by Jenni Tomlin
It is well documented that the government cuts have hit women disproportionately hard; so well documented that the back channels of government spin and policy have been working diligently to throw out more ‘women friendly policies’ such as a longer school terms to suit working mothers. This is perhaps in the hope that women may not realise that they were almost entirely forgotten about during the first round of testosterone-charged cuts to the public sector. One effect of the cuts was to deeply undermine the importance of promoting the potential of a working life for parents.
Whether the cuts were a necessary evil, or an opportunistic ploy to push through an ideological policy is a debate for another time and blog. What has clearly emerged however is the fact that their effects have hit women harder than men. Research by the Union GMB showed that of the 129,051 council job cuts in 2011 66.4% were jobs previously held by women. If you look at the South east of England the proportion dramatically increases to over 75.8% jobs lost by women.
You may well at this stage note that the number of women employed by councils was previously higher than the number of men the starting point of the figures is therefore disproportionate. In Q1 of 2010 560,609 council job holders were men, and 696,196 were women. Herein lies the crucial point however, that to stringently cut a sector that has made great strides in allowing women’s working equality sends a soul-sinkingly bleak ideological message to women in the workplace.
You can call councils any number of things ineffective, bureaucratic, politically correct, wasteful and boring. However, the fact is that their working culture and practice has striven for something beyond the financial bottom line. This has allowed them to promote a working pattern that has in turn come close to the idea that having children need not once and for ever damage women’s prospects of holding and maintaining a job without the need for 15 nannies. In the world of council, job sharing, part time working, career breaks and flexitime are all commonly heard and understood concepts- just look at how ‘flexible’ is the main adjective used by the HR departments in East Sussex, Salford, Leicester and Lincoln, as a brief example. Can you imagine this to be the main adjective in investment banking, the legal or medical professions?
Until common working practice does not continually and consistently perpetuate the patriarchal notion that the world be based on working patterns designed for men with a wife at home, babies in hand and roast beef in the oven, social justice will not be found for women in the workplace. Council jobs held a greater respect for this and allowed women the opportunity to have jobs without forgoing all maternal instincts. I am more than aware of the inequality still enshrined in the system (evident, for example in Birmingham), but councils have made huge strides in working equality for women.
The cuts are hitting hardest the sectors that have made progress for women’s working equality. This not only means a higher loss in women’s jobs, but also cutting back the ideal that the workplace should be made open to women who have families and do not wish to sacrifice their opportunity to contribute to working society.