Hard Times

Unemployment up by as much 272%: Black & minority ethnic women hit hard

By Kalwinder Sandhu

This article is an exclusive extract for Feminist Times from a longer version that first appeared on lacuna.org.uk a new online human rights magazine, as part of its austerity and prosperity edition.

I was several months into my research on the impact of the government’s spending cuts on BAME women when I first began to despair. The more I researched, the more it affected me emotionally. What triggered these feelings was coming to understand just how many individual and cumulative cuts would impact BAME women.

It’s well documented that women are likely to be hit harder than men by the spending cuts. They form the majority of public sector workers, so are most likely to lose jobs; they use public services more than men, so will feel the pinch as the government rolls back state provision; and they rely more on benefits, an area under constant attack. But different groups of women will fare even worse; when gender is combined with ethnicity, class, disability or age the negative impact of austerity is compounded.

Some welfare benefit cuts will impact on some BAME women disproportionately because of the particular circumstances of their lives. Take the reforms to non-dependent deductions. These deductions to housing benefit were introduced because of an assumption that anyone over 18 and living in the same house as a recipient will make a contribution to paying rent. By the government’s own admission, black and minority ethnic families are more likely to live in extended families, therefore are more likely to be affected by the deductions. For anybody receiving housing benefit while living with extended family, this cut is as significant as the bedroom tax, according to Ed Hodson from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Non-dependent deductions aren’t the only problem. While the government plans to penalize jobseekers refusing to learn English, cuts are being made to the very classes to help them do so. Changes to the criteria in accessing classes, cuts to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision, and a lack of childcare make it difficult for some women to learn English. One BAME organization turned away 50 women who wanted to enroll in one ESOL class because of stricter funding criteria.

To better understand the combined impact of the changes I put together this Venn diagram. It was only then that I began to realize the complex web women would face. The choices they must make are stark; do you buy food or pay the rent shortfall? What if you experience poor mental health or lack the confidence to communicate in English? How do you prepare or plan for these changes?

Universal Credit and the Benefits Cap – What Do They Cover? The diagram below shows which benefits are included in the Benefits Cap, which are within Universal Credit and which benefits in Universal Credit are subject to the benefits cap.

Sons, not daughters

I put some of these questions to women in focus groups; the response was alarming. “My husband has lost his job and we don’t have much money. So we are only thinking about now sending our son to university and not our daughter,” said one woman. It was worrying to see other women in the focus group nodding in agreement. From my own experience I know that sending a young woman to university is a family decision in some situations. My uncle in India, another uncle in Canada, as well as uncles in England, all had a say in the future of my education.

Many young women from black, Asian, or ethnic minority households impacted by the cuts (combined with the hike in university tuition fees) will be the first lose out. And if that happens, imagine a future where young women lose the opportunity to fulfill their potential? Imagine the impact on their children?

Who counts BAME women?

There is a lack of local and national data disaggregated by gender, race, and disability. Often data is broken down into gender or ethnicity, but never both. Where race is counted, it is divided into white and BAME, obscuring significant differences between ethnic groups.

Sometimes I was asked to pay for data. At other times I was sent from agency to agency before getting anywhere. The lack of accessibility to data made it difficult to monitor the impact of austerity policies on BAME women. With great effort I was able to source the data for Coventry, but how do we measure national impacts?

The figures I did uncover revealed that unemployment among black and minority ethnic women in Coventry increased by nearly 75% between 2009 and 2013, compared to 30.5% for white women (also high). Breaking down these figures further, unemployment had increased by 272% for white non-British or Irish women (mainly Eastern European migrants), 160% for mixed ethnicity women, and 87% for black British and African-Caribbean women. This is why we need data to highlight the different experiences within ethnic groups.

When the personal becomes political

I have always been interested in the issues that affect BAME women because ‘the personal is the political’ and my experiences stem from being Asian and a woman. But I have always given my race higher priority when fighting social injustice. Although intersectionality has formed part of my thinking linking my class, race and gender, up to now I accepted binary thinking about women and race.

The evidence above caused me to re-think. I now recognize the importance of articulating all the combined inequalities that affect me, and not one at the expense of the other.

Kalwinder Sandhu is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer and a local feminist activist in Coventry.

Photo: Luri Kothe

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