Women are more likely to be affected by local government cuts, according to a report by the Women’s Budget Group.
Central government funding for local authorities has been cut by about 60% since 2010, resulting in services being downgraded and public spaces such as community centres and libraries being closed down and sold.
These cuts disproportionately affect women and the government should be doing more to analyse the impact austerity is having on them, says Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, which tracks economic policy from a gender perspective.
Stephenson told HuffPost UK part of the reason there hasn’t been more attention on the issues was because “everyone has been focused” on Brexit. Meanwhile, she said there is “a crisis which is getting worse” in public services.
She said the cuts were having a serious impact on people’s lives and especially women who are more likely to make use of services run or funded by local authorities.
This is not just happening in the more obvious ways such as domestic abuse services closing down, but also in areas including cuts to public transport, she said.
Local authority funding for buses across England has been cut by 46% since 2010/11, resulting in over 3,300 bus routes reduced or completely withdrawn.
“Women take a third more bus journeys than men so they are disproportionately affected by these cuts,” Stephenson said.
“If you’re trying to drop your kids off to school, then get to work and then get some food from the supermarket on the way home from work, the services were never designed around those sorts of journeys ... and now lots of those services are being cut, which is making it difficult for women.”
She also pointed to councils choosing to save money by dimming street lights, which affects women’s safety at night.
“In smaller towns, where this is happening, you find situations where women no longer feel safe at all because it’s so dark,” she said.
Another area of life affected by cuts is spending on adult social care, which fell by 3% between 2010/11 and 2016/17, despite an increase of more than 14% in the number of people aged over 65 in need of it.
There are 1.86 million people with unmet care needs, the report found, the majority of them are women. Women are also more likely to be unpaid carers for loved ones.
The report, Triple Whammy: The Impact Of Local Government Cuts On Women, highlights that as many as 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres and almost 350 playgrounds have closed since 2014, while youth clubs and libraries are also being lost.
Cuts to these types of services disproportionately impact women who in most households still have the primary responsibility for childcare, even when they are employed outside of the home.
More than 75% of England’s local authorities slashed their spending on domestic abuse refuges by nearly a quarter (24%) between 2010 and 2017, The WBG found.
The lack of refuge spaces saw more than 1,000 vulnerable women and children turned away from centres over a six-month period in 2017, the study found.
“When you’re thinking about women’s daily lives, local government funding is one of the most significant things that affects all women. It’s where austerity bites in day to day life,” Stephenson said.
The government has said the era of austerity is coming to an end, but Stephenson said it is not clear what that means.
“The cuts that have happened so far have been so bad that most people won’t feel austerity is coming to an end unless money starts being put back in again,” she said.
“If people are going to believe that austerity is over, they need to see the difference in their lives.”
She added that while many local campaigners focus on decisions made by local authorities, there needed to be more focus on national government as the “ultimate decision maker”.
Heather Wakefield, author of the report, said the network of local government services which are “vital to women’s lives as workers, mothers, carers and local citizens” has been “torn apart” by central government cuts to council funding since 2010.
“Women’s refuges, public transport, street lighting, libraries, adult education, social care, youth services and community centres have all been affected, leaving women less safe, unable to access learning and leisure facilities and increasingly having to fill the gaps in care provision.
“Austerity is shrinking women’s lives. To end it, the government must recognise the obvious importance of local services and fund them at a sustainable level.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are investing in Britain’s future by providing councils with access to £45.1 billion this year – increasing to £46.4 billion next year – to meet the needs of their residents.
“This coming year local government is getting £1 billion extra in funding - a real terms increase - to strengthen services, including adult social care, and support for local communities.
“This government is determined to address the persistent gendered economic barriers faced by women, and is continuing its work to stamp out inequality.”