Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness?

The unprecedented cuts proposed to the public sector will have a harsh and deeply unfair impact on women, reports Fabian Society intern Sarah Barber.

Our guest writer is Sarah Barber, an intern at the Fabian Society

David Cameron used his conference speech to demonstrate his pro-social credentials by announcing that it is now time for a “new conversation about what fairness really means”. A far cry from the harsh anti-social rhetoric of the Thatcher era, this should be treated with some trepidation.

The issue of equality between men and women is one of many fairness debates currently dominating the headlines, with the recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report ‘How Fair is Britain?’ claiming that progress on equal pay between the sexes is ‘grinding to a halt’. But to what extent will gender equality play a serious part in the prime minister’s thinking about fairness?

The signs are not good. George Osborne’s emergency budget in June was the first opportunity for the coalition to make a priority of equality between the sexes. Alas, it did anything but. The unprecedented cuts proposed to the public sector will have a harsh and deeply unfair impact on women.

As shadow welfare secretary Yvette Cooper told the Guardian:

 “Women are bearing nearly three-quarters of the Tory-Liberal plans, while men are bearing just a quarter.”

Research shows that of the close to £8 billion net revenue to be raised by the financial year 2014-15, nearly £6 billion will be from women and just over £2 billion from men.

Ms Cooper goes on to point out that this is “despite the fact that women’s income and wealth are still considerably lower than men’s”. The cuts in service provision will hit women too, not only as users of services, but also as public sector employees. As the Fawcett Society has revealed:

“As 65% of the public sector workforce… it is women who will bear the brunt [of the cuts].”

Such points are integral to the discussion of women’s vulnerable position in Mr Cameron’s ‘big society’. Not only are women being targeted to shoulder a much larger proportion of the cuts soon to be imposed, but women’s financial leverage is significantly lower than men’s in the first place.

As the Fawcett Society says:

“Reducing women’s economic security in this way risks rolling back women’s independence in every way.”

Rather than reflect any real concern about fairness in British society, this attack on women’s financial and social security shows that Mr Cameron’s vision is much closer to Mrs Thatcher’s than his rhetoric might suggest.

The EHRC’s revelations that progress on the pay gap is ‘slowing’, currently standing at 16.5 per cent but rising to 27 per cent as women reach the age of 40, is perhaps the most important mark of gender inequality in Britain as it stands today. The reality is that urgent attention must be paid by everybody – women, men, businesses and government alike if real progress is to be made.

If not, the current debate on fairness will be seen not simply to be inauthentic, but also deeply damaging to any and every debate on equality that may follow.

23 Responses to “Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness?”

  1. Grey Murphy

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  2. yorkierosie

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  3. peter beaumont

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  4. Irene Burton

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  5. Anna Bird

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  6. Kunglu

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  7. Ell Aitch

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  8. inyourhouse

    Why aren’t Fabians complaining about women benefiting disproportionately from the size of the public sector? It wouldn’t be fair to make men and women bear an equal burden of the cuts when the former didn’t benefit to the same degree.

  9. sarah loves tea

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/ckEHyr

  10. Amelie

    A very well-written article that raises important points not often discussed.

  11. Louise, London

    Good article, but as a white, healthy, educated, fairly ok-paid woman (not in the top earners by any standards), I feel a bit guilty at the idea of being a cause for concern on account of my gender. I think much more vulnerable are the sick, the disabled – in particular, the mentally ill, who will be much more misunderstood when it comes to ‘proving’ disability, the elderly, children, poor people, and ethnic minorities. Women in those groups will, I’m sure, suffer disproportionately, but I doubt gender in itself is necessarily an issue – not compared with poverty and homelessness and mental illness and so on. Just my view anyway. But still thought it was a good piece!

  12. MasterPM

    Women: The anomaly in Cameron's debate on fairness? | Left Foot … //bit.ly/dbEm8o

  13. jeff marks

    “Women are bearing nearly three-quarters of the Tory-Liberal plans, while men are bearing just a quarter.”

    Because women disproportionately benefited from Labour’s incontinent largesse? Maybe time for another windfall tax?

  14. Mr. Sensible

    Whether we look at it from the point of view of gender, wealth, income, or whatever, Cameron’s rhetoric about fairness does not hold water.

  15. jeff marks

    can we have some examples Mr. Sensible? I didn’t see the fairness of the last Labour government when they shifted house prices out of the range of anybody but the richest in society. Or when they robbed the pensions. Or when they stuck 6 million on permanent out of work benefits. Or murdered 100,000 Iraqis. Or when they ripped up the Magna Carta re: detention without trial and the right to be tried in front of a jury.

  16. Kevin Richards

    Fairness I doubt if they can spell it! -RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/b3DK8i

  17. Anon E Mouse

    Mr.Sensible – Why will no one on this blog answer my question about fairness directly – Ed Miliband (Good PMQ’s) supports the following – he’s said so.

    He’s your new leader so SOMEONE please tell me if they agree with Ed.

    Fact 1. The nightshift shelf stacker at Tesco’s takes home minimum wage for 12 hours work…

    Fact 2. Eric Clapton takes home £700,000 for 1.5 hours work at the Albert Hall…

    Fact 3. A proportion of the shelf stacker’s taxes are given to Eric Clapton in child benefit…

    If anyone here actually thinks that is fair then they should stand by for opposition for a long long time.

    Since when did the Fabian Society care about fairness?

  18. Amanda Hall

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women: The anomaly in Cameron’s debate on fairness? //bit.ly/b3DK8i

  19. Mr. Sensible

    Mr Mouse I think you’re just wrong.

    Mr Clapton is a higher rate taxpayer anyway.

    And since we talk about fairness, I don’t think it is fair that a household earning £60000 will get to keep their child benefit meanwhile someone on £44000 will not.

    It is not even as if that’s going towards the deficit; it is going towards a regressive Married Couples allowance.

    The Truth is that this was a piece of political expedience that has terribly backfired.

  20. jeff marks

    what is not fair is stealing from your grandchildren to buy votes now, which is ALL labour has ever done.

  21. jeff marks

    and while we’re on the subject. “women will get hit harder because they make up the majority of public service employees”. well, lo and behold! women make different career choices than men!!! maybe the ‘gender pay gap’ isn’t down to sexism after all! Men rejoice, we have been vindicated!

  22. AnneJGP

    If the coming public sector cuts will impact more on women than on men, perhaps the private sectors cuts already suffered have impacted more on men than on women?

    From what I read, job losses in the private sector were not as bad as they could have been, because workers were prepared to accept pay/package reductions. Perhaps there is a lesson here for public sector unions?

  23. Another Tory poll fall in wake of spending review | Left Foot Forward

    […] 37% to 36%. The Independent believes this reflects the nature of the public sector cuts which will disproportionately affect women: “The findings point to a ‘gender gap’ after predictions that the cuts will hurt […]

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