George Osborne’s Autumn Statement : No season of mists and mellow fruitfulness for women

Marlyn Glen

14 December 2012


Poet Laureate Carol Anne Duffy’s poem Translating the British  sought to reflect the national mood  in the feel-good post-Olympic glow this summer.

“We’ve had our pockets picked,

“the soft, white hands of bankers,
“bold as brass, filching our gold, our silver;
“we want it back.

We sense new weather.

“We are on our marks.
“We are all in this together.”

However, there is a different “We are all in this together” spirit to Carol Anne Duffy’s.

The Keeper of the Flame of the Tory “We are all in this together” Movement, George  Osborne, was booed by thousands of spectators at the Olympic Stadium while waiting to participate in a ceremony awarding medals at the Paralympics.

Osborne received a hostile reception because of his huge cuts in disability benefits spending.

And as further rounds of cuts have demonstrated, “ We’re all in this together” has revealed itself not as a unifying “all for one , one for all” cause but as the traditional Tory way of “everyone for themselves”

Earlier this month , the latest phase of the Chancellor’s version of “We are all in this together “ came in his Autumn Statement, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting that a million jobs in the public sector could be lost over the next 5 years.

All of this is particularly bad news for women , as they make up the majority of public sector employees and are the chief users of public sector services.

Analysis of the Osborne-Cameron cuts to date show that of the £15 billion made to pay and pensions, tax credits and benefits, almost three quarters of the money has come from women’s incomes.  

This depressing news is aggravated by the experience of everyday life in which benefits such as child benefits and child tax credits are paid in overwhelming numbers to the mother rather than the husband or partner.

Child Poverty Action Group have strongly criticised the Autumn Statement , commenting,

"The bottom line is that the decisions taken by the chancellor will plunge tens of thousand more children into poverty, whether their parents are working, unemployed, sick or disabled."

This deep-set recession will continue to prise women out of work , continue to deny them work, and continue to drive them back to the home.

Back there they would subject to pejorative attacks as “skivers” , a rallying call for the Right in which cuts in social spending are portrayed as heroic tasks to reduce the size of the welfare state.

(The Osborne-Cameron use of the false dichotomy  of the “strivers” and the “skivers” has been borrowed from the (failed) US Republican presidential campaign this year where the contrasts were between the “makers” and the “ takers” or between the “strivers” and the “moochers” )

And all of this comes from a Prime Minister who, while Leader of the Opposition , promised that his future Tory Government would be the family friendly ever”

The Tories are acutely aware that the gap between them and women is developing into a gulf, that they appointed an adviser to examine the effect of Tory –led coalition policies of reductions in benefits, jobs and essential public services upon women.

But there was a Tory voice in the Cabinet already available to give such a perspective, Theresa May , the Home Secretary who had uncomfortably reminded a Tory party conference that  many voters still regarded them as “the nasty party” .

Last year she offered this perspective on the wasted potential of women when out of work :

“If we fully used the skills and qualifications of women who are currently out of work, it could deliver economic benefits of fifteen to twenty one billion pounds per year . That's more than double the value of all our annual exports to China.”

 Mr Cameron could also have consulted his equivalent in Denmark , the Danish Prime Minister , Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the daughter in law of Neil Kinnock , who also leads a coalition government, but one of the centre-left.

She and her government prioritise high-quality childcare for women to go to work.

She told Wales Online ,

“It is a complete waste if 50% of women are not working.

“This should be a focus for all countries that want to have a better economy…

“There’s a creche, a kindergarten and then, later, an after-school club.

 “It is a must for all women.

“ All my friends, everyone I know, they send their child to childcare.”

She sent her children to childcare at the age of one.

If we want to enhance women’s contribution to the economy , if we want to reach gender equality then they will not succeed if Chancellor Osborne puts millionaires before mothers.

Carol Anne Duffy’s Translating the British looks at how personal hard work and dedication ( supported, incidentally, by the sports provision of councils and organisations in the public sector ) have served both competitors and the country well and will do so again if the necessary investment is continued.

 “We are Mo Farah lifting the 10,000 metres gold. We want new running tracks in his name.
“For Jessica Ennis , the same… for every medal earned, we want school playing fields returned.’

George Osborne’s Autumn statement offers a very different future for Britain.

It will lengthen austerity till 2018 and tighten its grip.

The worst is yet to come.


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