For 25 years Eve Featherstone has been working as Head of Equalities in a local council in London. One month ago she had to leave, as local council budgets were cut. Now she’s a member of Women Against the Cuts, a group of women protesting against budget cuts.
Eve sits on her sofa, reading her emails. She’s been out of work for over one month now. Beside her, goodbye-cards, filled with appreciative words, are carefully arranged. Eve is 55 years old and lives by herself, so when they were asking for people to give up their jobs, she volunteered.
“I looked at the younger people and what they were offering. I have been putting in for my pension so that I can get my pension early, which is not ideal and I will still have to work, but it’s a cushion to try and get by on that the younger don’t have.”
Since the coalition government started cutting, they’ve redistributed how money is assigned to the local boroughs. While boroughs with the poorest people used to get more money, now they all get the same amount.
Eve used to work for a poor borough, which therefore now receives less money. The result has been that they had to merge functions and reduce the staff by 56 per cent. The majority of the staff were women; consequently, the majority of the people losing their jobs were women.
The concept of fairness
In October last year, months before she lost her job, Eve joined Women Against the Cuts (WATC) because she thought the cuts were disproportionally affecting women, an opinion that economist Howard Reed agrees with.
“We’ve done some analysis of the impacts of the cuts and most of them seem to be hitting women harder than men, that for me makes it unfair,” said Reed. “To disagree with that you’d have to have a different set of value judgments of what is fair when it comes to distribution of resources between men and women.”
In their fight for fairer cuts, WATC have been taking action by organizing protests, sending out press releases and raising awareness through social media networks. At the end of March they marched together with a quarter of a million people through London in the March for Alternatives organized by the trade unions. The event got a lot of attention in the media, but generally Eve says it’s been hard getting publicity.
“There have been a few things around these cuts where there have been government change, like when they wanted to sell off the forest and the public outcry forced them to rethink. So I think if you can get enough of a groundswell you can change things, but it really has been an uphill struggle to get media attention,” she says.
In March this year The Office for National Statistics announced 132,000 public sector jobs were lost already during 2010. The first months of 2011 showed no sign of being any different, Eve’s department in north-eastern London being just one example.