Austerity Kills: Revisiting Budget Ramifications through a Gender Lens

Left to right: Kerri Neil, Bridget Clarke, Jenny Wright.
"This province has one of the worst gender wage gaps in the country."

To say that our province is going through a rocky patch would be putting it mildly. And the Liberals haven’t won any popularity contests with the introduction of their 2016-2017 budget aimed at tackling a deficit of 1.83 billion.

While this budget will hurt everyone, it isn’t going to impact everyone in the same way. “What we’ve been saying is that austerity budgets disproportionately and negatively affect women,” says Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council. “And the reason for that is that women make so much less money right out of the gate.”

This province has one of the worst gender wage gaps in the country. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, women in Newfoundland and Labrador make on average $4/hr less than men. When compared to women in the other provinces, women here have the lowest median income.

As well, women are more likely to be hired on a part-time basis. They’re also still the ones largely pulling the second shift at home, where they’re responsible for the unpaid labour around the house; think taking time off work to care for sick kids, cooking meals, and making sure the laundry gets done.

According to Kerri Neil, a founder of the feminist action group SPAAT, one of the biggest reasons for the gender wage gap “is the occupational divide.” While men go to Fort McMurray and make a lot of money, women typically go into pink collar jobs, like ones in the service industry. Wright also says a lack of childcare holds women from fully contributing to the economy.

High taxes will disproportionately affect women who statistically make less money. “Because we’re starting at that much lower an economic status, we can’t afford to pay the larger hikes. Alongside that, women are the largest users of services,” like healthcare, education, and domestic violence services. These are the same services that are typically first to be cut by austerity budgets.

In a cost-saving measure, two courthouses in Harbour Grace and Wabush are closing. Rural women are more at risk of experiencing domestic violence. Wrights says this will make it harder for women to leave abusive partners.  It’s a reality that domestic violence increases during difficult economic times, Wright warns. “Austerity budgets at their best harm women, at their worst they kill.”

“Everywhere we turn currently, every move, every policy, every economic measure seems to be pushing the status of women back even more decades,” Wright argues. “And we just can’t have it, we’ve got to fight back against that.”

But there are measures the government could take. Because the budget is going to impact women hardest of all, especially single mothers and First Nations women, Wright argues a gender lens needs to be applied to the budget. It would take into account the economic realities women face, she explains. “Subsidized child care, make sure that taxation is not hitting sole mothers, and don’t cut services which they know women are dependent on.”

“To approach a budget as just an accounting exercise is horrible and it’s harmful. You have to approach it on how we can do the least harm. And in this case, the government’s done a lot of harm.”

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