Enright on Budget 2010: Women, Poverty & Violence
This post is HRinI’s final contribution to the 16 days campaign. It relies heavily on the National Women’s Council of Ireland Pre-Budget Submission 2010. Whether or not this budget represents a last ‘big push’ towards economic recovery, for many Irish women it is not a push from manageable to bearable. It is a push from just about bearable to unsupportable.
Women had tended to enter this recession on a weak footing, because many women work ‘flexible’, informal and part-time jobs which enable them to find time for caring responsibilities within the family; these, of course, are still a significant factor in women’s career decisions. Women in such jobs have tended to lose ‘hours’ as a result of the economic downturn. (Caring responsibilities have also exerted pressure from another direction as some employers have cut back on supports for family women in an effort to save money).
Now, one of the myths which has grown up around the recession is that men have been losing jobs – in typically ‘male’ sectors such construction and manufacturing – while women have remained in employment. In fact, unemployment figures for women have grown since the summer as predominantly ‘female’ industries, such as hospitality and retail, have shrunk. As public sector cuts take effect, women, who also make up a large proportion of public sector employees will also feel the pinch. So, one of the side-effects of the early ‘male’ job losses is that many women have, since the beginning of the recession, found themselves the sole breadwinners in what were formerly double income households. As the recession has progressed, a visible side-effect of ‘female’ job losses, and of women’s weak position in the job market, is that, in many families which mirror what we might call the constitutional ideal there is no secure wage-earner at all. Families which fall outside that model were likely to have begun the recession in an even worse position: the NWCI told us before this budget that almost 40% of one-parent families in Ireland live in poverty.
And now, in the aftermath of the budget, as other posters have and will note in this blog event, women in financially vulnerable families will be badly affected by cuts to social welfare, and particularly by cuts in child benefit payments. The NWCI summarises:
Mothers on social welfare or working for low pay will bear the brunt of budgetary cuts, according to the National Women’s Council of Ireland. “We deplore the government’s decision to cut child benefit and social welfare payments,” said Susan McKay, director of the NWCI. “Child benefit is a crucial part of family income – many women will be left wondering if they can afford to continue to work, given that childcare costs continue to rise.” Women are also predominantly employed in lower paid public service jobs and are facing further pay cuts.
Poverty and unemployment are risk factors in terms of domestic violence and make it more difficult for women to leave violent situations (see e.g. here and see a PrimeTime special linking the recession to an upsurge in domestic violence here) and the Budget does not provide any extra support to organisations engaging with women in violent environments. True, grants to national women’s organisations remain unchanged in the book of estimates. Similarly, there have been no changes to funding of COSC (the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence). That is something. But of course, those with slightly longer memories will know that Cosc took its 18% ‘hit’ in the 2009 budget, which has had some impact on its usefulness. This was the same budget in which national women’s organisations were dealt a 5% cut in funding. Domestic violence frontline services have always been drastically underfunded – indeed, the NWCI notes in its pre-budget submission that when funding was increased in 2007, it remained dramatically out of step with the sector’s requirements. The Rape Crisis Network details the type and amount of funding required here. We have also blogged about the issue here and here. The Council had recommended an increase in funding for domestic violence services together with an agreement of targets for the provision of beds in women’s refuges.Instead, the NWCI preaches caution for the future:
“We are extremely concerned about the future of many of our member groups, especially community based women’s groups which provide essential services and supports for women and families [The Book of Estimates notes cuts in the order of 10% to supports for the community and voluntary sector, to the community services programme and to local and community development programmes]. Many of them have already been severely damaged by cuts. Many are facing closure. Others, including frontline services to victims of domestic and sexual violence have been warned to expect significant cuts in the new year [though the Green Party insists that no such cuts will take place].”
And so, even where ‘savage cuts’ are not immediately in evidence, there is a sense in which the government is playing hide and seek with funding for domestic violence. It is playing hide and seek with women’s lives and with the lives of those who depend on them.
Are there any positive signs? There is provision in the book of estimates for ‘gender mainstreaming and positive action for women’ and this figure increases by 22% on last year. But the government has ‘form’ in reallocating money of this kind to other projects. Funding of the National Women’s Strategy (NWS) has been severely cut in the last year. Of the €5 million allocated to the Strategy in the 2009 April Budget almost €4 million being redirected with in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In the 2008 Budget, €9 million was also redirected to that department. The NWCI explains in its Pre-Budget Submission:
The funding under the Equality for Women Measure has been drastically cut. Since announcements were made in the April 2009 Supplementary Budget, funding available for gender equality initiatives amounted to €5.4 million. This represents an astonishing 46% cut in funding. Additionally, there is uncertainty in relation to existing funding for implementation of the National Women’s Strategy and government has expressed deep pessimism about its future…[B]udgets for the Equality for Women Measure (EWM) and the National Women’s Strategy have already been dramatically reduced in order to reallocate funds to other areas in the DJELR and in other government departments. Almost 90% of money allocated for EWM projects in 2008 was instead used for Garda overtime, and in 2009 75% of funds allocated in the April budget had been reallocated by July. The €10 million which was provided from European Social Funds for equality measures has been re allocated to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with no commitment given to use that fund for supporting women’s employment.
Fianna Fail and the Greens, in the latest Programme for Government committed themselves to ‘monitor, report annually and respond to the impact of the current economic conditions on gender equality in employment, political participation, access to public services and care infrastructure, to ensure that gender equality continues to advance in difficult times.’ The government also mooted the possibility of a constitutional referendum ‘to consider amending Article 41.2 of the Constitution, broadening the reference to the role of women in the home to one which recognises the role of the parent in the home’ and determined to champion ‘mechanisms to increase the participation of women in political life.
This is a strange governmentalised feminism; a feminism which will gladly make the grand (if likely dubious) gesture of constitutional reform, but will not nail down the funding for a women’s refuge. Roses before bread.