Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Women and the Economic Crisis

There are many issues for women in the economic crisis that is upon us. It's not that I think that there is particularly a feminist analysis alternative to the Marxist analysis that we need (although there is a need for economic analysis to take account of women's unpaid work). But there are ways in which the crisis will impact on women - primarily working-class women - that we need to prepare for and address.

'Lord' Mandelson has already announced that government plans to extend flexible working rights are on hold because of the recession, his government's generosity to overfed bankers obviously extending far beyond that to hard-pressed working parents. Although this legislation covers both men and women - and as a union rep, I have helped both men and women to benefit from it - the majority of those who benefit are women workers.

Pressure on household budgets is usually pressure on women. Paying bills, getting in the weekly shop, making sure the kids are clothed and the holiday paid for still falls mainly on women's shoulders, so when prices go up and/or incomes fall, it will be mainly women who are expected to work wonders with the balance sheet or to go without.

There are also more women than men who are single parents, who may struggle even more. This will also mean that the majority of parents whose kids risk losing the roof over their head through repossession or eviction will probably be women.

Domestic violence tends to increase during recession. According to a 2004 study by the US National Institute of Justice, women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year course of the study were three times more likely to be abused. Perhaps this happens because of the stress of unemployment and financial hardship; perhaps because of rows over women's and men's priorities over spending scarce household resources - as Paul Weller once asked, "Do you want to cut down on beer or the kids' new gear? It's a big decision in a Town Callled Malice." (Suggesting reasons, of course, does not mean looking for excuses.)

To add insult to injury, at the same time support services for abused women will find their funding under threat. This is because the state does not provide enough, so many services - such as hostels and phonelines - rely on charitable donations and year-by-year grants, both of which become more precarious as recession bites.

Recession may well lead to attacks on public services - Gordon Brown has to pay for his bank bail-out somehow. Such cuts affect women not just as service users, but as the people who usually pick up the workload of caring for relatives young and old if, for example, playschemes or old people's day centres close down.

It seems to me that because of these issues we might see - and should certainly encourage - working-class women in communities organising against service cuts, evictions, bailiffs and price rises, as well as supporting unions fighting against job losses and for inflation-proof pay settlements.

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