On the 8th March 2017, International Women’s Day, Fourth Wave: London Feminist Activists organised a demo outside Downing Street titled, ‘Death by a thousand cuts: Women under austerity’.
Rather than go into detail about why feminism and austerity are interwoven, we’ve copied below the speeches that were made that day about the various topics that link the two. Domestic abuse, the NHS, housing, welfare, disability and women’s organisations have all been brutally affected by the Tory government’s regime of austerity and these have disproportionately affected women. We, Fourth Wave: LFA, will keep fighting until that regime is ended.
“Thank you everyone for coming to support us today. Much of our attention over the last year has been on Brexit and Trump but we must not forget about the brutal regime of ideological cuts we have faced the past seven years. It must be stated again and again, there is no legitimate economic reason for austerity, the cuts are purely ideological and economically unsound.
86% of the tax rises and benefit cuts have fallen on the shoulders of women. In every possible measure the Tory government is failing us. This is the party of Philip Davies an MP who routinely tries to derail bills designed to help women and girls. This man who now sits on the Women and Equalities Committee as the Tories didn’t bother to put up and alternative candidate. This is the party of Pauline Latham, an MP who told parliament to stop being sentimental over the plight of refugees. This is the party of George Freeman, an MO who thinks people who suffer such debilitating anxiety they can’t leave their homes are not disabled enough for benefits, These people and this government do not care about us. They do not care about our health. They do not care about our wellbeing. They do not care about our safety of our lives.
Welre going to talk about many of the ways austerity has been harmful abut I want to mention one example now, it’s something I read recently ad it profoundly shocked me. Due to cuts, two police forces, Devon and Cornwall, and Hampshire and Sussex, no longer send officers to domestic abuse victims and do over the phone assessments instead.
We are all suffering under this regime but women are bearing the brunt of it. And, as is always the way, if you are BAME, LGBTQ, disabled and/or working class you have it even worse.
The budget announced today did very little to right these wrongs. Tax cuts for the wealthiest, the extra money given for social care is far too little, far too late, and absolutely nothing to reverse way austerity has disproportionately affected women.
We’re here today to hold a funeral, not only for women's services but also for the women who have literally died due to austerity.”
Domestic abuse and austerity
“With domestic abuse, it’s easy to get emotional. So I’m going to start with some basic facts.
While men obviously experience domestic abuse too, around 91% of victims are female.
Imagine if women were beating and killing men on this scale - if two men a week were dying at the hands of their partners. This would be considered a national crisis.
Instead, the government makes brutal cuts. It’s estimated that one in four women will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, and austerity puts the lives of these women at risk.
For example, since the Coalition came to power, nearly 20% of domestic violence shelters have closed. It’s no wonder then that 2 in 3 women who approach shelters for help are turned away and for women of colour, that rises to 4 in 5.
4 in 5 women of colour are turned away from shelters, and this isn’t a national crisis yet.
So what will it take? What fact, what statistic, is actually bad enough?
Is it bad enough that 1 in 5 children will witness domestic violence?
I’m one of the one in five. I lived in a home where there was domestic abuse, but my family were very lucky. When we had to flee, my grandparents supported us and gave us somewhere to stay while my Mum built our new life.
We had the support of friends and family, so we didn’t have to rely on underfunded shelters or a demolished welfare state. Other women don’t have a choice.
Women’s Aid recently carried out a survey and found that over half of women still live with their abusers because they feel they cannot afford to leave. But do the Tory government care? Why should they? Very few are female, and the vast majority of them are wealthy. They have the financial security to leave if they need to.
Ironically, it would actually save us money to end domestic abuse. The cost of the NHS tending to women’s injuries, the police being called out to homes in the middle of the night, the schools left to deal with children too traumatised to focus in or even attend classes.
Instead, we have austerity. Luckily, there are people out there shouting about austerity and its impact on domestic abuse.
Activist group, Sisters Uncut, have done some brilliant work raising awareness of cuts to services, and after campaigning from various groups, MPs just passed a bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
The Istanbul Convention sets minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women, and when our Government ratifies the Convention, they’re legally bound to follow it. It’s currently with the House of Lords, and if passed, the Government will have to sufficiently monitor violence against women, and they’ll have to guarantee funding for shelters, rape crisis centres, and helplines.
Although the UK Government signed the Istanbul Convention back in 2012, five years on, it has yet to ratify it. But this could be a turning point for us.
There are actions you can take, too. Write to your MP, see if your local domestic violence shelters need help with campaigns, and take part in activism like today’s. Go to marches, organise demos outside your local council meetings. It’s not helpless, YOU can make a difference.
’Death by a thousand cuts’ isn’t the name of this protest just because it’s catchy - it’s a reality. When domestic abuse isn’t fought and services aren’t funded, women die. The Government needs to take that seriously, and we need to make them.”
Welfare and Austerity
The welfare state has been one of most dramatic victims of austerity and, contrary to the “strivers vs skivers” narrative fed to us by the tories, the vast majority of those affected are either unable to work or on a low income.
