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The Budget’s cuts fall mostly on women – but we need the numbers to fight this

Write to your MP today to ask them to support an amendment calling for better information on how the government’s financial decisions affect women, says Caroline Criado-Perez.

Everyone’s getting poorer. Isn’t that what we’re all told? There have been years of economic crises, we’re all tightening our belts, trimming that fat, living within our means. But I’ve got good news for you! That is, if you happen to be a wealthy white man. Changes to tax and benefits since 2015 mean that men in the richest ten per cent of households are in fact, better off. Excellent news; looser belts all round.

But 2015 was a less positive year for, well, pretty much everyone else. Analysis by the House of Commons library found that 81 per cent of cuts between 2010 to 2015 had fallen on women. This was bad enough, but by 2017 they had revised the figure to 86 per cent. The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) explains that austerity policies planned for the 2015-20 Parliament are, in fact, “even more regressive” than those implemented from 2010-15, with living standards for those in the poorest 10 per cent of households cut by five times more than for those in the top 10 per cent of households.

According to the WBG, those hardest hit by 2020 will include low income black and minority ethnic women (who will have lost about twice as much money as white men); female pensioners; and single parents — about 90 per cent of whom are women.

Cuts have also hit women’s jobs. By 2012, two years into austerity. women’s unemployment had risen by 20 per cent to 1.13 million, the highest figure for 25 years. Meanwhile, male unemployment stood at almost exactly where it had since the end of the recession in 2009.

How has this been allowed to happen? Very simply, because the government didn’t have the numbers. None of this analysis was produced by the government. It was all produced by charities and independent bodies.

But they should be producing it. In the 2010 Equality Act there is a provision called the Public Sector Equality Duty. It sounds boring, but it’s incredibly important. Under this duty, a public authority - something like, say the government - must have “due regard” in its decision-making process, to the need to: eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity. As the Women’s Budget Group points out it’s extremely hard to see how the government can fulfil this duty without actually collecting and analysing data on how their budgets will affect women.

But successive governments have refused to do this, and so, since the 80s, the Women’s Budget Group has been doing this work for them, for free. But the WBG can only do the analysis once the government has published its budget — by which time, of course, it’s too late. They won’t budge, excuse the pun, for something as minor as 86 per cent of cuts falling on women.

Going through Parliament on 11 December is an amendment to the most recent budget that will change all this. It is asking the government to commit to analysing its plans for how they will impact on women before it decides on the final budget. This is just some of that plain common sense, of which our politicians profess to be so enamoured. And, arguably, it’s their legal duty.

So let’s get them to put their money where their mouth is. Write to your MP today, (they have to sign up to the amendment today, 6 December) asking them if they are supporting the reasoned amendment to the Finance Bill second reading — and if they aren’t, what exactly it is they have against evidence-based decision-making.

Because that’s all this is: a plea for evidence-based decision-making. And who could argue against that?

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner. She is also the co-founder of The Women's Room and tweets as @CCriadoPerez.

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What the university staff strike reveals about our broken higher education system

The marketisation of our universities is facing its biggest opposition yet.

The biggest industrial strike ever by academic staff in Britain's universities has begun.

National newspapers are running panicked headlines about what may happen if the strike lasts: “University strike puts final exams in danger”, warns The Times. “University strikes could hit exams and graduation ceremonies”, says the Guardian. But as well as affecting the education of students who are heavily in debt, the strikes will hit academics with very different levels of job security, and university establishments at a time when higher education is on the political agenda. 

The University and College Union voted for strike action last month over a failure to reach an agreement with Universities UK (UUK), the body which represents of the Vice Chancellors of every university in the country, over changes to academics' pension plans.

The pension scheme at the heart of the conflict, the Universities Superannuation Scheme, currently has over 400,000 participants. UUK have stated that the pension scheme currently has a £6.1bn deficit and that the cost of future benefits has increased by one third since 2014. They are proposing a switch from a direct benefit pension scheme (fixed, guaranteed pension payments) to a direct contribution scheme (reliant on stock markets) to maintain the scheme's sustainability.

However, many academics argue the deficit is overstated, and is instead a cynical attempt to reduce the universities' pension liabilties. 

Older and more senior academics who have already spent several decades paying into the system will be less affected by the changes, as contributions will be protected under the old scheme until 2019. 

UCU however allege that this change will result in an average yearly £10,000 loss in staff members' pensions. Academics at 61 universities, including the likes of Oxbridge, UCL, Imperial College London, Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh will be striking for 14 days. 

The strikes begin on Thursday, and yet no-one seems to know what will happen. FAQs provided by universities to students all appear to have a similar theme: Academic disruption will be minimised, but if you have a complaint, please email us. 

16 percent of academic staff at these universities will be on strike (because most academics aren't a part of a union) but lectures and seminars have still been cancelled. It is still unclear for students whether they will be examined on subjects that they will miss. 

But for the most part, students appear to support the academics. Mark Crawford, a Postgraduate Sabbatical Officer at UCL (the biggest university in the country to strike) says he has been pleasantly surprised by the number of students who have messaged asking him how they can help. 

Perhaps this is due to the pains some academics have gone to minimise the disruption their students will face. Some lecturers have made presentations available online, and have amendeded their reading lists. One academic at King's College London, KCL, has even rearranged her seminars off campus. 

Yet this feeling of goodwill may disappear when reality kicks in. Robert Adderly, a second year Law student at KCL, and a campaigner for the student group provocatively titled “Students Against Strikes” says he’s unsure how supportive students will be once the action actually begins. 

Adderly, while sympathetic to the concerns of the academics does not believe striking is the most effective way to negotiate with Universities UK. He goes on to say that he believes “neither side is willing to compromise” and says that the “only people losing out are students.”

He also says he believes a lot of students “haven’t assessed how they really feel about the strikes” and that the “longer it goes on, the more students who will get angry”. 

Adderly's thoughts are backed by a poll conducted by Trendence UK, a market research company, which found that 38 per cent of students supported their academics on strike, compred to 38 per cent who did not.

Several academics have spoken to the New Statesman off the record about feelings of uneasiness around the strike, arguing that there is a better, less disruptive way of resolving the pension debate. Others are unsure about the leadership of UCU and believe striking will only lead to a build up of work later. 

Professor Andrew Pomiankowski at UCL emailed his students saying while he supported the strike, he would continue conducting his classes this week. He later told the New Statesman “I have a lot of sympathy with the reasons for the strike - the loss of provision of pensions, especially for the younger members of staff. Talking is the only way of resolving this problem. However, I don’t feel that I should disrupt teaching of students. That’s a step too far.”

The strikes go to the heart of the debate about the marketisation of university. Even students who support the strike are in conflict with one another. Notably, students who support the strikes are unhappy with campaigns such as Adderly’s which are also demanding universities compensate them for lost teaching hours. Crawford says your “first instinct shouldn’t be how much am I losing? It should be how much is our staff losing.”

On the other hand, Adderly argues we shouldn’t pretend the marketisation of university hasn’t already happened, saying “It’s here. It’s happening. We are now consumers.” 

Though it appears unlikely that universities will refund students, these strikes are highlighting how our attitudes to higher education have changed in a short space of time, and causing some to ask if this is the future we want for British higher education.