Conference highlights horrific impact of cost of living crisis on women

This week a Conference organised by the Women’s Budgeting Groups in all 4 nations of the UK looked at the specific and disproportionate impact of the cost of living crisis on women.

Women were described as the “shock absorbers of poverty” as evidence showed how they often went without essentials, including food, in order to lessen the impact of soaring prices on their families.

We heard some harrowing accounts of the toll this takes on women’s physical and mental health.

Steffan Evans,  from the Bevan Foundation in Wales, described the results of YouGov polling they had commissioned to try to understand the impact. The number of people cutting back on food had gone up from a bad enough 26% in July to 39% in January.

The impact was worse amongst households on benefits, renters, lone parents, households with children and disabled people.

He expressed concern about impact of withdrawal of Government support in April.

He also highlighted the impact on long term health  of living with no heating and condensation and mould.

He concluded that we need to fix the system, not ameliorate with short term cash payments

Next up was Dr Laura Robertson, from the Poverty Alliance who talked about the research carried out in Scotland by the Scottish Women’s Budgeting Group.

They interviewed 30 women from a range of backgrounds who were on low income and conducted a diary exercise with 8 women who submitted weekly diaries.

They found deepening experience of destitution and poverty, of people going hungry and cold

Rural households dependent on oil and households on prepayment meters were struggling most with energy costs

Mothers mentioned struggling to provide nappies, formula, clothes and  school uniform for their children and said that school holidays were really difficult.

There was a negative impact on physical and mental health, increased isolation as they couldn’t afford leisure activities, guilt, shame and stigma of not being able to afford basics.

Coping strategies shared by women to manage rising costs include extreme cuts to household expenditure – skipping meals, looking for discounted items in supermarkets, cutting back on energy use –  including heating and turning off fridge and freezer, stopping social activities.

Next up was Siobhan Harding from the  Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group

Research in Northern Ireland had found that 60% of women asked affected by rising debts. This had the chilling consequence of an increase in borrowing from paramilitary organisations.

Again there was evidence of women going without food to feed children, and restricting heating, showers, not even having minimal fills of heating oil.

72% of women they spoke to were negatively impacted by being in debt and their mental health suffered as a consequence. They feel guilt, anxiety and stress about the situation.

There are particular factors in Northern Ireland which lead to disproportionate levels of poverty compared to the rest of the UK. For example, Northern Ireland is more reliant on social security benefits and the only part of the UK with no childcare strategy and no access to to the 30 hours free childcare.

The lowest income households only have £24.41 per week for things look food and clothes after their bills have been paid. Half of households were in fuel poverty in January 2023.

There are, however, mitigations to protect from bedroom tax and benefits cap. A review recommended mitigation for 2 child limit and protections for carers. However there is currently no functioning assembly to take forward these recommendations

Finally, Sara Reis from the  UK Women’s Budget Group talked about the situation in England, citing their analysis

Caring responsibilities mean many women can’t take on extra work especially as women’s unpaid labour has to replace depleting care/childcare services

Wages are not keeping up with inflation and this is particularly the case in the public sector where the majority of employees on the lowest incomes are women.

Within all of this, of course, there is a particularly harsh impact on the most vulnerable women. Those experiencing domestic abuse are in increasingly dangerous situations. Lockdown prevented women who wanted to leave bad situations from doing so and the cost of living crisis continues to keep them trapped and at risk of economic as well as physical and mental abuse.

So what can we do about all of this? There were a number of calls which chime with what Liberal Democrats have already been saying and some where we could and should think about going further

  • public sector pay to rise with cost of living
  • increasing Child Benefit – we supported the increase in the Scottish Child Payment from £10 to £25 per week.
  • energy retrofitting programme and a restructure of the energy sector to deal with profiteering.
  • investment in advice services and preventative public services eg health and social care.
  • abolish benefit cap and 2 child limit

It is absolutely horrifying that in the 3rd year of the 3rd decade of the 21st century that anyone is having to go without food, or choose whether they turn the heating on or have a shower in one of the richest nations on the planet. The growing inequality, and its disproportionate impact on women is something that should be leading the national conversation, yet we hardly see any media headlines on it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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One Comment

  • Steve Trevethan 6th Feb '23 - 8:24am

    Might this article indicate that the restriction of proper pay/ living plus pay is bad for the economy?

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