Last year, a report by the women's budget group stated that, by 2020, 85% of tax and welfare changes will have been absorbed by women.
Back in 2010, one of the first cuts to welfare was to reduce the maximum amount of childcare that could be paid for by tax credits from 85 to 70 percent. This is clearly contrary to the government's narrative that welfare should make work pay and amounts to little more than an attack on working mothers. Housing benefit has been frozen, tax credits have been cut, and a system of cruel and ideologically driven sanctions leaves the welfare dependant in a constant state of insecurity; living in perpetual fear of the “brown envelope” which may carry news of an unbearable loss of income. Families with children are amongst the worst affected and, as any mother here can tell you, this means that mothers frequently bear the burden. If you have enough food for either you or your kids, you will ALWAYS choose your kids.
It now costs money to claim child support, unless it is paid voluntarily, leaving single mothers out of pocket and giving domestic abusers a further way to exert control over victims who have had the courage to leave.
Social care and disability benefits are in pieces, “PIP” or personal independence payments are so notoriously difficult to claim and the assessments so dehumanising that many disabled people choose not to claim. The state is abdicating its responsibility towards the most vulnerable in society, the elderly and disabled. It is placing all burden for the support of these people upon their families and, as we all know, “family” in these circumstances nearly always means women. Women are more likely to be carers for elderly or disabled relatives, and attack on the support available to those who require it is an attack on their unpaid carers’ independence.
It's about to get worse. In a few short weeks the inhuman “two child policy” comes into effect. This means that nobody can claim any additional welfare for their third or subsequent children, should said children be born after April this year. Imagine being 8 months pregnant right now, knowing that if your baby is even a few days late you will not be able to afford to feed it. Imagine finding out you were pregnant, with a child you may desperately want, but knowing that if you don't have an abortion you will make things even worse for the children you are already struggling to support. Imagine losing your job and knowing the safety net of welfare is only available to some of your family.
Thanks to this policy, that is going to be the reality of many. This rule is an attack on choice, and as feminists we must be ready to fight it.
The good news is we will find wonderful allies in the activists who have been holding the government to account on its inhuman treatment of welfare claimants. Last year, thanks in no small part to the efforts of dpac and similar groups, a proposal to reduce personal independence payments by £30 a week was defeated. This is a small victory but it is a victory. It shows that we can win. A proposal reduce the amount of money available to tax credit claimants was defeated. Whilst the introduction of Universal Credit will see payments lowered by roughly the same amount, making it a postponement rather than a cancellation, if we stand together we can defeat that too. These cuts threaten the security of all of us, but especially women, and if we unite, feminists, welfare campaigners, disabled people and anti austerity activists, we can force them to reverse them all.
Housing and Austerity
“Women are disproportionately affected by austerity. This includes being homeless. Women are left to decide between staying in an abusive relationship, or being homeless. They are left to decide between staying in unsafe accommodation with their children, or being homeless. And sometimes they are left with no choice, as their landlord can give them notice to leave at any point. When women are made homeless they try and hide themselves from rough sleeping as they are not safe being vulnerable in public. Women face physical assault like kicking, spitting, throwing things. They face verbal assault, name calling, teasing. Sexual assault and rape. They are also routinely coerced into sex work and drug misuse in return for shelter.
Online it is more of the same. Men on Craigslist and Gumtree are offering shelter in return for “womanly duties”. This means domestic servitude, intimacy, sexual contact. For a vulnerable person this offers no choice and no consent.
The guidance set by the government is to rely on a strong support network of friends and family to help them leave abusive partners. However, the lack of social housing now means that homeless women are being moved out of their area, and their children’s area. This is a kick in the teeth. How are women supposed to rely on their support network that the government have taken away from them, and that’s if their abusers hadn’t taken it away first.”
Women’s Organisations and Austerity
“Gender isn’t abstract. It isn’t exclusionary. It isn’t random. It is very much alive within us all. No one is immune to it. Our workplaces, communities, and government systems are all gendered. They are gendered because they see the masculine as neutral, they see the masculine as the only true source of all power. The system undermines the feminine, never valuing women in their own right, only ever seeing them in relation to men. It is a system that simultaneously excludes and ignores women whilst relying on their unpaid labour to survive.
My entire childhood I witnessed my mum work incredibly hard to ensure the family business was a success and would provide for us. But her day was never done, she never got to stop and enjoy a glass of wine. Because there were the school lunches to make, the washing to hang out, the homework to help with, the taxi service to provide. And yet, none of this hard work at home and in the family business was ever acknowledged within our family or outside in the community.
After years of financial control and emotional bullying, my parents divorced. The system failed my mum. There was no acknowledgement of the countless hours of unpaid labour, there was no acknowledgement of the domestic violence perpetrated by my dad, there was no acknowledgement that at the age of 60, my mum now has to restart her life with no qualifications, little formal work experience and a work environment that doesn’t want to hire a former housewife.
Today’s budget won’t incorporate the love and support women provide their families, it won’t include the endless attention mothers give their children to make sure they grow up to be strong and resilient adults.
