This weekend, partly to escape the twin mountains of laundry and dishes that built up in my flat during Conference (seriously, readers. Send Kim and Aggie or my Nan or something, I beg of you), I went to see Looper. It’s an OK-ish sci-fi – it’s set in the future, and life sucks there. Especially if you’re a woman. There were only three in the whole film, and they existed for the following purposes: one was a mother, another a prostitute and the third a wife/ministering angel. Anyway, I digress – the theme of the film was being able to see a person’s future. Scary Old Guy From Dumb & Dumber tells Joseph Gordon-Levitt how when he met him as a child, he could see the way his life was going, and took him under his wing to prevent him going down a bad path.
I bring this up not because I’m trying to turn LabourList into a film review blog – the various attempts to politically define Batman are wearying enough – but because, like Scary Old Guy, we can all see where the future is heading. And it looks a lot like the past.
I spoke at a Conference fringe event about a woman who contacted me to say that she was considering giving up work. Not because she was ‘workshy’, as today’s Express helpfully characterises it – quite the opposite: despite being the sole carer for a young baby, she worked part-time because she loved her job, and had been in work since she was a teenager. The problem was, she wasn’t sure if she could afford to carry on working.
A lot of maths later, it turned out she was right – she’d be £50 a week better off if she wasn’t in work. Not because benefits pay so well as to outshine her earnings, or because housing benefit would cover all of her rent – it wouldn’t, even under the current rules, even if she was on income support – but because the cost of childcare is so prohibitive. This is not progress.
No help at all is coming to women like this who are struggling with the rising costs of living and having a family. The further cuts to working-age welfare promised in today’s papers (where? Where are they going to come from? What else can they cut? Are they going to invent even more new benefits just so they can cut them?) will, if they’re anything like what we’ve seen already, hit women and children hardest. Every cut, every rise on the price of existing, sends us all, and women in particular, further and further back in time.
The comments on abortion made over the weekend are on a similar theme. I’ve been a little concerned by the argument that we should simply ignore Jeremy Hunt’s 12-week claims: hard as it is to believe, the man is the Health Secretary, not an online troll or a kid throwing a tantrum in Asda. What’s more, far from being a stand-alone remark, his comments were accompanied by a whole suite of Tory suggestions regarding how far, exactly, the government might like to strip back women’s rights.
Abortion does seem to be one of those issues that keeps trying to come back – the last Commons vote on this was in 2008, and no new scientific evidence has emerged since then, whatever Hunt says – but we’re at risk, as women in particular, of having to make any number of old arguments all over again. Yes, we still have a right to choose. Yes, we still need someone to watch the kids while we’re at work. Yes, sadly, we still need rape crisis centres and shelters. We’ve been over this. It saddens me that some of the battles our grandmothers thought they won seem to need re-fighting.
Labour needs to stand our ground in these battles. One Nation, right? Ed assured us that the NHS act will be repealed under Labour – we need some of that kind of commitment when it comes to welfare and, yes, on women’s hardest-won rights, including abortion, as well. Otherwise: I have seen the future, and life sucks there. Especially if you’re a woman.