Why austerity is gendered

Austerity might seem gender neutral but the reality is much more complex, writes Dr Sarah Marie Hall, Lecturer in Human Geography.

Measures to reduce spending on public services and welfare appear to have wide-ranging impacts that cut across social groups.

Dr Sarah Marie Hall, Lecturer in Human Geography at The University of Manchester

Dr Sarah Marie Hall

Lecturer in Human Geography, The University of Manchester

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The main differences that tend to be discussed are those between working and middle-class communities.

However, research shows that women bear the brunt of economic crises: that recession, austerity and economic changes imposed from above are not evenly felt or distributed across society.

Gaps created by a retreating welfare state are typically attended to by women in communities and families, underpinned by care work necessary for social reproduction.

In my research with families in Greater Manchester, I found that austerity is more than an economic condition. It is social, impacting on families, communities and relationships with other people. It is also very personal, having real, intimate and deep impacts on a person, and of their hopes and aspirations for themselves and their loved ones.

The Everyday Austerity exhibition told a distinctly gendered story; where women were providing the social glue that held their families, friendships and communities together.

Why austerity is gendered

Austerity disproportionally affects women; and when it does affect them, it can be in very different ways.

“Gaps created by a retreating welfare state are typically attended to by women in communities and families.”

I have moved towards ideas and forms of analysis that account for this diversity.

An intersectional approach aims to explore how social positions like class, gender and ethnicity intersect and shape inequalities. It means recognising that the experience of being a 'woman' is not homogenous or fixed, but can shift depending on society, culture and tradition.

Economic policy should not disproportionately affect women; instead, it should actively address the gendered burdens of care that persist.

The goal must be to create an economic system that fairly distributes caring responsibilities, labour and costs, between women and men, and between families and the wider community, and which actively addresses social inequalities that are the symptom, not the cause, of everyday austerity.