Instead, today’s budget has brought harder times for women. It will increase the pressure on women and their families. Thousands of women across the UK will be swallowed by the hole that is the Tories’ austerity cuts, many who already starve themselves just to give their children that little bit more won’t be able to put any food on the table. And whilst women are shouldering the vast majority of burden from these cuts, women specific services are being underfunded and shut down. It is disgusting that these organisations, particularly those for BME women, have to fight for survival each and every day to help the women, this government chooses to ignore.
Women spend their lives trying to master the art of balancing. We can’t work too hard, too long or too far away, we can’t give children too much attention but then we are careless when we allow them too much freedom. we can’t be too masculine, but we also can’t be too feminine either. We are faced with this balancing act because the system we live in, the economic models used to rule and determine do not value women, nor does it value the feminine. The neutral is not neutral, it is in fact masculine, but it is a masculinity that only white men can even fully achieve.
This balancing game doesn’t need to continue forever, it is no longer just me and you individually. In each action, we are now supported by millions of women around the world who marched in solidarity in January and are striking and protesting today, international women’s day. Together, we can change this failing system based on unjust and ignorance. We will no longer be defined by, or in relation to men.
We may be created by the system we live in, but that means we have the power to change it! the time has come to see and value women and feminine ways of being. We need to replace this broken system.”
The NHS and Austerity
“The Tory Government has failed, deliberately, to properly fund the NHS. The cuts being made are devastating for women and other marginalised groups, not least because cuts are disproportionately being made to the services they use the most. Spending cuts are being made to sexual health and abortion services meaning people are not given a full range of choice when it comes to their reproductive health and are forced to wait longer for terminations putting their health and wellbeing at risk. The FGM clinic in Acton is being shut down due to lack of funds and maternity services are being closed across the country. Access to specialist services for trans people is not being properly funded. This is not acceptable, the NHS is supposed to be for everyone.
In mental health, Theresa May has many warm words on the subject but they are meaningless, 150 000 mental health posts have been cut. Women are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, more likely to self harm, more likely to attempt suicide. This Government is putting our most vulnerable at risk.
The Tories are more than willing to lie to our faces. They claim they have given the NHS the funding it has asked for but we know this is untrue and their figures are repeatedly called into question.
Since austerity began there has been a steep rise in the UK’s mortality rate. We have seen the affect it has had on suicide, mental health and hunger. To top it all off we now have a social care crisis. As we know, when people are unable to receive the help they need from the state it routinely falls back on women to care for their sick, disabled or elderly relatives.
It’s not just patients who are affected, women make up the majority of the NHS workforce and are overrepresented in lower grade jobs which of course see the most cuts. And if they manage to keep their jobs staff shortages men they must work longer shifts and more unsociable hours. Many nurses, most of whom are women, are forced to rely on foodbanks and predatory pay-day loans just to survive. This is how our government treats the people doing some of the most vital work in our country.
There is no denying these cutrs are sexits, but they are racist too. All of the cuts I’ve outlined affect women of colour even more so than white women. This government, like the coalition government before it constantly enact policies which benefit rich white straight cis men to the detriment of everyone else. The more marginalised you are in society the worse your healthcare access.
We all know the value of the NHS. We all know people, whether it be ourselves. Or those we love who would not be here today if it wasn’t for the NHS. Ut is truly one of the greatest achievements this country has made, and a mark of our civility. But when the Tories look at the NHS they see a value measured only in pound signs. An untapped field for them to play their dangerous game of free market ideology and privatisation. This privatisation has already begun. Many NHS contracts have been farmed out to private companies. We must demand the NHS is fully nationalised and fully funded if it is ever to survive. Demand that your local councils reject the STP plans the government is trying to push through.
While the Tories see only monetary value we believe in the value of more important things. To that end I’d like to finish by reading a poem by Alice Walker on this subject.
We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises
in the marketplace
Wherever there is gold
there is a chain, you know,
and if your chain
so much the worse for you
and sea-shaped stones
are all as rare
This could be our revolution:
to love what is plentiful
as much as
Disability and Austerity
“I was invited to join the inspiring and passionate fourth wave feminists today and was asked to say a few words about solidarity and invisible disability. Unfortunately because of that same disability I am invisible at the march today. I am very much with you in spirit. I am striking in solidarity. I am not going to work. I am not spending any money. I am not creating any art. I am not consoling men. I am avoiding all forms of advertising. I am participating in a small revolutionary act - I am taking care of myself.
This is the message I want to share with my disabled and chronically ill sisters. Look after yourselves. Get involved when you can, and take care when you can't. Stand up and march when you are able, sit in solidarity when you aren't. A strike is a great form of protest for those of us who aren't well enough to actively participate. By doing nothing, we are saying so much.
I feel today like I am being carried by my able bodied sisters who are on the front line. Thank you for still letting me have my say and for not forgetting those of us who can't be there in person. Your inclusive action, courage and determination will change the world. May that change be in the dismantling of oppressive power structures, or the lighter load on the shoulders of a disabled woman who feels, supported, protected and included. Fight on.”