Archive | March, 2014

From the Mumsnet election to the Gransnet budget?

19 Mar

The 2010 General Election was dubbed the ‘Mumsnet election’, with the future of public services for families high on the agenda, and politicians from across the spectrum keen to engage in webchats on the site.  Fast forward to today’s budget, and the talk is all about pensions and savings rates – predominantly benefiting the older population.

Granted, yesterday’s childcare announcement made some difference to working parents; but there is debate about the extent to which these changes accrue to those most in need.  The decision to enable parents in receipt of the new Universal Credit to claim 85% of their childcare costs is welcome – but does not happen until 2017; the tax free £2000 of childcare costs on offer will benefit higher earners the most.

And who are the savers in Britain?  According to the Resolution Foundation, half of low- and middle- income families have no savings, and two-thirds have less than one month’s income put away to fall back on.  And most of these people have either a frozen pension, or no pension at all.  So it looks like the squeezed middle in the middle of life are not the prime beneficiaries of today’s changes.

Meanwhile, those with more substantial savings (the relatively wealthy, the old) have been thrown bones in terms of enhanced ISAs, and more freedom to draw down or invest pension pots as they choose.  We’d better hope they do so wisely, or any savings to the State may be limited.

In another sign that the lower-income working parents are not George’s Osborne’s target audience, the benefits cap –  unveiled in detail in today’s speech –  does include maternity and paternity and adoption allowances, tax-free childcare costs and Child Benefit, but leaves pension income outside the cap.

The message seems pretty clear:  pensioners’ interests matter, because pensioners vote in large numbers and are well-represented in Parliament. As I’ve noted before, younger people (especially women) are less visible in Westminster, and younger age groups are less likely to vote.

In the run-up to 2010’s election Gordon Brown ran into a little local difficulty when Mumsnetters asked him to name his preferred biscuit.  With the focus of today’s budget on wealthier savers, I’m guessing that Mr Osborne’s favourite is the Hob-nob.

Women of the World – a call to action

11 Mar

On Friday I attended the policymaking day of the Women of the World (WOW) festival on the Southbank.   It covered topics from all aspects of activism, women in politics, women in the public eye, the state of feminism today.  An impressive array of campaigners, journalists and successful women from many spheres, gathered to share their expertise, opinions and experience.  Above all, they were there to discuss the possibilities of power, and the scope to act for change. (I blogged about WOW’s brother event, the recent ‘Being a Man’, here).

I’ve compiled some of my favourite quotes from two sessions at WOW – videos are available from the links here and here.

From the Women and Power session

‘Power [ is not] the man-shaped thing we have, which then is picked up by women – that’s useless, that won’t get us anywhere.  It’s got to be the power to make real changes in society where women and men are seen as both having to contribute’         Baroness Shirley Williams (politician)

‘sometimes men … are more assertive – they step up and say ‘Yes I can do that’ – they don’t have any more knowledge than us’                Maggie Aderin-Pocock (space-scientist)  – on experts

‘if a political leader is sitting there trying to make a decision and there’s a lot of different constituencies presenting subtly different points of view, it’s very difficult to come down on the side of one decision. But if you work together to keep your ask very clear, very loud and very straightforward, it’s hard for somebody who’s got their moment to make a decision to hold all of that at bay’    Sarah Brown (campaigner) – on making a difference

‘only three of them [the women interviewed for Women’s Hour Power List last year] said that they thought of themselves as powerful – and I was one of them’  Jude Kelly (Southbank artistic director)

‘The word ‘ambition’ is always used to insult women’     Jane Garvey (journalist, Women’s Hour presenter)

From the Activism without Borders session:

‘The ability that we have now through social media, through e-mail and through the world wide web of course, to be able to learn instantly what’s happening around the world is a very precious tool and one that we would all say unreservedly has made things better for us. … Knowledge is one thing, but the ability to be an activist on an international scale is another thing.’                                                                       Anne Summers (Australian feminist)

‘If we roar together one of us might be silenced, but we cannot be silenced collectively’

Nimco Ali (FGM activist)

‘If you do a story and you don’t change a life then it’s not a story at all’                                                                                                                                                                      Judy Kosgei (journalist)

‘What activism takes: one element is persistence, to keep going, but the other is engaging risk….  Because we know that there’s tremendous risk in challenging dominant power, because dominant power wants to stay dominant’

Jessica Horn (feminist activist) – on themes from panel

The message I got from my day at WOW is to embrace power and make change – and don’t be afraid to be challenging – or to be challenged.  Reaching out in ‘real life’ is still important in the age of social media.  Women of the world, shall we do it?  Given recent headlines over the lack of affordable childcare and the persistent gender imbalances in pay, domestic labour and political participation – all of which were raised  throughout the day –  we really should….

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