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Women hit hardest by the crisis

The lives of women in Britain are being devastated by rising unemployment, rising prices and the coalition's spending cuts.

Unemployment now stands at 2.67m and of this total 1.1m are women, the highest number for 23 years. Job losses are rising twice as fast for women as for men.

The TUC estimates that 80% of the 700,000 job losses planned in the public sector will be women. In local government 1 in 10 jobs are to be cut and 75% of local government employees are women.

Of course, the official unemployment figures disguise the real picture. Using the American measure of unemployment – which includes unemployed, discouraged, marginally attached and under-employed workers – would mean unemployment in the UK standing at 6.3 million.

An analysis by the TUC also shows that under-employment – people doing temporary or part-time jobs because they can't find permanent or full-time work – has risen to a record 1.9 million.

Last year the UK's major stores were closing shops at a rate of 20 a day, cutting one of the main private sector employment opportunities for women. Women are more likely to work several part-time jobs, and losing one of them leaves them facing debt and poverty.

It is estimated that 73% of the money raised by the Treasury by cutting or freezing tax credits and changing tax rules will be taken out of women's incomes. The cruel cuts in disability benefits contained in the Welfare Reform Bill, will hit women disproportionately in their role as carers. Many disabled women rely on Disabled Living Allowance to be able to go on looking after their families.

A growing number of women approaching debt charities for help have taken out payday loans to cover household bills, and then been unable to pay them back. These high interest loan companies target women with their ads on TV and in magazines.

Around 1.8 million households (almost 9% of the total) spend more than 25% of their income on unsecured debt repayments and an estimated 1.6 million (7.9%) spend more than half of their income on debt secured on their home – i.e. mortgages and bank loans. More than 50,000 women declared themselves bankrupt in 2011 and 63,000 in 2010.

Over 100,000 UK families relied on food parcels last year, and you only need to look at what is happening in Greece to know that the worst is yet to come. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) projects that the poorest UK households will see a 3.5% slump in their incomes in 2012/13 and even steeper falls of a further 6.3% in 2013/14.

Equality for women is just another of the myths we are fed from birth. When society as a whole is based on generating profit and driven by the market, their unprofitable role as carers of children, the sick and the elderly is always undervalued.

Women have most to lose from the slump and most to gain from a democratic transformation to a society driven by co-operation and care for each other. Taking inspiration from the women of Egypt and Tunisia as their example, women in Britain can take the lead in bringing about fundamental change.

They are already in the forefront of the struggle against cuts and job losses. Without women members, the British trade union movement would no longer exist. They took strike action in their hundreds of thousands last year in defence of pensions, a fight their leaders have now abandoned.

By forming democratic People's Assemblies in every area, we can unite communities in actions that will lead to the creation of a political and economic democracy where women can finally become truly equal.

Penny Cole
16 February 2012

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