On February 25th Fourth Wave: LFA held a community screening of I, Daniel Blake in the Rabbits Road Institute in Newham. It was an incredible evening. The atmosphere was one of solidarity and anger at the injustices faced by so many. We held a collection in aid of a women's homeless shelter and the generosity displayed was overwhelming.
This incredibly moving film shines a light on one of the nastiest and most ideologically motivated aspects of the austerity agenda. It shows the human cost of a welfare system that sets out to punish those who cannot work rather than support those who can. It is also a feminist film.
It follows two of the victims of austerity, Dan and Katie. Both of their stories are heartbreaking, and both of their stories could be true. There are countless Dans and Katies up and down the country right now, but whilst Dan’s story is one that has been experienced by people of all genders, Katie's story could only belong to a woman, a trans man or an AFAB non binary person.
That is what’s at the heart of the feminist argument against austerity. It's not that we are oppressed differently, it's that we oppressed doubly. Childcare, contraception services, children's centres, domestic violence shelters… these have all been first under the bus. At the same time we suffer from the loss of disability benefits, social care programs and addiction support services.
Katie is a single mother. She has been ripped from her support networks by a chronic lack of social housing in the capital.Trying to navigate a strange city, with two children, she gets lost on the way to the jobcentre. When she is late for her appointment her benefits are sanctioned, leaving her without enough money to feed her whole family. The scene in which she insists that she isn't hungry whilst serving the food she has cooked for her children, will be painfully familiar to many mothers.
It's a long standing stereotype that, when presented with one portion of food that is smaller or burnt, mum’s refrain is always “that one can be mine”. In the age of austerity that has become “no love, I ate earlier. I’m not hungry. I’ll have something once you're in bed.”
Things that should be considered a basic necessity are now unaffordable to many. The film highlights the reality of period poverty. For some, one pound for a packet of sanitary towels might be the difference between eating dinner today or going hungry again. Condoms are free on the NHS, viagra is available on prescription (and so free most people in receipt of benefits) but the basic dignity afforded by sanitary protection is something we are expected to pay for or go without.
Even beyond the very poorest in society, the impact of austerity is heavily gendered. The NHS, the education system and many of the areas of the public sector which have been hacked to pieces over the last few years, have predominantly female workforces. One of the first cuts to tax credits was to reduce the amount of support available for childcare, threatening many mothers’ ability to stay in employment. Domestic violence shelters have closed up and down the country. Contraception services have been cut to the point where it is limiting the choices people can make about their reproductive health. Children's centres are almost a thing of the past.
It's only going to get worse. From April this year the UK’s “two child policy” comes into effect. This means that nobody, regardless of how vulnerable or poor, will be able to claim any kind of benefits for more than two children. The only exception is for instances of rape and in those cases it will be the mother’s responsibility to prove it. Right now, in this country, there is a woman, in the same situation as Katie, struggling to keep her kids fed, not knowing where she will get the money to replace the shoes they have grown out of and alone, in a town she knows nobody in, who has just found out she is pregnant.
How to handle an unplanned pregnancy is never an easy decision. Now, for someone who already has two or more children, that decision comes down to having an abortion you may not want or having a child you will not be able to support.
Feminists have a long history of fighting for everyone’s right to make their own choices regarding their bodies, and this policy threatens that. Being forced into an abortion you don't want is no better than not being able to access one when you need it. The problem isn't the choice you have to make, it's that you couldn't choose.
That's what's at stake here. The right to choose whether or not to end a pregnancy. The right to choose your own medical treatment. The right to choose whether or not you work after having children. Our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations fought tooth and nail for us to have these rights and, if we don’t want lose them forever, now is the time to fight.
On International Women's Day Fourth Wave: LFA are holding a demonstration against austerity. Join us Won Downing Street at 4pm to take a stand against this injustice.