27 NOVEMBER 2017
BY KIM MCINTOSH, Policy Officer at The Runnymede Trust

This blog was published in partnership with the UK-based, black feminist organisation Imkaan, to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. You can read the original article here.

Austerity has impacted black and minority ethnic (BME) women in a dramatic and disproportionate fashion. Not only do women get paid less, have most of the responsibility for childcare and continue to be underrepresented in public decision making — they also continue to bear the brunt of violence. Despite the high profile cases of sexual assault and harassment that have rocked Hollywood to parliament, violence against women is still under-reported.

BME women are the financial losers - the poorest even more so

Research that we carried out at the Runnymede Trust with the Women’s Budget Group brought to the fore how austerity policies, which appear abstract and intangible at policy level, are having an adverse effect on BME women trying to escape violence and abuse. We found that BME women in the UK will lose more of their income than white women and white men across all income levels if government sticks with their budgetary plans, pursued since 2010.

Working age benefits — from Working Tax Credits and Child Benefit, to Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit — have not been increased in line with the cost of living. Additionally, public services such as Sure Start and the NHS have been cut. As a result, the poorest black women and Asian households are set to lose £8,407-£11,678 respectively per year by 2020. Single mothers will lose £8,790 per year until 2020. The wealthiest white men lose just 1% of their income. This leaves vulnerable BME women with less resources to leave situations of violence. Furthermore, the roll-out of Universal Credit, paid to a single member of the household, could leave women facing violence in an increasingly vulnerable position.

Our report included interviews with women in Manchester and Coventry to build upon our statistical analysis. This brought to life the devastating impact on austerity on BME women. Cuts to services that at first glance one may not conceive as affecting women fleeing abuse can inadvertently have a negative impact. For example, women experiencing domestic violence can find it difficult to provide the supporting evidence required for benefit applications if they have fled their home in a hurry. Coventry Women’s Voices, our partner in this project, heard from one domestic violence support service that was concerned about the cuts to police funding, because this meant that women were no longer being escorted when returning home to collect vital documents.

Equally, the increasingly punitive benefits system is not responsive to the unique needs of women fleeing violence. A support work worker at a sexual assault support agency found that one of her service users was sanctioned because she did not attend the Job Centre to sign on. She was, instead, in court that day. The service provider had told the Job Centre in advance but nonetheless she was sanctioned. Although her case was reconsidered, she was without Job Seekers’ Allowance for two weeks and had to rely on food bank vouchers to get by. Cuts to legal aid also continue to affect BME survivors. Within family law, legal aid is still available but only in a limited capacity for cases of domestic violence. The definition of what constitutes domestic violence or child protection is narrow.

A blow to BME-specific organisations 

Specialist BME organisations in the violence against women’s sector, have been adversely affected by cuts to voluntary sector funding. A move towards larger contracts and generic services has dealt a blow to BME-specific organisations. As BME services tend to be subcontracted, they are often referred the most complex cases but are not remunerated sufficiently for their work. This competitive tendering processes does not take into account the specific needs of BME women and the expertise specialist services provide, instead focusing on securing the cheapest price. We found that 154 organisations in Coventry providing specialist support to BME women had been badly affected by a combination of cuts to funding and increased demand. These organisations were looking to charitable trusts for support, but found that many of them did not priorities funding for specialist services and the specific needs of BME women.

We are busier than ever; the amount of funding hasn’t changed in 7 or 8 years, but the demand has increased, the performance indicators have got higher.”
 — Interviewee, Foleshill Women’s Training

We need to see adequate funding to local authorities and the reform of commissioning processes to recognise the specialist expertise of BME-led services. It is vital that foundations also value these services and recognise the precarious nature of the future of their funding. We will continue to push government to carry out, publish and change policy in response to equality impact assessments. It is critical that we keep pressure on the Treasury to make sure future Budgets are assessed for their impact on women, and particularly BME women.

About author

Kim McIntosh is a Policy Officer at The Runnymede Trust, a volunteer Migrants’ Rights Network, and a hip hop and grime enthusiast.

Read more

Fawcett analysis of the gender pay gap by ethnicity, charting progress over more than 25 years. The analysis reveals real inequalities, with some minority ethnic groups making great strides while pay for others lags far behind. Read the full report here.

Our report reveals Black African women have been largely left behind, and in terms of closing the pay gap, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are today only where White British women were in the 1990s. For these groups this is a story of low labour market participation and low pay when they are in work together with high levels of unpaid caring work.

Animation by Golin. See more animations about the gender pay gap by Golin here.