For many women in this country, the new Conservative government means more austerity cuts. In the next five years, life will become an increased struggle to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads. A new online Toolkit from the National Board of Catholic Women highlights the effect the austerity cuts have already had, and gives graphic accounts of women’s struggle to exist.
Three case studies will give pictures of the suffering these women endure. Already in difficult circumstances, their situation is being made worse by an ideologically based and uncaring system.
‘Catherine’ is a single mother with a 12-year-old daughter. For a while she was too ill to work but now she has a part-time job. Financially she is struggling to meet her bills: rent, rates and council tax as well as energy costs, and inevitably she tries to save on food. Christmas and September are bad times for her as she has little margin for presents and extra food or new school clothes. She finds it difficult to sleep with the constant worry. (Catholic Children’s Society Westminster)
‘EM’ is a migrant who has been granted leave to remain. She could now look for work, which she was keen to do, but she fell and broke her leg. She applied for Employment Support Allowance but although she submitted the claim as soon as she could, the payment did not come through, and she was struggling to exist on the £20 per week child benefit paid for her daughter. She uses the food bank and fortunately they have not yet applied the ‘three food donations only’ rule. Endless frustrations in trying to sort out her situation have meant she can hardly afford to pay for the journey to school for her daughter. Her case has now been referred to the Department for Work and Pensions’ ‘Escalation route’ to try and resolve the situation.
(Cardinal Hume Centre, London)
‘Anna’ is severely disabled and needs carers on a daily basis. She has a specially adapted wheelchair which can be put into a van she can drive, and with amazing willpower she gets herself to the local disability forum where she works on behalf of other people with disabilities. She understands how the benefits system works, and helps those who find it difficult to understand, but recently she has been reassessed and told that if she was catheterised her allowances could be decreased and savings would be made for the taxpayer. She won an appeal against this assessment but remains in limbo while further challenges to her benefits are being discussed. She says it is a war of attrition which is taking its toll on her already fragile health.
(Recounted at one of NBCW’s study days)
Besides these case studies, the Toolkit also provides statistical evidence of the impact of welfare cuts and tells the stories of how the Bedroom Tax, unfair sanctions on jobseekers, increases in rents, the loss of child benefit, and the Universal Credit allowance affect everyday women’s lives. Its main thrust though is to suggest ways to challenge the policies and structures which are creating these conditions.
The Toolkit reflects the underlying principles of Catholic Social Teaching: the value of each human life, solidarity with one’s neighbour, the right to work and bring up a family, and the concept of the Common Good. Pope Francis in his Joy of the Gospel spoke of a poor church for the poor, and here in this country Cardinal Nichols denounced the need for food banks in one of the richest nations in the world: two voices to inspire action on behalf of those who find it difficult to help themselves.
The Toolkit emphasises the problems that women in particular suffer throughout their lives through the gender pay gap, the costs of childcare,and the effects of caring for children and elderly and sick relatives. It also suggests appropriate prayers and reflections for individuals, groups and study days so that compassion and empathy for the poor is rooted in an active spirituality.
The Toolkit suggests practical ways of challenging the policies and systems which create such misery – including an outline of Parliamentary procedures, local and national decision-making structures, and ways of accessing information.