November 2011        

The impact of the crisis on women

Part 2

(Part 1 was published in the August issue)

In 2009 there were 90,484 people in receipt of one-parent family payment from the Department of Social Protection. Of these, 56 per cent were claiming for one child. 98 per cent of recipients were women. 60 per cent of those receiving OPFP are in employment. Of these, most women work part-time, while most male lone parents work full-time.
     Lone parents often experience difficulty in finding work, education and training opportunities because of a lack of good-quality affordable child care and after-school care. This means that job choices are often limited and low-paid. Lone parents are more likely than any other social group to be living in poverty.
     Data from the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions, conducted by the Central Statistics Office, shows that in 2009, 17 per cent of lone parents were living in consistent poverty, compared with 5½ per cent of the population as a whole.
     Parental unemployment is the biggest factor in child poverty. Non-working households account for a significant proportion of children in poverty. The level of social welfare payments, especially child income support, is another important factor.
     Child benefit is a universal benefit paid towards the cost of rearing a child, and has been increased significantly in recent years. The payment is made directly to the principal carer; in the vast majority of cases it is the mother who receives the payment. This is a very important feature of the child benefit payment, because it gives an element of independent financial support to women.
     These payments never adequately meet the costs of child-rearing, and in the 2010 budget the Government reduced children’s allowance by €10 per month for first and second children, in a cost-saving measure designed to save €149 million for the exchequer. Payments for subsequent children were also cut. There were also cuts in the one-parent family payment, and the carer’s benefit and carer’s allowance (again predominantly women) were cut by €8. Ireland has a large number of sole parents, and their employment rate is low.
     These austerity measures contribute to child poverty: nearly half of all children in non-working single-parent families live in consistent poverty.
     International experience shows that the most effective way to reduce child poverty is for the parent to be working. Ireland should move away from passive income support and instead move to a mutual obligations approach to assist and encourage single-parent mothers to find a foothold in the labour market, at least once their children have reached a certain age. Options include reducing the phasing-out rate of the one-parent family benefit (because it creates a low-activity trap) and allowing parents who return to work to keep some of their other benefits, such as the rent supplement and free medical care (perhaps for a limited time).
     As part of this package, job-search requirements should be increased for sole parents whose children are at school. Of course such a “mutual obligations” approach has proved attractive to many neo-liberal politicians and pundits. It would be imperative, therefore, that developments in this direction should be tied to the provision of adequate job support, child care, and out-of-school-hours care programmes.

Women and domestic violence

A report by Women’s Aid on violence against women records “the impact of financial crisis on escalating domestic violence.” Of course this is not an Irish phenomenon but has been attested by research in many countries over many years. A report from India in 2010 relates “the economic distress-driven domestic conflict, violence and depression, the brunt of which fell mostly on women and children.”
     In the same year a spokesperson for the Young Women’s Christian Association in the United States argued that, “despite the varying circumstances, at least one underlying cause is an unforgiving economy that has intensified family disputes, inflamed some men’s abusive tendencies, and left some women more reluctant to leave violent relationships.”
     These experiences are replicated for Ireland, as can be seen in a series of briefings from Women’s Aid. In November 2010 a briefing argued that the recession has greatly reduced options for women experiencing domestic violence, with many women reporting that they have become more trapped in the violent relationship. “Refuges and support services have already been impacted, with cuts in funding in 2009 and 2010. It would be impossible to continue to maintain the same level and quality of service if further cuts are implemented.” (Women’s Aid Briefing Paper on Domestic Violence, 25 November 2010.)

Don’t let the issues be masked!

There is another aspect to the crisis: the so-called bail-out from the EU and IMF. The financial crisis stripped the façade of political independence from the EU and revealed the inner subservience to imperialism. The claim that the “Celtic Tiger” was transforming Ireland into one of the richest countries in Europe was always wide of the mark.
     Despite most politicians genuflecting to the idols of social cohesion and social dialogue, Ireland became a more unequal society in the boom years. While in general real pay rose from 1987 to 1997, company profits rose by about 78 per cent in the same period. From the 1980s into the 1990s the share of national income going to labour fell from 72 per cent to 63 per cent, so that “the share of national income going to labour is now the lowest in Europe.”
     Too often the financial crisis in Ireland is attributed to the effect of external factors and market forces. However, market forces, as we know, are not natural forces at all, although they often appear as such, but reflect the consequences of a class society. They are not illusions, and cannot be wished away, nor can their consequences.
     If we don’t understand the nature of the problem, then the cycle of capital in crisis will continue and, as in previous crises, will continue to disproportionately affect the poor and, in particular, women. History shows us that under these conditions the gap between those who have and those who have not grows.
     For Irish workers in general—and for women in particular—the EU has played a devastating role. The aim of the European Central Bank in particular has been to shelter British, French and German banks from losses sustained during the banking crisis. Unemployment, poverty and violence are the price Irish women are made to pay for the financial stability of international capital.

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