Maria Miller’s claim that it’s the Conservative Party that’s stood up for woman would be laughable if it weren’t for the bleak situation her government’s created. Time and again, women are being hit hardest by this out of touch Tory-led government.
It is women who are bearing the brunt of the government’s austerity policies. Women who are struggling to make ends meet as cuts begin to bite. And women who are picking up more and more of the pieces.
Last month’s autumn statement saw women hit four times as hard as men by cuts to benefits and tax credits. Lone parents, the vast majority of whom are women, were hit hardest of all. All in all, women are paying three times as much as men to pay down the deficit – £12.1 billion of the £16 billion to be raised by 2014/15.
New mums will be £1300 worse off, thanks to the loss of the health in pregnancy grant, the higher rate of child tax credit for babies under 1 year old, restrictions on the Sure Start maternity grant, and the “mummy tax”, which will cost new mums £180 by 2015.
And while Miller claims proudly that women will benefit from the increase in the personal tax allowance, she neglects to mention that this measure benefits more men than it does women. What’s more, many of the women who do benefit will see those gains more than wiped out by the loss of tax credits and other benefits.
As for unemployment, this has risen much faster among women than men since the general election. A shocking 89% of the rise in long-term unemployment is among women, with older women hit particularly hard. They’ve seen a 20% increase in unemployment since May 2010, compared to less than 1% for everyone else.
Meanwhile the government’s Work Programme – which isn’t even working to get people into jobs as effectively as doing nothing at all would have done – has performed especially poorly for lone parents.
But it’s not just economically that the government is failing women. Women’s safety has been compromised by a series of cuts and poor decisions.
A 31% cut in funding for refuges and specialist advice is threatening the safety of women fleeing or at risk of domestic and sexual violence. Services for vulnerable women are at risk.
Public transport staff are being cut – so women feel less safe travelling alone, or waiting at lonely stations.
Even the street lights are being switched off to save money, leaving women feeling more unsafe when walking home at night.
Perhaps though it’s no wonder women are served so poorly by the ConDem government – there are so few women members of it. Just 4 out of 25 members of David Cameron’s cabinet are women. After his last reshuffle , we were left with even fewer women members than before. 5 of the government’s ministerial teams have no women members at all.
So it’s risible for Miller to defend the government’s record on promoting women. Her suggestion that Labour women shadow cabinet members are there as “window dressing”, meanwhile, is a crass and frankly indefensible insult to the talent and ability of Labour’s senior women. Perhaps instead Miller should reflect on the fact that there are more Labour women MPs than all the other parties put together. The Conservatives could learn a lot by looking at our example.
But in the end, we have to ask: do the Conservatives really care about any this? Just over 12 months ago, a leaked number 10 memo admitted the government had a problem with women. A year on, and they’ve apparently learned nothing. At a Downing Street press conference earlier this week, Cameron and Clegg presented their midterm review of the government’s “achievements”. Tellingly, not a single woman journalist present was invited to ask a question . The reality was plain to see: there’s a blindspot when it comes to women.
Kate Green is the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston