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Layers of inequality: impact of public spending cuts on black, asian and minority women

When I first started researching the impact of the spending cuts on BAME women in Coventry, I expected to find some disproportionate impact but wasn’t sure by how much and where the impact was. 

After all, BAME women are more likely to be living in poverty and BAME households on average receive a higher proportion of their income from working age benefits or tax credits, so it would be surprising if cuts to welfare benefits did not affect us more badly. We are also more likely to work in the public sector than white women, or
men from the same ethnic group, for example, 45.6% of Black women of Caribbean origin in paid work are in the public sector, so public sector job losses are likely to affect us worse.

We have the negative impacts of the loss of the EMA grant. BAME groups as a whole are more likely to report ill health and experience ill health earlier than white British people and BAME carers are likely to provide proportionately more care so cuts to health and social care spending will also affect us more severely.

What shocked me was how big the difference and far reaching the impacts are. In Coventry, for example, unemployment among BAME women increased by 74.4% between 2009 and 2013.

Unemployment among white British women increased by 30.5% during the same period. The work programme, which is failing large numbers of job seekers, has been particularly unsuccessful for BAME women. Again, Coventry data shows that of the 1290 white women referred to the Work Programme up to July 2012, 60 found jobs. 10 out of 210 Asian women referred found work. Out of 280 referrals of women from other ethnic groups, none found work.

By the Government’s own admission, in its Equality Impact Assessment of the Benefits Cap, 40% of those households affected by the benefit cap will include someone who is BAME.

Coventry rents are not as high as some parts of the country, but a family with three children, parents and grandparents living in the same house in Coventry (and BAME families are more likely to be multi-generational) would face a shortfall of £467 per month between the available Local Housing Allowance (£167.31 per week, the maximum for four bedrooms) and the average local rent of £1193 per calendar month for a five bedroom property.

Many BAME women may face a stark choice between moving house, disrupting their children’s education and losing support networks, or making up for cuts in housing benefit from already limited budgets.

We have heard a lot about the bedroom tax but something which has not been covered by the media and indeed if it wasn’t for Coventry CAB I would have missed too. It is the nondependents deduction. This is where Housing Benefit is reduced at source for claimants where people living in the same house are over 18 and considered to be non-dependent, such as an adult son or daughter. There have been huge increases In 2011 non-dependant deductions were increased by approximately 27%, then by 22% in 2012; and by nearly 19% in 2013.

Again according to the DWP, BAME families are more likely to be impacted, because we  are more likely to live in extended families.

Finally these cuts cannot be viewed in isolation from our daily experiences as a result of ethnicity, gender, etc. They are just one part of a jigsaw of issues that affect BAME women, including historic and on-going disadvantage, discrimination and racism. Our title, Layers of Inequality, represents what women have said to us about the multiple, cumulative impacts that BAME women face as a result of the cuts and how these come on top of the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Many women we interviewed for our research commented that alongside the financial impact of the cuts, they also felt the public’s negative attitudes towards people on benefits are increasing. In addition to a feeling of increased instances of discrimination and racism, many women sense  that the messages of  scarce resources was leading people to look for scapegoats for the pressure they feel they are under.

The announcement in the spending review that job seekers will be obliged to learn English is just one example of this. It gives the public the impression that there is a large group of people who are claiming benefits while refusing to learn English and that the government is taking the necessary tough action. In fact, the real problem is the cuts to English language (ESOL) courses. In Coventry, women reported longer waits to get on a course, stricter criteria to access the courses, cuts to crèche
provision making it hard for women with small children to attend, and uncertainty about whether they could get funding.

This sort of rhetoric – the constant reference to scroungers – combined with the devastating impact of spending cuts  makes some of the poorest and most vulnerable women feel they are under attack.

Layers of Inequality by Kindy Sandhu, Mary-Ann Stephenson and James Harrison can be accessed here.

Blog by Kindy Sandhu.

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