International Women’s Day leaves no space for self-congratulation on the part of Labour. It does however provide a chance with one week to go before the third reading of the Welfare Reform Bill to expose the bill’s anti-women, anti working class agenda and to stop it passing.
But surely after the DWP‘s aggressive advertising campaign, ‘Targeting Benefit Thieves‘, there can be no one left in Britain to doubt that benefits, particularly for single mothers, need to be cut and tighter sanctions introduced?
Think again. Read the following and try to insist that these are not gendered erosions of our existing rights to welfare:
- Phase out Income Support so that lone parents (90% of whom are women) will be required to undertake work-related activity or face sanctions when their child is as young as three years old.
- Make joint birth registration compulsory and introduce sanctions if a mother fails to disclose the father of her child, even if she is a survivor of domestic violence.
- Abolish the dependent additions paid with maternity allowance. These are non-means tested and are paid to some of the poorest people in the country.
The pilot of Work for your Benefit which allows for a national roll-out without further legislation will hit those with childcare responsibilities hardest. In America, where workfare has been in place for over a decade, the short term savings in welfare expenditure were soon overtaken by statistics showing that even more women were going into poverty. The introduction of unwaged labour to the market also had a drastic impact on low-waged jobs, where women are over-represented. A study by Economic Policy Institute projected a 12% wage decline for workers in the bottom 30% of the labour force due to welfare reform in the United States. Work for your Benefit has been tried and tested in the United States and it has failed.
The claimants I have spoken to about this Bill have been incredulous. Everyone knows how difficult it is to claim even what we are entitled to at the moment. I know one single mother who refused to disclose personal medical information in the public environment of the job centre and asked that the advisor contact her GP instead. The advisor’s response was to record her as not attending and to cut her benefits cut off for a fortnight, leaving her, her two year old son and her disabled mother without enough to live on. This is not an isolated incident, and the powers in this bill for advisors to impose mandatory sanctions on claimants will mean that more women and their families will face extreme hardship.
Anyone who takes equality seriously must oppose this Bill. I have outlined some of its impacts on women, but a similar story can be told for other marginalised groups including disabled people and drug users. The Bill must be stopped in its tracks. This week, I’ll be taking to the streets with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, Feminist Fightback and London Coalition Against Poverty for a Week of Action against the Welfare Abolition Bill. I hope to see you there.