Even before we have moved beyond the direct impacts of the pandemic, it appears that working class communities are paying the price for it.
Glasgow, arguably the lungs of the working class in Scotland, is the first to break. Although other Local Authorities are also seeing cuts, the sheer scale and location of loss of services has motivated wide spread condemnation, street protests and the coming together of groups and individuals not normally found on the barricades together. All this a mere four months before COP26 and nine months before local elections.
The closure of services in areas of deprivation, whilst more affluent areas continue to have access to their libraries and toilets, is a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
If we have learnt anything during the pandemic it was that not only were people with less income more likely to become ill and die, but that we relied heavily on those same communities for essential workers, many of whom are on low, insecure pay. At this point if those who have guardianship over our communities cannot see this, surely it is time for a change.
Women have been particularly hit by the pandemic, not only in relation to their health, but also the expectations on them to support our communities to survive, both in a paid and unpaid capacity.
Evidence from the austerity cuts after 2008 showed that women bore 86% of the cuts experienced across the UK. This was due to what the Fawcett Society identified as a triple jeopardy;
Women are being hit hardest by cuts to public sector jobs, wages and pensions.
Women are being hit hardest as the services and benefits they use more are cut.
Women will be left "filling the gap", as state services are withdrawn.
(The Impact of Austerity on Women, Fawcett Society Policy Briefing. March 2012)
This is now being repeated in Glasgow communities, but there is no longer the hope that decision makers just don't understand. It is perfectly clear that private companies and projects, such as the Barclays Riverside Development, are being prioritised over the needs of Scotland's most vulnerable citizens.
For women this is a disaster. Not only to their immediate safety, as their financial independence is at risk, but also as women are left to pick up the child and elderly care previously found in community services, such as libraries and community centres.
Recently the leader of Glasgow City Council said she "fundamentally disagrees" with the idea that citizens "can't manage unless the council is there, not just holding their hand but doing it for them”. It is no wonder that the City's Equality Impact Assessments are not effective. The services provided by the council are there to reduce the barriers caused by an oppressive, capitalist society. They are not holding the hand of the oppressed. They are the State’s way of maintaining a workforce and preventing riots. They are the recognition of human worth and value. That human beings are more than the machines to be disregarded when the factory closes.
It is essential that any cuts are seen in a feminist context and are subject to Equality Impact Assessments, as required by the Equality At 2010. We should not be distracted by the presence of one-off specialised services. In fact the presence of such service should contribute to the debate protecting services that communities have had to fight for. What is the point of a women's library in Glasgow, if women don't have the time or can't travel their due to financial difficulty and/or transport safety. We need services in our communities, within reach of those that require them most. Specialist services compliment and offer additional analysis, they are not the singular answer.
Only by recognising the impact of policy on those in the most challenging circumstances can we fully understand the impact of cuts. Let’s be honest, women are at the bottom of the pile in every equality group. They will therefore be the most adversely effected, as was shown during the implementation of previous austerity policies. We are still wearing the masks yet already decision makers seem to be forgetting the valuable lessons of the past 18 months, that could help us to create a more humane society for all.
The Impact of Austerity on Women, Fawcett Society Policy Briefing. March 2012
McKay, N. The Herald https://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/19498971.neil-mackays-big-read-brave-new-glasgow-council-leader-outlines-30bn-vision-transform-city/