The Big Society will hit women and children badly, claims TUC head of equality looks at the possible repercussions at a time when women are set to be the part of society most likely to be affected by the budget cuts.

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The Big Society will impact badly on women and children, warns Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights department, Trades Union Congress. looks at the possible repercussions at a time when women are set to be the part of society most affected by the cuts.

The Big Society
The project was one of Prime Minister David Cameron’s personal objectives and had been outlined in the manifesto before the General Election.  The Big Society was mooted as a way of empowering communities by fostering a ‘’volunteerism’’ approach to push forward ‘’people power’’.  The Government had envisaged the project would fuel the running of post offices, libraries, transport systems and housing projects.  Four areas were chosen to be pilots, but Liverpool city council has already pulled out, labelling the scheme ‘’a big con’’.

Sarah Veale, head of the TUC’s equality and employment rights department, told a seminar held by the Economic and Social Research Council looking into Fairness during Fiscal Austerity that the general aim of the Big Project was a ‘’good idea’’, but not during the current economic climate.  She said: ‘’It would be hard to argue against community engagement.  But the timing is absolutely atrocious.  It’s the wrong time to be doing all this.  It is a guise for expecting a lot more of us to do unpaid work to substitute for services previously provided and paid for by the tax payer.’’
She warned the introduction would impact particularly badly on women at a time when they are likely to be severely affected by the impending job losses and pay freezes within the public sector.

‘’Women will struggle to cope with part-time low paid jobs, doing unpaid work in the home and the community as well,’’ forecast Veale.  She said women would strive to help in certain situations where public funding had been withdrawn, such as the running of a youth club, because they would be aware it was benefitting their children so they’d put in the personal effort to keep such an enterprise going.
She warned the pressure of cuts on parents will ‘’filter down’’ to children.
Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, outgoing director of the charity, Community Services Volunteers, claims the cuts have ”destroyed” the voluntary sector.  She said there was no ”strategic plan”.

Effect of cuts on women in the workforce
Veale warned the cuts outlined in the emergency Budget will have a ‘’disparate impact’’ on women because they make up 65% of the workforce in the public sector.
Latest figures show one million public sector workers are paid less than £7 an hour.  ‘’That’s an awful lot of women who are being paid just above the minimum wage level,’’ she said.

She predicted women would not just be hit by job losses, but they would also be hit by the cuts in public services, such as buses, social services and care for the elderly because they are the section in society most likely to make use of these services.

She warned they would also suffer because the two-tier agreement dedicated to equalising pay with men in similar roles has been abolished.  ‘’This is extremely worrying,’’ she said.  ‘’It is unfair and unequal.’’

The House of Commons library has said that 72% of the cuts in the reduction of benefits and tax credits are going to fall on women.  ‘’This is straight away a disparate impact on women over men,’’ claimed Veale.

Women will also suffer from ‘’bumping’’, she warned, because the effect of the cuts will result in over-qualified people taking unskilled jobs, and leaving no jobs available for workers without skills.

The TUC has called on the Government to focus on raising tax and to slow down the cuts programme.  Chancellor George Osborne has claimed the measures are ‘’tough, but fair’’.

But the TUC says it sees no reason why the deficit needs to be wiped out by 2014/15, and wants the Government to encourage spending in a bid to stimulate growth.

Veale claimed the ‘’informal’’ economy has been one of the consequences of the cuts and has seen a growth area.  ‘’A high proportion of women now work completely informally, take cash, don’t pay tax and don’t show up on the radar.  They perhaps take in laundry, give lifts to somebody and there is an exchange of money by informal means.  This signals a reduction in employment protection.’’

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