Joan Smith: Things must be bad: feminists and the 'Daily Mail' agree

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What has the Government got against women? Obviously gender equality isn't high on its to-do list, but even the most sheltered minister must have a wife, mother or sister – though possibly not ones on minimum wage.

I suppose a cabinet composed of male millionaires – 19, according to some estimates – might not know how hard life is for care assistants or cleaners, but they could make an effort to find out before imposing savage spending and welfare cuts.

Oh, I forgot: that's exactly what the Chancellor didn't do before June's emergency budget, which is why the Fawcett Society is taking the Treasury to court over its failure to conduct an equality impact assessment.

Last week, as women reeled under the double whammy of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the public sector while being forced to work even longer to get a state pension, the Chancellor had the nerve to take the credit for carrying out an equality assessment on cuts critics dismiss as incomplete and "almost flippant".

I guess George Osborne isn't too worried about hostile reviews from Yvette Cooper, Labour's shadow minister for women or feminist organisations such as the Fawcett Society. He may feel a bit more nervous about the reaction of the Daily Mail, which has girded itself up in recent weeks as the champion of the oppressed middle classes. But when they attack the Government's proposals simultaneously, it might be prudent for Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg to take notice.

The coalition's raid on state pensions is truly staggering. It has accelerated the timetable for raising the pension age for both sexes to 66, which sounds gender-neutral but is anything but. Don't take my word for it: the Mail described the change as "sneaky" and "devastating", and calculated that it will cost more than five million workers £43bn in lost benefits and extra tax and national insurance contributions. Most will be women and I'm one of them. I haven't been able to discover my new pension age since the government website which offers to do the calculation hadn't been updated on Friday.

There is a huge financial problem in this country as people live longer, and I'm not against men and women retiring at the same age. But the move to parity has been rushed by a government that demonstrably doesn't care about fairness; state pension age for women was rising each year to reach 65 by 2020, but the process will be accelerated from 2016, taking it to 65 by 2018. This comes on top of other measures which will hit women and children harder than men.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies irritated the Government when it said that "families with children are the biggest losers", but a host of commentators concurred. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimated that 80 per cent of the almost 500,000 public sector workers threatened with losing their jobs would be female. Others said a 10 per cent cut in childcare support would make it hard for them to return to the workforce even if they could find new work.

Cooper said the changes were the biggest attempt to turn back the clock on women's equality in a century. The Fawcett Society described the cuts as so deep that "they threaten hard-fought progress we've made on women's equality". The Mail talked about "this cruel blow to a generation of women". Things really must be bad if even the right-wing press is lining up alongside feminists.

www.politicalblonde.com

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