Women in Islington gave me a very clear and loud message that this Tory/Lib-Dem government is failing them during an emotionally charged event I held with my constituents recently.
This was my chance to hear from the women I represent about the effect of this government’s policies on their everyday lives.
And what I heard was one harrowing account after another of women losing jobs, losing benefits, losing childcare support – losing security in their everyday lives.
It was clear since the government’s 2010 budget that their plans would have a disproportionate effect on women.
Research by the Fawcett Society showed that women were being attacked at three different angles by this government with what they termed was a “triple jeopardy” of job cuts, slashed benefits and reduced public services.
Given that women are more likely to be employed in the public sector and access benefits and public services at a higher rate than men, the effect of these cuts will have a disproportionate impact on women.
I carried out a Women’s Listening Panel and Women’s Survey in September 2011, which looked at the effect of the 2010 budget on women in Islington.
The results confirmed the Fawcett Society’s findings as women in Islington were struggling to make ends meet.
The 2012 budget was the opportunity for this government to make right this unfair triple impact of their policies on women.
Instead it ploughed ahead with a further £10billion cut to welfare, an extended public sector pay freeze, tax breaks to the rich and increasing public sector job losses.
I wanted to survey women again this year.
I invited them to come to a meeting and fill out a survey on the realities they were facing.
My fears that things had got worse since we met last year were confirmed.
What was clear was that women are more and more worried about their own future as well as their children’s and grandchildren’s future.
One told me: “My son is jobless and he has no prospects.”
Instead of this government building a society that would take care of future generations, we are in a society where future generations look to be worse off.
Women of all ages told me they are being forced to use their savings now – whether that is to support older children who cannot find a job or to pay for their elderly parents’ care or to simply just get by.
Women are finding it hard to balance their work and family life with the added responsibilities of caring for different generations of their family, often with less money in their pocket.
This is the reality of the government’s Big Society – women struggling in low-paid, often part-time jobs whilst taking on extra unpaid work, filling the gaps left by the government’s cuts to public services.
Why should women be expected to juggle their family life, whilst in a low-paid job, carrying out unwaged care work?
This will only get worse from April 2013 when the benefit cap will be introduced squeezing women’s income.
The effect of this on women in Islington will be even greater given the higher living and rental costs in London.
One of the more positive aspects that came out of the work I have been doing with women in Islington was the sense of unity and empowerment between women of all ages, from all types of backgrounds.
These women want to make a difference and try to make this government understand.
One woman asked me: “How can we make a difference? How do we make them listen?”
This is why it is so important for me to hear from women in my constituency so I can continue to be an advocate for them and why we in the Labour Party are using our time in opposition to learn about the real effects of these cuts.
The results of the survey were considered at the recent Labour Party Women’s Conference and they will be included in our review of women’s policy. I’ve listened to women – will the government?