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Women relying on council services face a triple whammy from central Government cuts to local government funding

JANUARY 21, 2020

A new report entitled ‘Triple Whammy’ has been published by the Women's Budget Group, setting out clear findings that show how women are the hardest hit by government cuts made in the name of austerity.

Cuts to central government funding to local authorities have and are affecting women the most. This is because local government is responsible for many of the services on which women disproportionately depend; when services are cut many women have to increase their unpaid work to fill the gaps and women are disproportionately likely to work in local authorities and schools, so are hit harder when jobs, pay and conditions are cut.

The report found that central government funding fell by nearly 50% between 2010/11 and 2017/18 and will fall by over 56% by 2019/20.

The report also found that between 2010 and 2020 £16 billion will have been cut from local council’s budgets and the Local Government Association (LGA) has calculated that 60 pence will have been cut from every £1 of central government funding between 2010 and 2020.

These cuts have had a devastating impact on local services, including spending on adult social care which fell between 2010/11 and 2016/17, despite an increase of over 14% in the number of people aged over 65 in need of it. There are 1.86 million people with unmet care needs – the majority of whom are women.

The combination of cuts and the privatisation of some services has impacted badly on the quantity and quality of many local services including social care, childcare, women’s refuges, youth services, libraries, sports and leisure facilities, parks, community centres, and school meals. Over 600 youth centres have closed since 2010 with 1000 Sure Start centres and almost 350 playgrounds closing since 2014. Cuts to services for children and young people have disproportionately impacted women who still have the primary responsibility for childcare in most households, even when they are employed outside of the home.

And it is not just local authority services that are suffering because of cuts to their budgets. Research by the Women’s Budget Group with the Women’s Resource Centre found that women’s voluntary organisations are also facing a climate of cuts to funding, combined with an increase in demand for services as a result of austerity.

Many of the services dealing with violence against women and girls (VAWG) are reliant on local government funding. Yet while there were 1.2 million women in England and Wales suffering domestic abuse in 201730 , more than 75% of England’s local authorities slashed their spending on domestic violence refuges – by nearly a quarter (24%) – between 2010 and 2017. The lack of refuge spaces saw more than 1,000 vulnerable women and children turned away from centres over a six-month period in 2017. 31 17% of specialist women’s refuges were forced to close between 2010 and 2014, and a third of all referrals to refuges are currently turned away.

These services, and many others, so vital to women’s lives, have been torn apart by central government cuts to council funding since 2010, and it is women who suffer the biggest consequences of such cuts. They are left less safe, with fewer chances of accessing learning, and increasingly having to fill the gaps in care provision.

And it is not just cuts to local services that have affected women the most, combined with benefit changes and the onset of Universal Credit, women have been left poorer in both cash and kind. The report on the situation in the UK in 2018 by Professor Philip Alston, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, concluded that women, single parents, BME people and asylum seekers had been worst hit by the Government’s austerity regime.

He also found that local government cuts were ‘damaging the fabric of society’ and that “If you got a group of misogynists in a room and said, ‘how can we make this system work for men and not for women?’ they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place”. His remarks chimed with the findings of UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, who has argued that austerity policies around the world hit women harder and damage their human rights.

Austerity is decreasing the opportunities for women and is shrinking women’s lives. It is ideologically driven and must be brought to an end. The report makes a number of recommendations but starts with the call for an end to austerity.

Government must recognise the importance of local services and fund them at a sustainable level. Funding must be urgently restored to a level which enables councils to meet their statutory obligations and also provide the preventive, non statutory services which are vital to the wellbeing of women, children and those in need of care.

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