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This International Women's Day, The Government Must Put Money Behind Its Good Intentions

08/03/2017 08:29
Chris Ratcliffe via Getty Images

all women everywhere

Today marks the annual celebration of the other half of the population, in which we have 24 hours to ask all of the governments, institutions and corporations around the world to please stop treating us like we are invisible. Happy International Women's Day!

It's fitting, I think, that today the UK government will announce its Spring budget, for never was there an exercise that proves so well just how overlooked women are when decisions are made about how to power a country's economy, jobs and productivity.

Thanks to extensive weekend media briefings, we know that the Chancellor - or Big Phil as he's known, since politics is all about macho monikers - will announce cuts to government spending in order to shore up Britain's resilience to economic turbulence as we quit the European Union. He can do this because last autumn he announced a £23billion National Productivity Investment Fund for spending on infrastructure and innovation. And because he's going to throw an extra £500 million in the pot now for new 'T-levels' in technical skills training.

Here's an innovation, Phil. How about changing the usual pattern of creating road-building and house-building jobs for men, investing in boys' future jobs, and then cutting spending on the services on which women disproportionately rely? Call me a radical feminist, but your wise male handling of the nation's money isn't doing it for me, or for millions of other women.

It's a measure of just how blind political parties are to women that the kind of investment we need in order to enjoy equal opportunities as men is passed over year after year as too difficult. The long-running avoidance of investment in social care, despite the critical expense of our ageing population, is a case in point. Families - meaning women - are urged to look after their own. Where having children has become a 'lifestyle choice' that women seemingly make alone, so looking after disabled, sick and elderly relatives is simply 'Big Society' doing the right thing. Give care a euphemistic rebranding and watch the money swerve away again. Phil can find £23 billion for building bridges but wouldn't dream of ploughing that investment into underpinning social infrastructure. Never mind that it would create jobs twice over in terms of paid carers and the women who could go back to (paid) work. Instead we have to watch another generation of women bringing up children and elderly relatives be classified by the Treasury, with no hint of shame, as 'economically inactive.'

Politicians from other parties will also decry today the impact of cuts on women, conveniently forgetting that all of them were united on the need for austerity, no matter that they may have disagreed on the finer details. So the government will toss us tokens. Not so long ago George Osborne offered women our own tampon tax to spend on services for survivors of violence. Theresa May is more sophisticated than this. She has developed a good line on support for domestic abuse victims in particular, regularly rolling out legislative updates and reviews of police attitudes. It's a neat way of garnering plaudits without ever actually investing in sufficient, sustainable funding for the vital support services grinding away far from the headlines. It would be good to see her put money behind her noble intentions.

We can do better. The solution is bigger and simpler than budgetary tweaks and reviews. We need more women in politics. We need policies that are rooted in the reality of our lives, presented by more of the women who are living those experiences, so that our voices are no longer drowned out. We need more than 24 hours to talk about what we need. So this International Women's Day the Women's Equality Party is launching activist camps for the next generation of activists. The tidal wave of protest that we've seen this year must not be allowed to ebb but instead carry women through to political power. Sign up to be part of it here.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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