their studies continue to earn less on average than men throughout their lives.
While there is no disguising the devastating impact of the cuts, women continue to play a full part in the fight against this onslaught of attacks. Just one example from my own neck of the woods: the North East Women’s Network is working with the TUC Regional Women’s Group to produce a report highlighting the specific impact on austerity in the region, building to a submission to the United Nations Commission to Eradicate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
A recent Observer article highlighted the positive role a new wave of women trade unionists are making in the fightback against record levels of unemployment among women. It also included a contribution from Frances O’Grady, who, to our great delight, is to be the TUC’s first female general secretary, and who is committed to defending the rights and education of women and to ensuring that all women, regardless of background, are given an equal chance to prosper.
Kathy Taylor is President of the University and College Union