Georgia Sangster says women are once again forced to be the shock absorbers of poverty in austerity-driven crisis
This spring, inflation reached 9%; food price inflation hit 4.3% in May (the highest rate since 2013), and a typical energy bill went up by 54%, with further increases forecast for October. Despite the Government’s narrative, we need to look further back than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to understand the cost-of-living crisis. This crisis hasn’t blown in like a freak hurricane; it is the inevitable result of the decision of successive governments to pursue austerity. For over a decade, millions of households have found themselves with no more slack to cut, and yet it is those households, once again, left unsupported during this crisis.
When we talk about who are going to be hit hardest by price increases, we need to talk about women. Women are more likely to be poor, and they have lower levels of savings and wealth than men. Since women are still responsible for the vast majority of care within the family – of children and elderly parents – they are less able than men to increase their hours of paid work. Women are, and always have been, the shock absorbers of poverty. They usually have the main responsibility for buying and preparing food for their children and families, and for managing budgets within low-income households. When household budgets are squeezed, it is women who regularly skip meals in order to feed their children.
For some groups of women, the capacity to withstand increases in the cost of living is limited even further. Poverty rates are significantly higher for Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Black women than among white women. Single parents, the majority of whom are women, are also vulnerable to price increases – they are more likely to be in low-paid and part-time work.
We have a very good system for targeting support where it is needed the most – our social security system. Yet in April, the Government failed to uprate benefits in line with inflation – only a few months after their decision to cut the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit. Our punitive benefit payment levels are a huge driver of food bank use.
Long-term investment is needed to address the systematic causes of this crisis. Without it, women will continue to be the shock of absorbers of poverty.