Ah, autumn, such a beautiful time of the year. The air is cold, the mulled wine is hot and people up and down the country eagerly await the sound of George Osborne toddling up to the despatch box to deliver the Autumn Statement and Spending Review. Watching him give his speech, I’m not convinced that anyone has told him this is his sixth time delivering the review and, as such, he is the architect of most of the doom and gloom he’s bemoaning. We’re told things are getting better and that we’re on track for a £10bn surplus by 2020, but I have to say, from down here things don’t look too great.
The news on most people’s lips was the announcement that, after much consideration, the proposed cuts to tax credits would not be as fast or as deep as previously promised. Tax credits are still being phased out in favour of the rather woolly ‘Universal Credit’, a system which, I’m sure, will have no problems whatsoever as we see it rolled out across the entire country.
At the time the tax credit cuts were initially announced, I told anyone who would listen (sorry, Mum) it was just a political smokescreen and that Osborne would just end up doing a U-turn under the guise of being a caring, gentle leader. Indeed, he told the House of Commons his change of heart happened after he ‘listened to [people’s] concerns’. While I am happy for all those people who were worried about their income being cut, I hope we do not lose the momentum that built up around the issue. The fact that this managed to galvanise a lot of people – which surprisingly included a majority of the House of Lords – to speak up and demand they be heard, gives me hope that the Tories have planted the seeds of their own demise. That being said, I don’t think the reversal merits much as discussion as it’s currently enjoying, given it was announced alongside a rather strange policy which will see women’s services partially funded by the so-called ‘tampon tax’.
While this autumn spending review will prove to be terrible for the country as a whole, it would be wrong to pretend that the axe will fall on all of us evenly. As the popular chant goes, ‘they cut, we bleed’ – and few bleed as much as the section of our society who finds themselves being taxed whenever they buy sanitary products. Indeed, it is no secret that women find themselves bearing the brunt of most cuts since they, as the most overworked and underpaid people, are in need of more government assistance than men.
By using the money raised from sanitary products to pay for essential domestic violence services, George Osborne is not only doing nothing to alleviate either problem, he is making the very people who make up the bulk of domestic violence victims responsible for their own protection. Now, if you don’t like the tampon tax, Osborne can hold up his hands and say: ‘Well, I guess you don’t mind if all these shelters close’. The Chancellor has compared his decision to the way that fines levied against banks found guilty of manipulating the Libor were given to various charities. While the North London branch of the Fawcett Society had the right thing to say about this, it doesn’t appear to be the organisational opinion. In making the comparison, Osborne seems to be admitting that he sees the tampon tax the same way he sees the fines against the banks – as a punishment.
Osborne has pledged the first £5m pinched from the purchasers of tampons and pads to two cancer charities (Eve Appeal and The Haven), along with two domestic abuse charities (SafeLives and Women’s Aid). On top of this, he has gracefully invited other women’s charities to bid for access to this blood money. What better way to promote the safety and security of women than to pit them against one another for control of limited resources. From a neoliberal perspective, adding competition to the third sector makes sense – there’s only so much goodwill to go around, so why would you not need to compete? However, anyone who works for a charity can tell you that being made to bid for resources is exhausting. Bidding means time and money being poured into an endeavour which has no guarantee of paying off, a risk which Osborne’s buddies in the City simply see as a part of doing business. Even though we’re talking about actual people and not numbers in a ledger, talk of resource allocation might help to put things into a language George might understand. Unsurprisingly, the numbers don’t add up.
Pictured: Members of a domestic violence charity en route to their #tampontax bid
The sale of tampons and pads brings in around £15m to the Treasury each year. This is not a huge amount compared with the nation’s GDP, but it is £15m more than should be paid for something which people can’t help. On that note, the fact you can get free condoms delivered to you through the NHS but no sanitary products says a lot about where our priorities lie.
The latest report from the Charity Commission (whose own funding has been frozen until 2020) puts the spending of SafeLives alone at almost £3m. That’s £200k more than their annual income. The gap in funding is bad enough, highlighting as it does how desperately in need domestic violence survivors are, but it also shows how very small an impact the money from the tampon tax will have in the grand scheme of things. Osborne is relying on the fact that £15m sounds like a lot of money. And whilst it is to the individual or even to one charity, it’s going to accomplish very little after it’s been divvied up.
Women’s Aid, the central organisational body coordinating the actions of numerous charities, generated a surplus of £90k last year. That’s a fraction of the £2.5m in annual spending it makes. Once you take into account the fact Women’s Aid oversees 250 individual organisations throughout the UK, each of them costing about £1m per annum run, Osborne’s gesture will be about as effective as any other economic policy the man has implemented.
When people took action and appealed to their local MPs, many seemed apologetic and empathised deeply with those affected; but only Tory MPs tried to worm out of it by blaming the EU and its tax laws. Backed by a tone deaf chorus of Ukippers who swear all our problems can be solved by exiting the EU, the fact that these politicians are trying to use periods to achieve their aims is low, even for them.
If we are to take Osborne at his word and trust that he intends to challenge the EU on VAT charged on feminine hygiene products, despite personally voting against a bill which would have mandated the same negotiations, one has to wonder what he intends to do about the financial shortfall should the EU concede.
For every woman who finds herself skipping meals to feed her children: blame Osborne. For every woman who finds herself without the support she needs to survive or escape an abusive home because all the local shelters have been shut: blame Osborne. For every women who dies at the hands of her partner at the rate of two a week: blame Osborne. With an estimated £12bn in welfare cuts, a proportion of which will be taken from housing benefit, it would not come as a surprise if the number of women killed or abused by their partners sharply rises. More and more women will find themselves forced to stay in situations where their lives and the lives of their children are at risk because they have no money and nowhere else to go.
This is not hyperbole or an emotional overreaction, though trying to leave emotion out of this only helps the perpetrators. Without support, it is virtually impossible to escape an abusive situation. Without money to pay for staff and shelters there can be no support. Take it from me – someone who endured 15 years in an abusive home until the day I saw my mother show resistance – it’s no fun. It saps the energy out of you, just living day by day, and the Tories are relying on the fact that the people hurt by their cuts lack the energy to fight back. This empty gesture is meant to distract us, and make most of the country think that the abused are being looked after when they’re really not. We cannot accept this. Thankfully, there are people out there who have already started to not only speak out but to take action, and we need to join them. For many, it’s already too late, but it’s also never too soon.
There’s blood on Osborne’s hands. Here’s hoping he can manage to discretely ask someone to pass him a Tampax (other sanitary products are available) without anyone noticing. Then again, after all he’s done, I don’t think he embarrasses easily.
Photo: House of Lords/Flickr
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