THE BLOG

How George Osborne's Autumn Statement Neglects Most Vulnerable

30/11/2015 11:46 GMT | Updated 30/11/2016 10:12 GMT

In what can be assumed to be an attempt to relate to the fictitious woman voter who eludes consecutive governments, this week's Autumn Statement and Spending Review promised that funds from the tax on sanitary products would go towards women's charities. This move gained slaps on the back for its inventor, new Conservative MP for Colchester Will Quince, and equally garnered criticism: why should one inequality be used as an attempted equaliser for a different injustice? The cuts announced on Wednesday are symbolic of the government's disregard for vulnerable people.

Though regulation means that the taxation of sanitary products will stay in line with other luxury products unless EU policy shifts, the policy announced in the statement fails to address the demand across Europe to recognise sanitary items as a non-luxury. Over a quarter of a million people have signed a UK-based petition to show their support for redefining sanitary items, alongside Jaffa Cakes, as a necessity. In promising to give the money earned from this unjust taxation on people who menstruate to women's charities, the government is attempting to silence those calling out one injustice through gesture politics: the money for counselling services should be a priority, not part of a gimmick which promotes a cissexist false conflation of people who menstruate with women. In dedicating the tax on menstrual items to women's charities, Osborne's project resigns that this menstrual tax will continue, and that those who continue to fight against this discriminating monthly charge can be painted as villains; this proposal can mean that opposition to one injustice will have you tarred as unwilling to tackle another.

Whilst George Osborne's statement enumerated some of the worthy charities which this unjust tax money is proposed to back, he omitted to mention Rape Crisis, a charity whose struggle for funding has been known, and mentioned in national media outlets, for several months. The failure to make reference to Rape Crisis is due to one of three possibilities: that Osborne's team of advisors neglected this charity by mistake; that Osborne's team of advisors neglected this charity through willful ignorance; or indeed, that George Osborne found the word 'rape' too unpalatable to mention in the House of Commons.

We live in a United Kingdom where an advice centre for Asian women can be replaced by the offer of a burger and a beer for a fiver; the underfunding of services for the most vulnerable people in the UK can and will continue to lead to catastrophic results. A study published to commemorate this year's White Ribbon Day stated that forty-two per cent of Rape Crisis centres in England and Wales have no funding confirmed from March 2016, four months from now. Last year Rape Crisis answered 165,000 calls, and this week its sister organisation Imkaan has published news that the last financial year saw 733 BME women seek refuge in London, where only 154 of these requests were successful. Waiting lists are already too long: the government has consistently neglected its duty to protect its most vulnerable citizens, and £15 million from a discriminatory taxation is not enough money for a sector which is already struggling.

The government needs to fund services for survivors of sexual abuse, but the utilisation of money taken from those who menstruate plays into a coy binarism. The need for accessible sanitary items is pressing; so is the need for refuge and counsel for survivors of abuse: despite what this proposal implies, these are not mutually exclusive.