I wrote last year that Conservative small-state ideology has led to “depopulated” social policies, which have dehumanised people, and indicate that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects. We therefore need to ask whose needs Conservative policies are fulfilling.
In 2010 the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the government about its potential failure to meet its legal duties. This followed concerns raised by the Fawcett Society amongst others, regarding the estimated grossly disproportionate impact of the austerity cuts on women.
The Commission recognised the serious concerns about the impact of the deficit reduction measures on vulnerable groups and, in particular, following the House of Commons library report, the impact of the budget on women. The Commission stated:
“We have written to the Treasury to ask for reassurance that they will comply with their equality duties when making decisions about the overall deficit reduction, and in particular in relation to any changes to tax and benefits for which they are directly responsible.”
A more inclusive understanding of the range of impacts on both men and women is essential in the formulation of gender-aware, as opposed to gender-blind, policy responses to recession and recovery. It’s clear that the UK government is not interested in collating information regarding impacts and subsequent implications regarding inequality, yet they do have a legal duty to do so.
A previous United Nations Committee report on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlights areas where women’s rights in the UK had come to a standstill and appallingly, shamefully, some rights have been reversed.
On August 13, 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released its concluding observations on the UK’s seventh periodic report on 26 July 2013.
Concerns raised by the Committee include protection from discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty, the impact of austerity measures on women and women’s services, and restrictions on women’s access to legal aid.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women on 1 July 2013. In its submission the Commission, as a national human rights institution, identifies key issues it believes should be highlighted as actions following the examination and sets out a number of questions the Committee may wish to put to the Government. You can see a full list here – UK Government still in breach of the human rights convention on gender discrimination.
Despite Labour’s protective Human Rights Act and Equality Act, Britain has become increasingly sexist, has an all-pervasive, patriarchal “boy’s club culture” and Conservative austerity measures are leaving women increasingly vulnerable to violence, poverty and hardship, the UN special rapporteur for women, Rashida Manjoo, has recently said.
The special rapporteur said there was “a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls” and a “marketisation of women’s and girls’ bodies” in the UK, which was “more pervasive than elsewhere.”
She warned that sexual bullying and harassment were now “routine” in UK schools, according to NGOs she had interviewed, and recommended that schools have mandatory education modules on sexism. “The state has a responsibility to protect, to prevent, to punish, to provide effective remedies,” she said. “These are part of the state’s responsibility.”
Rashida added: “Have I seen this level of sexist cultures in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face.”
Amongst the figures quoted in her report are: 30% of women in England and Wales have reported experience of domestic abuse since the age of 16; 77 women were killed by partners or former partners in 2012-13; 18,915 sexual crimes against children were recorded in England and Wales in 2012-13; and almost one in three 16- to 18-year-old girls have experienced “groping” or other unwanted sexual touching at school.
The special rapporteur also drew attention to the disproportionate impact of funding cuts on the provision of services to women and girls at risk of violence, and the adverse consequenes of the Tory welfare “reforms.”
“Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues,” Rashida said.
She added that the austerity cuts “not only [affected] the specific provision of ‘violence against women’ services’, but also had a more general impact as poverty and unemployment were known contributory factors.”
“Service providers argue that they are being forced to make cuts to their frontline services as a result of reduced funding, whether by closing refuges, reducing support hours, or increasing waiting lists … current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.”
Manjoo also heavily criticised the bedroom tax, she recognised that it makes it very difficult for women to escape domestic violence. She also attacked the Conservative government’s austerity program.
“Austerity measures are having an effect on the provision of services to address violence against women, as well as other cross-cutting issues affecting women such as poverty and unemployment,” she summarised.
Rashida Manjoo quite properly condemned the lack of human rights-driven government measures to combat violence against women and girls.
The special rapporteur, who travelled across the UK during a 16-day fact-finding mission into violence against women, said she was barred at the gates of Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre on Monday, on instructions “from the highest levels of the Home Office”.
Manjoo received reports of violations at the privately run Yarl’s Wood centre, near Bedford, before her visit to the UK, and said she wanted to verify the allegations of abuse. Last month a Jamaican woman, Christine Case, 40, died at the centre, which holds about 400 women.
After repeated unsuccessful requests to the Home Office, the investigator attempted an independent visit to Yarl’s Wood. Under the terms of her mandate, Manjoo should have been offered unrestricted access. A Home Office spokesperson said a tour of Yarl’s Wood “was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission.”
So much for democratic, open, transparent and accountable government.
In her preliminary report, (and unsurprisingly,) Manjoo said the number of women detained in prisons and immigration centres in the UK was rising, with a significant over-representation of black and minority ethnic women.
“A large number of women in detention have a history of being subjected to violence prior to being imprisoned … the strong link between violence against women and women’s incarceration, whether prior to, during or after incarceration, needs to be fully acknowledged,” she said.
Manjoo also said the UK court system is “widely perceived to be biased in favor of men.”
Rashida Manjoo’s full 24 page report is expected to be published later this year and will be presented at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.
The report’s findings echo the views of many campaigners, including hundreds of psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health practitioners, who in April used a rallying, open letter to the Guardian to warn against “malign” welfare reforms and severe austerity measures.
The group of signatories, made up of therapists, psychotherapists and mental health experts, said Britain has seen a “radical shift” in the mental state of ordinary people since the coalition came to power.
British society has been “thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking” and the distress this is causing and the wide adverse effects of this ideology are particularly visible in therapists’ consulting rooms.
“This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health,” they added.
A democratic government, especially in a very wealthy, liberal first-world country, is expected to reflect the needs of a population in its policy-making, and to formulate policies within a human rights framework. That clearly is not happening in the UK.
Whose needs are Conservative austerity cuts fulfilling?