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Women in unions map cuts across the country

Cuts map from TUC women's conferenceI lose track of the number of times I’ve spoken and written about the disproportionate impact on women of cuts to jobs, public services, and welfare.

Maybe I live in a bit of a feminist, trade union bubble but it seems to me that the message that women are bearing the brunt of cuts is pretty widely known and accepted.

We know the big, headline grabbing figures. We know that women’s unemployment is at a 25 year high. We know that nearly two thirds of the public sector workforce is female. We know that in some local authorities 100% of job losses have been women’s jobs. We know that more women use a whole range of public services, from the obvious such as maternity services and sexual and domestic violence services, to the less obvious such as mental health services, further and higher education, childcare, transport and housing.

What’s missing is a picture of what’s actually happening to these services on the ground. Cuts are being implemented so quickly across such a range of services, up and down the country, it’s hard to keep up.

At TUC Women’s Conference this year, we asked delegates to come prepared with an example of a cut in their workplace or community which disproportionately affects women. The incredible women of the trade union movement didn’t disappoint. The massive seven foot map of Britain was quickly covered in post it notes detailing the depressing reality of what is happening across the country - from bus services being cut, to maternity wards closing, Sure Start centres axed, women’s refuges facing 100% funding cuts, to jobs lost in local authorities.

The cuts to VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) services come on top of the many cuts already listed on False Economy gathered through FOI requests to local authorities last year. This data has been incredibly helpful to academics and women’s sector organisations who are trying to gather information on what is happening to these services.

The data was used, alongside data collected by organisations such as Women’s Aid, to inform an academic report on the impact of cuts on VAWG services earlier this year.

The cuts to maternity wards and midwife numbers also ties with information we have from the Royal College of Midwives and Maternity Action. Not only are wards closing, but midwife numbers have stalled nationally (according to the RCM we need 5,000 more just to keep pace with the increased birth rate), interpreters for pregnant women who do not speak English have been cut, specialist services for pregnant asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups of women have been cut, and neonatal nurses have been cut.

A common problem highlighted by the map was the decision by many councils to cut back on street lighting in an attempt to save money. While some councils are turning off every other street light, others are prioritising main roads leaving side streets in pitch darkness.

The implications of cutting street lighting are highlighted in the interim report of Vera Baird’s Every Woman Safe Everywhere commission.

The post-it note covered map painted a very bleak picture indeed – especially when you consider that what we’re experiencing now is just the tip of the austerity iceberg.

If it’s this bad now, what will the map look like in 2013 or 2014?

I recently did a similar, smaller scale activity with the TUC Yorkshire and Humber women’s forum as part of a project to produce a report on the impact of cuts on women in the region using the TUC Women and Cuts toolkit. Again, within minutes, the map of the region was covered in post it notes.

As disheartening it is, it’s imperative that we keep on mapping the cuts and highlighting the disproportionate impact on women.

You can see a full list of cuts on the False Economy site here. All cuts posted by Scarlet Harris last week are from the conference.

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