The reality of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government’s cuts has been revealed by figures showing that the number of women claiming unemployment benefits is at its highest level since 1996.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 474,000 women were in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance last month. Out of a total of 12,400 JSA new claims in April, more than three-quarters were made by women.
As well as cuts to local government, the civil service and voluntary sector disproportionately hitting women workers (65% of public sector workers and 75% of local government workers are women), changes to the benefits system are also pushing up the number of women signing on.
Since October 2010 single mothers in receipt of Income Support have had to claim JSA once their youngest child reaches the age of seven – a policy introduced by the last Labour government – and the government plans to reduce it still further to five. Six thousand single parents made new claims to JSA in March.
The Department for Work and Pensions also announced that it expects the number of people on JSA to rise sharply as a result of changes to sickness and disability benefits. The DWP said that the process of moving Incapacity Benefit claimants onto to Employment and Support Allowance with its tougher qualifying conditions would see most claimants found fit for work and forced to claim the lower JSA.
"We are beginning to see the real impact of the government's approach to cutting the deficit and, as we feared, women are bearing the brunt," said Anna Bird of the Fawcett Society. "Combined with reduced benefits and increasing costs of childcare as state support dwindles, the lack of employment prospects risk rolling back women's rights a generation."
According to figures produced by the House of Commons library, of the £8.5bn being cut from the welfare budget nearly two-thirds – £5.7bn – is being taken off women.