Violence against women doesn’t happen in a vacuum

The government's predilection for prioritising effect over cause has consequences - we must focus on prevention as well as cure.

The International Development Secretary has trumpeted her work on Violence against Women and Girls. And of course any focus on this vital matter is welcome, but look below the surface and there’s obviously a problem: It’s still treated throughout government as a 'women’s issue'.

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Given that one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime; that, in some countries, violence against women is near-universal; and that the World Bank identifies gender-based violence as one of the biggest health risks facing women – more of a threat to their wellbeing than either cancer or car accidents; given all these issues - it’s clear - one day will never be enough.

The government have succeeded in raising the status of this vital issue, tackling the often collusive silence that surrounds the debate. This commitment must be applauded. But their approach is fundamentally flawed.

In June this year, Parliament’s cross-party International Development Committee highlighted DfID’s bias towards support services for the victims of violence rather than programmes aimed at tackling the underlying cultural beliefs and social structures thatperpetuate this savage trend. Of 117 interventions listed by DfID, just 16 were aimed at changing social norms.

Take a glance at the Department for International Development’s (DfID) list of projects aimed at tackling violence against women. Of the 69 projects listed, 'women' and 'girls'mfeature 81 times. 'Men' and 'boys'? Not once. Placing the burden for tackling violence solely on women’s shoulders is not only a route to more stress and risk, but (crucially) it won’t actually tackle the core cause. And in doing so, implicitly allows violence to continue.   

All too often, gender inequality, reproductive and sexual health, childcare, and violence against women and girls are defined (and dismissed) as women’s issues. Men are the primary perpetrators of violence, and committers of risky sexual and drug-taking behaviour – risks that are all-too-often passed onto their unknowing or powerless wives and girlfriends – but they’re habitually missing from the debate. Violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Since the Tories have come to power, gender activists have become alarmed at a shift in the programmatic approach to supporting women – warning of short-termism and hollow-gesturing. As I wrote recently, the duplicitous nature of a government which promises violence against women and girls is "at the heart of everything they do", whilst devoting tokenistic pots of money to the cause is failing to effectively integrate gender inequality into wider development programmes.

It is crucial that we shift the focus onto prevention as well as 'cure': not only are the mental (and sometimes physical) scars of being a victim often 'incurable', but living with the fear of violence can be just as damaging, psychologically and physically, as actually experiencing it.

That is the challenge today, as it should be every other.

Gavin Shuker MP (@ShukerOffice) is the newly appointed shadow minister for international development, with specific responsibility for tackling violence against women and girls

Street children look on as Indian social activists take part in a rally on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Kolkata on November 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.

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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/